Qatar Airways’ inaugural flight from Doha to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport last week was spoiled when the US airport failed to allocate a gate, forcing passengers, some of them old and frail, to disembark using mobile stairs and shuttle buses.
Qatar Airways chief executive, Akbar Al Baker, is furious. He’s certain it was more than an oversight. He accuses Delta, currently a major foe of Middle Eastern airlines (and which happens to be based in Atlanta) of being “wicked” to let it happen.
The National, a publication based in Abu Dhabi, carried a Bloomberg report quoting Al Baker saying Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport’s only A380-ready gate was being used by a far smaller A320 when Qatar’s inaugural flight from Doha arrived.
The airport said Qatar Airways didn’t give it adequate notice it would use an A380 rather than a B777.
A media release by Qatar on the new service gave no hint of any dispute.
“The first Qatar Airways departure proves the point that hundreds of passengers on the first flight from Atlanta took advantage of convenient connections to reach more than 40 destinations out of the airline’s global network of more than 150 destinations,” the Qatar release stated. “The majority of connecting passengers flew on from Hamad International to India, Southeast Asia and African destinations, such as Nairobi, Addis Ababa, Asmara, and Khartoum.”
At the International Air Transport Association’s annual meeting in Dublin, however, Al Baker put a different complexion on it, branding the airport’s action “an absolute violation of the air-services agreement”. He said “old and frail” passegners faced challenges walking up “very large steps” to reach the terminal. This was compounded by check-in problems and obstruction in loading handicapped passengers.
Suppliers failed to cooperate as well, Al Baker said.
In a long-running dispute, the so-called “Big Three” US carriers – Delta, American Airlines and United Airlines – allege that Qatar and other Gulf carriers are receiving government subsidies, allowing them to compete unfairly. The Gulf carriers deny the claims.
Delta has predicted that Qatar’s new route to Atlanta will fail. It says very few people wish to fly between the Atlanta area and Doha.
Written by Peter Needham