Delta Is (Not So Secretly) Spying On Qatar Airways In Atlanta

Filed Under: Delta, Qatar

Here’s your latest installment in the never ending saga of the most petty rivalry in the airline industry, between Delta and Qatar.

On June 1, 2016, Qatar Airways inaugurated one of the most controversial flights in recent history, between Doha and AtlantaThere’s a huge conflict between the US and Gulf carriers, and perhaps the most outspoken airlines on both sides have been Delta and Qatar.

I’m sure you can imagine Delta’s response when Qatar launched service to their hub, a route which Qatar’s CEO claims is being launched to “rub salt in the wound of Delta.” To send even more of a message, Qatar Airways operated the inaugural flight using an Airbus A380, rather than the Boeing 777 that is subsequently operating the route.


Unfortunately Qatar Airways didn’t go through the proper channels to let the airport know of the bigger plane they’d be using, and they weren’t able to get a gate for that flight. As a result, they had to load and deplane passengers using air stairs. Ouch… that’s sort of embarrassing.


It seems like the dispute between Delta and Qatar in Atlanta isn’t over, and in this case the disagreement is over how full Qatar’s flights from Atlanta actually are. Al Baker claims there’s huge demand for the route, and that the A380 inaugural flights in both directions were oversold.

Delta claims that the daily demand between the cities of Atlanta and Doha is six passengers.

Neither point is especially relevant.

If the demand between Atlanta and Doha is huge, and if the flights are oversold, then why did Al Baker ever claim that the route is being operated to “rub salt in the wound” of Delta, since there would be demand for it?

Conversely, it doesn’t matter how many people are actually traveling between Doha and Atlanta, as a majority of passengers on the Gulf carriers are connecting. The flight could end up being profitable even if every single passenger is connecting.

Anyway, per Wandering Aramean, Delta is allegedly counting the number of passengers on Qatar Airways’ flight between Atlanta and Doha. They’re doing this by having a Delta employee with a passenger counter observe the boarding process.

Here’s a video of this allegedly happening:

You’ve gotta love how hilariously petty Delta is, as I’m not sure what exactly they’re trying to prove here.

Are they trying to prove that the flight is empty, and that Qatar Airways is losing a lot of money on the route? If so, they should just let the airline continue to lose huge amounts of money.

What if the flight is full? Are they trying to show that the evil, subsidized Gulf carriers are stealing passengers from US airlines, and by connection stealing US jobs?

I just fail to see how the results of this will have any impact on things, one way or another… but it sure is amusing to watch.

  1. Every airline does this. I’ve seen Southwest do it, AA do it etc. It’s common industry practice when airlines start new routes. This is not newsworthy.

  2. Why be rude to her? She hasn’t done anything wrong. She was asked to sit there counting passengers, so that is what she is doing. Go to her supervisors.

  3. This is so funny… airline wars….. Delta just needs to mind their own business and continue to improve their service.

  4. Delta is my favorite domestically, and Katahora is my favorite internationally. I love both airlines and wish them well!

  5. I’m pretty sure that if “Airline Wars” was a movie, Delta would be on the Dark Side and the emperor of the empire.

  6. This is nothing new. Everyone does it. I’ve even assigned employees to baggage makeup areas to check the number of bags tagged to each connecting airport for competitors. Heck, I’ll bet someone sent a guy with a clicker to count Orville and Wilbur at Kitty Hawk.

  7. Please count me!

    I proudly fly Qatar. Great service and new aircraft. And no one gets sick from carbon monoxide poisoning.

  8. I’d day those guys were pretty rude to her, borderline harassment. She is just doing the job she is told to do. Leave her alone. If Qatar think Delta is doing something illegal or unethical, bring it up the chain of command, not harass an employee. (and I doubt it is illegal or unethical, but maybe a bit pathetic)…

  9. I just wonder if it was Qatar doing this with an Arab looking guy using a counter??police would have been called,he d have been arrested,investigated,his mobile phone and home searched and treated as an alleged terrorist.

