Several readers e-mailed me with a rumor that American Airlines’ decision to end Philadelphia – Tel Aviv service was driven by American’s Middle East partners.
One reader emailed,
My sources tell me that the pressure came from Qatar, that threatened to pull out of oneworld
Another mention was pressure from the BDS (“Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions”) movement.
I see as well that Israel’s Haaretz has picked up the story.
American made the decision due to the OneWorld global alliance, whose members include Arab carriers like Qatar Airways and Royal Jordanian and the carrier of the Muslim-majority Asian country Malaysia, asserted the source.
There are so many things wrong with this theory I hardly know where to begin. It’s worth noting that American claims the Philadelphia – Tel Aviv service was a money loser. No doubt heavy competition (United, Delta, and El Al) in the New York market did dampen yields.
However, there are many independent reasons that I’m skeptical of any alternative explanation.
- There isn’t even a fully formed theory being suggested here. What did American supposedly get for dropping the flight? What would they have been denied had they continued serving Tel Aviv? Since when have these Middle East carriers refused to partner with airlines that fly to Israel?
- Saudia hasn’t had any problems co-existing with Delta in Skyteam despite Delta’s Tel Aviv service.
- American Airlines passengers traveling after January 6 are being rebooked on British Airways and Iberia. Those airlines are part-owned by Qatar.
- The piece cites Royal Jordanian as a Middle East partner American wants to be close to. But Royal Jordanian has Tel Aviv service itself.
- Qatar didn’t make its oneworld membership contingent on the alliance exiting Tel Aviv. Etihad increased its codesharing with American months ago.
- Somehow Malaysia Airlines was lobbying for this? They’re struggling to survive and they are not any position to demand anything from anyone and besides they do not even fly to the US.
The news of the end of Tel Aviv service did take me by surprise. I assumed that the end of American’s El Al partnership signaled a likelihood that they’d increase service to Israel themselves.
On the other hand though, if you needed more evidence that it was possible to cooperate closely with Middle East airlines while still doing business with Israel, Qantas remains an El Al partner and is in a joint venture with Emirates (in addition to partnering with Qatar through oneworld).
The Haaretz piece is skeptical of the simple explanation that the route wasn’t profitable because:
- “No one would have operated a money losing route for so many years.” I don’t have independent data on the profitability of Philadelphia – Tel Aviv. But you don’t expect to make money serving a new destination (country!) when you first start. After the first 3 years of service the focus of US Airways leadership was on the American merger, and they could have judged that an inopportune time to kill the route. There’s nothing inherent in six years of service that alone suggests the route was making money.
- “American signaled its commitment to the Israel route by sending a team of executives to Israel. In meetings with the media, they vowed to expand the route and add US destinations.” Of course they did. Airlines don’t tell the media their plans to end service to a destination before doing it. Cleveland was trumpeted as a profitable hub for United right up until the airline stopped being CLE_friendly.
In the absence of any evidence at all that makes sense, even a theory of why American would need to do this to cooperate with Gulf carriers, I’m going to dismiss this one 100%.