Delta Is Complaining About Qatar Airways Again (And No One Is Surprised)

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It’s not all that difficult to dislike the three legacy US airlines based purely on how they treat their customers but it’s their truly abhorrent hypocrisy that annoys me most….and Delta really leads the way on that front.

Ed Bastian (Delta’s CEO) has published an op-ed with the title “Air Italy’s mysterious benefactor” in which he rails against Qatar Airways’ minority share in Air Italy.

Leaving aside the fact that there’s absolutely nothing mysterious about Air Italy’s ownership (that’s just the usual sensationalist nonsense that we see from Delta) the rest of the op-ed is nothing but hypocrisy.

The reason why Bastian has written this op-ed (or had it written for him) is because Air Italy has recently announced some important expansion to North America (the airline will add routes to Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco next year) and Delta doesn’t like it.

a white airplane on a runway

The crux of the issue is that Delta claims that Qatar Airways is subsidising Air Italy’s expansion to the US which, in its opinion, goes against a Qatar Airways statement that it wasn’t planning any new routes between Europe and the US.

Firstly, it’s Air Italy expanding to the US and not Qatar Airways so Qatar Airways isn’t breaching any understanding with the US3.

Secondly, even if this is Qatar Airways finding a way to get around its understanding with the US3, shouldn’t the US3 be looking at how they managed to let themselves get outmanoeuvred rather than running to the US government begging for help?

Of course not! That would involve having the capacity to be self-critical and that’s definitely not a trait of any of the legacy US airlines.

Anyway, all of that aside there’s the issue of hypocrisy to address here and it’s hypocrisy of staggering proportions.

I could point to the fact that Delta owns a share of China Eastern (an airline whose majority owner is the Chinese government) and so enjoys all the benefits of an airline that has significant government support (i.e subsidies) – Delta only discusses subsidies with reference to airlines in which it doesn’t have an interest or with whom it doesn’t partner.

I could also point to the fact that all the US airlines have benefitted from US government/state/city subsidies over the years and continue to do so to this very day.

But I’m not going to focus on either of those points. I’m going to focus on something far closer to the Air Italy situation. I’m going to focus on Alitalia.

a close up of a blue and green box

Alitalia is the largest of Italy’s airlines, it flies on multiple routes between Italy and North America and it’s one of Delta’s European partners.

It has also been branded as one of the most dysfunctional airlines around.

As the Independent newspaper reported:

How dysfunctional [is Alitalia]? An official in the US Embassy in Rome put it crisply in a blistering diplomatic cable sent in 2008 and later revealed on Wikileaks: “The Alitalia saga is a sad reminder of how things work in Italy.

“A group of wealthy Berlusconi cronies was enticed into taking over the healthy portions of Alitalia, leaving its debts to the Italian taxpayers.

“The rules of bankruptcy were changed in the middle of the game to meet the government’s needs. Berlusconi pulled this one off, but his involvement probably cost the Italian taxpayers a lot of money.”

Alitalia has been a bankrupt airline for decades but, although it’s against EU law for governments to subsidise their airlines (that’s why airlines like Cyprus Airways went under), the Italian flag carrier has been bailed out time and time again by the Italian government….and it continues to get hugely favourable treatment from the state.

Once again the Independent puts it very well:

With disdain for European competition law, the government in Rome allocated slots for the Linate-Fiumicino route by such complex conditions that they might as well have said: “Open only to airlines whose names are comprised of three As, two Is, two Ls and a T”.

In 2017 over €2bn was ploughed into a restructuring plan for Alitalia as, for the thousandth time, the airline looked to be going under and, right now, the EU is investigating a €900m loan that the Italian government provided as part of that package.

In short, Alitalia flys routes to the US just like Air Italy, it has more aircraft than Air Italy and it is the ultimate poster child for government subsidies…..but Delta doesn’t seem to mind this at all.

a large white airplane parked in a tarmac
Image Alitalia

Apparently it’s ok for Alitalia to continue in existence and fly multiple routes to the US thanks to frequent government intervention but it’s not ok for Air Italy to do the same with backing from Qatar.


Because Alitalia is a Delta partner and Air Italy is not. It’s just that simple.

Bottom Line

I LOVE that Air Italy is opening up more flights to the US and I couldn’t care less how it does it. The more competition we have across the pond the better – bring it on.

The consistent bleating, crying and moaning that we hear from the US3 (and Delta in particular) has nothing to do with fairness and “protecting US jobs” (just ask Delta what happened to its order for Boeing Dreamliners) and everything to do with protecting their own financial interests.

Just to be clear, I have no problem with airlines working in their own best interests but I have a huge problem when they wrap their issues up in a faux American flag and when they go running to the US government asking it to take action against airlines they don’t like.

That’s a form of protectionism and, as much as the US3 wold love to see this introduced, it would be a huge blow to the flying public…..but Delta wouldn’t care about that.


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