Qatar Airways is a Hypocrite in the Argument Over Protectionism (But So What?)

Qatar Airways now flies the world’s longest flight between Doha, Qatar and Auckland, New Zealand.

This puts them in competition with Air New Zealand carrying passengers between New Zealand and Europe. One competitive response is that Air New Zealand has cancelled its ‘Special Pro-rate Agreement’ with Qatar, a move that Qatar’s CEO says means “we can’t really connect the people of New Zealand to the large international network that we so wanted.”

Qatar Airways A380 Business Class Bar

Via One Mile at a Time, the CEO of Qatar Airways thinks the New Zealand government should force Air New Zealand to work with his airline.

I don’t think the New Zealand government should stand and watch this – they should put pressure on their national carrier – they should not do anything that hurts the interests of New Zealand.

He wants special subsidies, government action to benefit his airline (and from a foreign government even). At the same time he pushes back against the government action that United, Delta, and American want to ‘protect’ (subsidize) themselves from him.

This is, of course, silly. Air New Zealand shouldn’t be forced to take discounted fares to ferry passengers brought to Auckland by Qatar to onward destinations within New Zealand on their flights.

Giant Teddy Bear Sculpture in the Doha Airport

Etihad, Emirates and Qatar Airways are no paragons of free market virtue. And some readers misunderstand opposing US airline requests for protectionism with siding with Gulf carrier business plans. I’m against protectionism on both sides of the equation.

Pretending that ‘cracking down’ on Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar will hurt those airlines but not US consumers is analytically very similar to believing that a ‘border adjustment tax’ to pay for a wall will fall on Mexican producers or the Mexican government but not US consumers.

Responding to protectionism with protectionism is like Cleavon Little in Blazing Saddles threatening the people of Rock Ridge by holding a gun to his own head.

After the townspeople load their guns and point them at the new sheriff, he points his own gun at himself.

Olson Johnson: Hold it, men. He’s not bluffing.
Dr. Sam Johnson: Listen to him, men. He’s just crazy enough to do it!
..Harriet Johnson: Isn’t anybody going to help that poor man?
Dr. Sam Johnson: Hush, Harriet! That’s a sure way to get him killed!

US airline demands are hypocritical, they love government subsidies when those subsidies benefit them. Delta owns a piece of the most subsidized Chinese airline, and benefits from Etihad’s investment in Alitalia with a joint venture flying across the Atlantic. American’s initial large aircraft order was subsidized by the federal Reconstruction Finance Corporation (American’s CEO was best man in FDR’s son’s wedding), America West received government subsidies from a post-9/11 fund, and US Airways pensions were moved off its booked onto the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. So were United and Delta pensions.

Qatar Airways al Safwa First Class Lounge, Doha

Calling out those demands – and the harm they’ll do to consumers in the form of fewer flight options and higher prices, all to pad the pockets of already robustly profitable US carriers – does not mean I favor the business models of Gulf airlines. On the contrary I’m consistent in believing that Open Skies benefits people on both sides. I call out damaging policies of US airlines more than foreign ones because they’re more directly relevant to me and to my readers. And if I were prioritizing the policies I’d influence, airline subsidies would be pretty low on the list for Gulf countries.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I do not understand how Qatar can be in competition with Air New Zealand with carrying passengers between New Zealand and Europe when Air New Zealand has a grand total of one European flight daily, to London,via Los Angeles, so even that one route does not overlap those flown by Qatar.

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