Heads of the 3 main US airlines met with the White House to accuse Middle Eastern airlines of competing unfairly — but not everyone agrees

  • The CEOs of major US airlines reportedly met with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence Thursday afternoon at the White House.
  • According to Reuters, the subject of the meeting was the Open Skies treaty.
  • The airlines have repeatedly accused the three major Middle Eastern airlines – Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar – of receiving subsidies from their governments, enabling them to compete unfairly.
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The CEOs of several US airlines reportedly met with President Donald Trump today to discuss their accusations that unfair airline subsidies allegedly given to Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are hurting jobs in the United States.

The meeting, which was reportedly also attended by Vice President Mike Pence, according to Reuters, included the CEOs of American Airlines, United Airlines, JetBlue, FedEx, Atlas Air, and Qatar Airways. According to Delta, CEO Ed Bastian was unable to attend due to international travel.

The three major US airlines – American, Delta, and United, sometimes referred to as the “US3” – have lobbied the federal government since 2015 to penalise the three major Middle Eastern airlines – Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar – arguing that they receive unfair subsidies from their respective governments, costing US jobs. This would violate the Open Skies treaty that governs international commercial air travel, according to the US airlines. The three Gulf airlines – in turn, often referred to as the “ME3” – have denied the accusations.

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Other passenger and cargo airlines, however, disagree, and warn that penalising Qatar or the other Gulf airlines would be a violation of the treaty itself, and could provoke retaliation. JetBlue, FedEx, and Atlas Air are among them.

US Travel, a national organisation that represents the travel industry, also disagrees with the three airlines leading the charge. In a statement, its executive president for public affairs and policy Tori Barnes said:

“We have closely scrutinised Open Skies agreements and we simply do not agree that they are doing any harm to American businesses – on the contrary, our research shows immense benefits to the U.S. economy, jobs base and exports, and considerable harm if Open Skies is tampered with. Apart from the Big Three, the entirety of the U.S. travel and tourism industry-including the rest of the aviation sector – strongly supports keeping Open Skies intact.”

A spokesperson for the Partnership for Open and Fair Skies, an advocacy coalition representing American, Delta, and United, confirmed the meeting, and reiterated the airlines’ position.

“We had a productive meeting with President Trump today to talk about the importance of American jobs and not letting foreign governments break their agreements with the United States,” said Scott Reed, a managing partner for the coalition, in a statement. “The president shares our concerns and instructed us to keep working with the U.S. Department of Transportation, which we plan to do. We thank the president for his time and attention, as well as his concern for the 1.2 million Americans who rely on a strong U.S. airline industry.”

United, American, and Qatar did not immediately have a comment available. Delta deferred to the Partnership for Open and Fair Skies.