Feud over Middle Eastern airlines reaches new extremes

Emirates jets taxi on the tarmac at Dubai International Airport. Several U.S.-based carriers say Emirates has an unfair advantage because it is supported by its oil-rich government owners.
(Kamran Jebreili /Associated Press)

A years-old dispute over whether to impose restrictions on three Middle Eastern airlines that fly into the United States has reached a new extreme: criminal allegations.

A coalition of U.S.-based airlines and their pilot and flight attendants unions have been calling for restrictions on flights to the United States by Emirates, Etihad and Qatar airlines, saying the carriers have taken subsidies from their oil-rich governments and therefore have an unfair advantage when competing with U.S. airlines.

The Middle Eastern carriers dispute the allegations.

Former President Obama did not show interest in putting restrictions on the Middle Eastern airlines, and neither has President Trump.


Now the coalition, including United, American and Delta airlines, are taking shots at the U.S. Travel Assn., the nation’s largest travel trade group, which has opposed restrictions on the Middle Eastern carriers.

The coalition accused the trade group this week of failing to register as a lobbyist for a foreign agent because Emirates and Etihad became two of the U.S. Travel Assn.’s 1,200 members this year and paid a combined $330,000 in membership fees.

“Despite claiming to represent the American travel industry, the U.S. Travel Assn. is promoting the interests of the United Arab Emirates by lobbying on behalf of Emirates and Etihad Airways,” said Jill Zuckman, a spokeswoman for the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies, the coalition that has been critical of the Middle Eastern carriers.

A violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which was enacted in 1938, is punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 or by imprisonment of up to five years.

The U.S. Travel Assn. dismissed the accusation, noting that it began opposing restrictions on the Middle Eastern carriers two years before Etihad and Emirates joined the trade group. The organization also says that the membership fees from the two carriers represents less than 1% of its $33-million annual revenues.

“Their narrative doesn’t add up in any way at all,” U.S. Travel Assn. spokesman Jonathan Grella said.

To read more about the travel and tourism industries, follow @hugomartin on Twitter.


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