IAG Boss Thinks It’s “Highly Likely” That Qatar Airways Will Leave Oneworld


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Last month Akbar Al Baker, the highly excitable CEO of Qatar Airways, announced that he was considering withdrawing his airline from the oneworld alliance because members of the alliance were acting negatively towards Qatar Airways.

Al Baker was specifically unhappy with American Airlines whom he accused of “talking against Qatar Airways” but, at the time, a lot of us thought that he was simply posturing (something he has been known to do in the past).

Well, apparently there may be more to all of this than just simply posturing.

The Issue

The big three US legacy carriers (US3) spent years waging a campaign against the Middle Eastern carriers (ME3) claiming that they were unfairly subsidized by their governments and demanding that the US government impose restrictions on the ME3’s operations to/from the US.

I’m not going to go into the irony of these allegations (the US3 have all seriously benefited from government hand outs in the past and still benefit from them today) as they’ve reached the point of being tedious and, more importantly, this was all supposed to be behind us when an agreement was reached with the ME3 earlier this year when they agreed to more open accountancy disclosures.

Qatar Airways A380 Business Class

What I will say is that it seems as if Doug Parker (the American Airlines CEO and chief-in-charge of making American a truly terrible airline) can’t let things be and has continued briefing against Qatar Airways.

Unsurprisingly Akbar Al Baker has been taking umbrage at this (not least because American Airlines and Qatar Airways are supposed to be partners in the oneworld alliance) and appears to have now reached breaking point.

The Latest News

ATW has reported that Willie Walsh (the CEO of IAG – the parent company of BA, Iberia, Aer Lingus etc..) believes that Al Baker’s threat to leave oneworld is a very real one and that we could soon see the alliance lose one of its best airlines.

IAG held it’s capital markets day on Friday (a day on which the airline group explains its performance to institutional investors and tries to reassure them that BA’s Alex Cruz isn’t as inept as he almost certainly is) and, during a Q&A session, he reportedly said the following:

I think it’s highly likely that Qatar will leave the oneworld alliance. I have had regular contact Akbar Al Baker on this issue. He doesn’t say these things without being genuinely behind the comments. He is annoyed at the way some oneworld members have responded, as alliance partners. I think this is a genuine threat

That seems to be a quite direct statement and leaves little room for misunderstanding.

Thoughts

It’s important to remember that Qatar Airways is a part-owner of IAG so it’s quite likely that Walsh and Al Baker do have the regular contact that the IAG CEO mentions and, as both men are the heads of airlines in the oneworld alliance, it would be natural for the two to discuss Al Baker’s feelings on how Qatar Airways is being treated within the alliance.

This is potentially very bad news for fans of the oneworld alliance and, should Qatar Airways really exit, it would represent a serious devaluation in the value of American Airlines AAdvantage Miles and Avios.

Qatar Airways offers the best Business Class product (overall) out of all the oneworld alliance airlines and the airline’s Qsuites are the best Business Class seats in the world – period. While Qatar Airways is a member of the oneworld alliance those of us hoarding American AAdvantage Miles and Avios can use our balances to fly in Qatar Airways premium cabin and get a great return on our points.

Should Qatar Airways leave oneworld that option will no longer be available and we’ll be left with a much poorer set of award redemption choices.

We’ll be left with Cathay Pacific (an airline that’s a shadow of its former self) as the main option for premium travel between Europe and Asia, no option whatsoever for non-stop travel between the US and the Middle East and we’ll be reliant on a sub-par British Airways product for one-stop premium travel between the US and the Middle East.

The bad news doesn’t end there.

Not only would a Qatar Airways exit be bad for award redemptions but it would also be bad for European flyers looking to re-qualify for oneworld status in the most economical way.

Historically Qatar Airways has offered truly fantastic Business Class fares for travel between Europe and Asia and these fares earn a lot of AAdvantage Elite Qualifying Miles, AAdvantage Elite Qualifying Dollars and British Airways Tier Points – booking these fares has been a relatively cheap path to top-tier oneworld status.

Although the amazing Qatar Airways fares are now a lot harder to find than they once were they still pop up from time to time but, should Qatar Airways leave the oneworld alliance, they won’t earn travelers any credit towards oneworld status.

Bottom Line

I really hope that Willie Walsh has said what he said to put some pressure on Doug Parker to rethink his ongoing belligerence towards Qatar Airways but that may just be wishful thinking.

A oneworld alliance without Qatar Airways will be a significantly poorer alliance than the one we have today and it’s not something that any serious miles & points collector should want.

Akbar Al Baker has said that Qatar Airways may pull out of oneworld in 2019 so, as airlines apparently have to give a year’s notice before they can exit the alliance, we should know just how serious this threat is in the next few weeks – let’s hope he has a change of heart.

[HT: JonNYC for pointing out the ATW article]

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