  10. This is strange to me that Delta sent a person to do counting. I heard travel agent can use a software and see every airline seat inventory. Why doesnt Delta just monitor from there?

  11. @Kuma. That would be illegal. I.e. SAS was investigated by police for using Amadeus (booking software) to spy on Norwegian Air. SAS had received emails from a travel agent containing business secrets.
    At the end they ended up being fined by the court to pay NOK160mill (roughly $20mill) as compensation to Norwegian for illegal company spying.

    Here is from SAS themselves:

  12. Doesn’t Qatar need to report the actual passenger numbers to the airport or a national agency anyway?

    This is ridiculous

  13. I flew Doha to Atlanta last Wednesday in J and every seat except one was sold. Y was about 85% full. No doubt QRs business model is hub and spoke to get passengers to destinations in Asia and Africa. Delta are really scraping the bottom of the barrel with these juvenile antics. Improve your service, stop flying geriatric cabin crew on international routes who treat passengers as an annoyance.

  14. @SPC: service was excellent as usual. QR operates 2-2-2 in J on all 777 equipment, which is nice but not as nice as their reverse herringbone on A380, A350, 787. Food and beverage had a good selection and IFE had good options too. It’s a very long flight-almost 15 hours……
    I shall be doing this flight frequently, then slumming it on Delta to reach my final destination. Oh well….

  15. I seriously doubt other airlines are doing this on a regular bases as per some of the comments here. Passenger load is not necessarily correlated with profitability and there are easier ways to figure out how an airline is doing on a particular route than having some person manually count how many people are boarding a plane.

  16. Airlines rarely count other airlines loads by counting the amount of people boarding. Delta is only doing this to try and prove QR is “subsidized”. If they realize the loads suck and they are still flying, they will have the stupid American for Fair Skies group try and make b******t up.

  17. Gotta love Lucky for being ignorant of standard industry practice again. Counting passengers is just one in a long list of things airlines do in a competitive environment to gain an understanding an advantage. And what’s being done here wasn’t to create a “petty” spectacle. Quite clearly, the agent didn’t feel overly comfortable being filmed anyway, so it’s not like she’s running around badmouthing QR and skipping around like a freak of the week at the gatehouse. Additionally, it’s not like there’s anything illegal or dangerous about what’s being done, and while your personal definition of petty in this instance may be met, it’s not informed by long-standing reality in the industry. But you’re pretty self-righteous, so I’m sure it’ll fall on deaf ears.

  18. It’s funny how you seem to always assume Qatar is losing money. Mr Akbar is an incredibly smart man – he’s managed to get easy, impressionable bloggers like you to constantly write about him for free. All he does is give the impression that his airline is spending money like crazy. But if you actually fly with them regularly, you’ll see that there is a lot of cost cutting going on and that their op expenses are surprisingly low. For example, on their flights, they only serve drinks with meals if you ask for one specifically – otherwise it’s water. Tiny little measures to save money, but if people have the view they spend loads and loads, then the passengers on board will feel like they’re getting an amazing deal (which they are to be fair).
    So I guess what I’m trying to say is l, please stop acting like you know how much they make and please for goodness stop saying that their a loss making airline. It makes you sound incredibly immature and stupid

  19. Flew Qatar on their A380 Inaugural from ATL to DOH to KTM in Business Class. Flew back 2 weeks later on the 777-200 LR. Flew Delta this past week from ATL to FCO in Delta One. A huge difference in experience. So glad that Atlanta has a new offering.

    Incredible experience on Qatar. Seats were great, aircraft was impressive and new. Putting the capital expenditures aside, Qatar has an attention to detail that is truly amazing. Every little detail. The flight crew “performed” their services with pride and enthusiasm. They had space to perform their services and had food offerings and presentation that was truly first class. The lounges in Qatar: One can only say “wow!” The third party lounge in Atlanta exceeded Delta’s competing Sky Club. The simple arabic design details on the pillows, menus, slippers, pajamas, cups, — even the complementary tooth brush wrappers said to me — “We at Qatar pay attention to every detail” Every time I visited the lavatory on the plane, the toilet paper had a new point folded! The attendants clean the bathrooms continuously. The presentation and quality of the silverware and dishes said — “You are in First Class! The Price to Kathmandu, Nepal: 1/2 of what Delta charges for flights just to Europe.

