U.S. Airline Execs Disappointed with Outcome of White House Meeting Over Gulf Subsidies

By Jeremy Del Nero on 20 July 2019
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The highly-publicized meeting of airline CEOs and President Trump may not have gone as the executives might have hoped, according to those familiar with the meeting.

Attendees included American CEO Doug Parker, United CEO Oscar Munoz, JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes, FedEx CEO Frederick Smith, and Atlas Air CEO Bill Flynn.  Delta’s CEO, Ed Bastian, was noticeably absent and, to the surprise of the U.S. airline executives, Qatar Airways CEO, Akbar al-Baker, was also in the room.

The issue at hand concerned government subsidies of airlines in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

The presence of al-Baker was controversial and the other airline CEOs were reportedly “shocked” to find out he had been invited, someone familiar with the meeting told CNBC. President Trump on the other hand was reportedly upset at the Delta CEO’s absence, a senior White House official told the news network, and brought it up several times in the course of the meeting.

In a statement, Delta said that Bastian didn’t refuse to attend but was unable to due to his travel schedule.

President Trump indicated he would take no action on the issue beyond what he negotiated in 2018, an open-skies agreement with Qatar and the UAE that prohibited subsidies from flowing to Emirates, Etihad Airways, and Qatar Airways. In addition, the three airlines agreed that they would not offer any non-stop flights between the United States and Europe.

Instead, the president encouraged the airline executives to file a complaint with federal regulators, a step that didn’t require a White House meeting or the presence of al-Baker, and one that disappointed the U.S. airline CEOs.

In an op-ed piece in USA Today penned by Parker, Munoz, and Bastian, the three industry leaders said that the two nations are violating that pact.

“Today, we met with President Trump to discuss Qatar’s continued violation of its 2018 agreement with the United States,” said Parker in a statement released following the meeting. “These violations represent a serious threat to the U.S. airline industry and the more than 1.2 million American jobs it supports.”

Parker added that he looks forward to working with the White House “to hold Qatar accountable and protect U.S. jobs.”

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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