In its latest complaint over what it calls unfair competition from Middle Eastern carriers, Delta Air Lines Inc. is asserting that the U.S. government has broken the law and snubbed American airlines by offering contracts to JetBlue Airways for flights that will be operated solely by its codeshare partner, Emirates Airline.
At issue is the fact that JetBlue has no planes that can fly from Washington to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, a flight that was awarded last December, or from New York to Milan, Italy — a more recently announced route. JetBlue, which has no Middle East service, runs these routes exclusively on Emirates-branded planes.
Delta said that violates the “Fly America” act, a 1981 law that requires government employees to use U.S. carriers when flying on taxpayer-funded business overseas.
Delta clarified in an Aug. 18 letter to the General Services Administration that it’s not saying U.S. carriers shouldn’t be allowed to engage in codeshares on government contracts. It argues that this case was unique, however, in that the Emirates flights are completely supplanting rather than supplementing service by the American carrier.
The letter was the latest salvo in an ongoing battle between U.S. carriers and their Middle Eastern rivals.
The Partnership for Fair and Open Skies, a lobbying group that includes Delta, American Airlines and United Airlines, has for more than a year been railing against carriers from Qatar and the UAE that it says are state-owned and have received more than $50 billion in subsidies and benefits. That cash, the partnership argues, distorts market rates and helps them undercut American carriers on crucial international routes, costing American jobs. United, for instance, claimed that the first JetBlue contract was part of a trend that force it to shut down its own Washington-Dubai service. Delta announced in late 2015 it would end its route from Atlanta to Dubai amid competition.
“This decision blatantly violates Congress’ intent under the Fly America Act,” said Jill Zuckman, a spokeswoman for the partnership, in a statement. “We urge the Obama administration to scrap this decision and stop undercutting U.S. airlines and American workers.”
This summer, the U.S. State Department reportedly agreed quietly to hold informal discussions with Qatar and the UAE, stopping short of what Delta and its allies desired: a full review of the status of open-skies agreements between those countries and the U.S.
Delta CEO Ed Bastian recently told Bloomberg that the airline would continue to press its case into the next administration, where the airline hopes to find a more receptive ear given the harsh rhetoric surrounding trade in the current presidential campaign.