    When I flew Delta — the beef was inedible in both directions. There was no room in the Sky Club for my family to sit together. The floor was sticky. The food in the lounge was messy. There was one bar tender for 100 people in the lounge. There were 4 Lounge employees standing around and would occasionally walk around to pick up plastic cups and plastic spoons and forks. On board the plane, the crew served the Delta One Cabin, more or less, as if it were coach class. I could not use the cutlery (it was so inadequate) to even cut into the supposed Beef Tenderloin. I only took a few bites out the food in either direction. The crew left the curtains open to let light flood the cabin from the galley. Food served on trays. Nuts were handed out in the bag. I can not imagine how Delta has trained the Sky Miles Loyalist that they have some sort of premium service offering. Kudos for operational excellence… but shameful to charge so much for lacking service. Flight attendants, who all seem to have 30 to 40 years experience, have seemed to have long lost their enthusiasm for flight. The 2 Bathrooms for 30 passengers — were so disgusting by the end of the flight, I decided to “hold it”.

    I hope Delta is not only counting the Qatar passengers… but learning why the passengers are at that gate! With over 60 cities in the Western Asia / Middle East / Northern Africa region not served by Delta — there is plenty of demand for a high quality service going to the East beyond Europe!

  20. Good on that DL employee for remaining polite (through the length of the video recording).

  21. She looks like a smart lady, very content who means business. The QR guy was hyperventilating, lets hope he will not do something inappropriate and get arrested. She is in uniform with ID badge. Airport is a public facility and QR can do nothing about it. If LFs are not good, only way around it is to pay people to fly them.

  22. This is obviously an effort to rub salt into QR. If you’re going to do PAX counts, why would you use a uniformed employee? If it’s so important, grab on office rat with an AOA badge to do the dirty deed. Just sayin’

  23. Rob Rothley and Adam are so right! Just came off a Delta One flight yesterday and can’t agree more.
    The food was nearly inedible on the flights in both directions, the attendants grouchy, nevermind their 30/40 years experience of flying! Toilettes dirty and disgusting. Delta needs improve their overall service if they want to keep their premium cabin customers. We don’t mind paying the premium but Delta needs to deliver too. Right now they don’t. Rather than getting lost on pettiness, invest the time to make your customers feel as a guest rather than an annoying nuisance.

  24. I had never flown with a Middle Eastern airline until last year but have now flown on both Qatar and Emirates, both on A380’s. It is a whole step change in customer experience and their airports in Doha and Dubai are stunning as well – clean, modern, great facilities, easy to navigate. If Delta is worried, it should start copying the competition. I suspect many Qatar routes were not always full when they started but the Middle East is just a point on the map for many travellers going East and that’s where more travellers are going nowadays. They are replacing (sadly) the hubs in America and Europe.

  25. It’s overbooked not oversold. The east bound inaugural was packed in biz but econ was not 100%.

    Time for Delta to buy a greater stake in GOL.

  26. I find it comical that all articles pointed out the dreaded air stairs had to be used. #1, it takes a dedicated gate specifically designed to handle the behemoth 380 AND Qatar generally uses air stairs in Doha for the 777….so they need to be a little more honest.

  27. possibly, given the newsworthy theatrics of the Qatar Station Manager and his general lack of credibility, clicking is the only way to get first-hand, reliable data on the daily load ATL-DOH. Another point of knowledge to be gained is how many crew members Qatar sends to staff the 777. I would guess that, given the eagerness to please, Qatar will staff at 12 certified flight attendants and 2 cleaners who do nothing but clean bathrooms. Delta will probably staff the 777-200LR at 8 flight attendants, 3 pilots total.

  28. @Rob..I take exception to you referring negatively about 30-40 year attendants(not saying some are the best, but you really cant put them all in a certain group) I have been an attendant for 29 years, still love my job. Yes some are jaded, but my guess is that you would want them in an evacuation, versus a 21 yr old with 6 months experience. BTW how long have you worked at your job?

