Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker branded Delta Air Lines “wicked” over what he said was the US carrier’s part in ruining the Middle Eastern company’s first flight from Doha to Atlanta.
Qatar’s Airbus A380 super-jumbo jet wasn’t allocated a gate when it arrived at the world’s busiest airport this week, forcing passengers to disembark via mobile stairs and shuttle buses, Mr Al Baker said. A much smaller A320 was parked at the hub’s only A380-ready gate when the Doha flight arrived.
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport said the airline failed to provide adequate notice it would use the bigger jet.
“This is an absolute violation of the air-services agreement,” Mr Al Baker said on Friday while attending the International Air Transport Association’s annual meeting in Dublin. “Old and frail people had to walk up very large steps to get into the terminal. We had check-in issues, we had obstruction in loading handicapped passengers.”
Suppliers also failed to cooperate with Qatar Airways, Mr Al Baker said, forcing the airline to get help from another company to obtain ground handling equipment.
His comments are part of a continued trans-Atlantic clash. Delta and other US airlines have accused Qatar Airways and other Arabian Gulf carriers of competing unfairly by receiving billions in government subsidies to seize huge shares of the global market. The Middle Eastern carriers have denied getting such subsidies and said their US rivals benefited from government handouts through bankruptcy protection.
“Delta in no way acted to obstruct Qatar’s ability to park its aircraft,” Kate Modolo, a spokeswoman for the US carrier, said by email. “Despite Qatar’s request being submitted to the airport long after the gates had been assigned through the normal application processes, Delta offered solutions to allow Qatar to use the gates while ensuring our own schedule remained accommodated during a heavy traffic period at the international terminal.”
Mr Al Baker called Delta CEO Ed Bastian “arrogant” and complacent about the “stiff competition” the Gulf airline would offer. The first A380 service - which will later switch to a Boeing 777 - was overbooked by 16 passengers for the inbound service and 27 outbound, Mr Al Baker said. Planes on the Doha-Atlanta route are booked to fly almost 80 per cent full, Mr Al Baker said.
The conduct of the airport and Delta will be taken up “very seriously” by the Qatar government, he said.
Qatar Airways initially planned to use a Boeing 777 on the debut Doha-Atlanta flight, but in late April said it would use the A380, the world’s largest passenger jet, according to the airport. That didn’t allow sufficient time to make the required operational changes, the airport said by e-mail.
“Due to the sheer size of the aircraft, time needed to service and short advance notice the airport was given, aircraft operations would have been significantly disrupted and would have displaced four or five other aircraft,” the facility said.
While the airport’s rules require 60 days notice whenever an airline plans to use an A380, the facility said it would try to accommodate Qatar Airways, interim airport general manager Roosevelt Council Jr wrote to Mr Al Baker in a May 31 letter provided to Bloomberg.
Qatar held a party last month in Atlanta featuring a performance by actress and musician Jennifer Lopez to celebrate the new Doha flight. Atlanta-based Delta responded that it wouldn’t renew its sponsorship of the theatre where the party was held.
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