Delta is lobbying its own employees to engage in the
carrier's push for U.S. sanctions against Emirates, Etihad and Qatar as the
dispute between the major U.S. international airlines and their Gulf
In a 15-minute video that the carrier put out early this
month, Delta warns employees that unchecked expansion by the Gulf carriers
could lead to the U.S. aviation industry going the way of the steel and shipbuilding
industries before it.
"The rules of business just don't apply to these
airlines," former U.S. trade representative Charlene Barshefsky says in
Delta along with United, American and U.S. airline industry
labor unions accuse the Gulf carriers of accepting a combined $50 billion in
state subsidies since 2004, contravening bilateral aviation agreements between
the U.S. and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar. The Gulf carriers deny
JetBlue, Hawaiian, cargo carriers Atlas and FedEx, and
travel industry lobbying groups including the U.S. Travel Association oppose
the efforts of the Big 3 to have the federal government stymie Gulf carrier expansion.
The Big 3 and their union allies have stepped up their
campaign against the Gulf carriers since the Trump administration took office.
Delta has titled its effort to enlist employees in the
dispute "Our Future Our Fight." The carrier has also set up an
OurFutureOurFight.com website where its 80,000 employees can take action.
The video portrays the Gulf carriers as a threat to the very
underpinning of the U.S. airline industry. At one point, the video describes
their business models as one focused squarely on expansion without regard for
"And eventually, once they have driven everybody else
out of business on these routes, then they can price pretty much as they
please," said Jim Burnley, a Department of Transportation secretary during
the Reagan administration.
The UAE and Qatar are undertaking these efforts, the video
says, because they know that they can't rely on oil alone for economic
Already, Delta and American have pulled out of India due to
Gulf carrier competition, said Delta CEO Ed Bastian. But Delta, he said, will
return to India when it wins the political fight.
A demise of U.S. aviation would be painful for the U.S.
military, the video says, since U.S. airlines are employed by the government to
move troops around the world.
"In our market, we will be overrun if we don't wake up,"
Despite the ominous warnings produced by Delta, the Gulf
carriers have substantially slowed their U.S. growth in the past three years.
Of the combined 29 routes the carriers currently fly to the
U.S., 14 began between 2012 and 2014. Gulf airlines have launched just five
U.S. routes since then. Meanwhile, Etihad plans to suspend its San Francisco
service in October and Emirates recently reduced frequencies on five of its 12
Emirates and Etihad have also slowed expansion network-wide
as they face a variety of economic challenges, including overcapacity and the
weak energy sector.
Emirates is slated to fly just 1.1% more seats in the third
quarter of this year than it did last year, compared with a growth rate of
11.5% a year earlier. Meanwhile, Etihad is slated to grow by 2.7% in the third
quarter, compared with the 10.8% growth it enjoyed in the third quarter of last
Qatar had planned a more aggressive seat growth of 10.5%.
But the diplomatic dispute between Qatar on one side and the UAE, Egypt, Saudi
Arabia and Bahrain on the other means the carrier's seat capacity could drop by
11.1% in the third quarter, according to a forecast by the aviation analytics