  29. Ok, let’s the simple stuff out of he way. The demand is faked for the first flight with the chief. Its true for any new QR market we launched. If he wanted it to look full (in this case he did), then we’d get an interoffice email inviting us or he’d pay F/A on reserve and stuff it with them (they were happy as heck to get out of jail for a few days, so it’s easy to fill 1st and any other plane that way). It doesn’t happen a lot. What the mostly do is operate the schedule no matter what. So while i was the worst example was an A340 that went ex-DOH with 11 pax and ex-IAH with 21. Stuff like not applying for up-gauge approvals it happens all the time. It is still an airline run by people from the Indian Subcontinent so all frustrations that you experience when doing business with an Indian company, then you will experience. Which, if you’re are like most Americans will drive you insane. And when i first read, and then never had to again read because I realized it didn’t matter, the QR Flight Profitability Books i couldn’t believe my eyes as every single flight leg (except EWR/GVA, since discontinued) was losing money even when you just included the most variable cost only. Oh yeah, that guy that forgot to file the equip up-gauge will be fired and deported. He, or she, was probably a grade 4 or 5 from India so maybe making $20,000 to $25,000. There is this little red phone,in DOH (it was on the second floor HQ Old Airport Building) not sure where it is in the new HQ Bldg but it only gets calls from and goes to the chief’s phone (if it rings more that 3 times, he finds out who was staffing it and has them terminated and deported. He doesn’t worry about money at all. After all they are in an “introduction and induce trial phase” and money is not a constraint. He always laughs if someone takes a job at grade 7 and will never respect that person because, “even my tea boy is a grade seven!”. He an angry, but funny elf. Total napoleana complex.

    So wrt to the counting thing at DL, Yeah did it all time. So when I was trying to run another new carrier out of business (Reno, Midway, TWA, Braniff, Vanguard, Kiwi, HP(mini-hub concept)–I think that’s all i killed personally),all I had to do was push an override button and now all the seats that we offered in he “market of death” would be at the lowest price level. So I could go from 20 seats in a market offered at $59 to 2500 $59 seats offered in as little as 9 hours–no new planes no changes, etc. etc. It was easily validated as our way to “mop up additional and newly stimulated demand”. It did do this but the real reason of course so that we could simply price match and the flood the market with supply to destroy the new market entrant’s business plan by crushing any actual yield or mix the would get (i.e. I would flood so many seats to the market that the price would never move off the bottom lowest faire). Then I would use counts to see how actual traffic was coming by flight by day, etc. and begin to adjust. So very useful and helpful in putting new market entrants out of business. The rule of thumb of course: cash is kiing. Both airlines will lose money, but to the new entrant this market is critical to them and access to capital to fund losses in not as big. But in the case of QR has more money than DL, so they cannot be doing this for any strategic or tactical internal benefit. I mean if your are in eh weaker cash position, then it;s best to extricate yourself than it is too fight. So DL most likely is using this data to fund that Partnership for Open And Free Skies or whatever. I don’t like the usa carrier’s position here an wish that the would stop. $160B we give to our guys, the ME3 are growing to gram market share so, just like we did then when the CAB artificially set fares and passed on excess (above market rents consumer surplus to airline and the grants (eas, others) the usa transfers tons of money to our airline industry.

    BTW, the product, service and price? The Me3 can be any Norh American carrier on all three. I always choose them(ME3) when I am not contractually obligated (via the please be quiet NAmrican Legacy Carrier’s “Fly America Act”–that artifically steers my business to an inferior air carrier) to fly US carriers only.

  30. I worked for Delta for 5 miserable years…harassed, dehumanized and tactically forced from “the greatest employees on earth.” Amen. Don’t get me wrong, if being institutionalized for 20 years before you can take advantage of the “perks” is your bag, it might just be the place for you.

    I’m years removed and still dealing with the ramifications of their influential social network. Not literally of course, but I do hope these Gulf Coast airlines burn these lying greedy bastards to the ground.

    Greatest miserable employees on earth…

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