“How DARE You Associate Yourself With The Gulf Carriers!”

Filed Under: Media, Unions

As most of you probably know by now, there’s a battle going on between the “big three” US airlines and the “big three” Middle Eastern carriers. I’ve shared my thoughts about why the US carriers can’t compete with the Gulf carriers under the current system. And I think the US carriers are right for expressing their grievances, regardless of whether anything comes of it or not.

The problem is that while I think the US airlines have a point, they’re doing such a horrible job expressing themselves. It started off with Delta’s CEO, Richard Anderson, linking the “big three” Middle Eastern carriers to 9/11. And it hasn’t gotten better from there.

Yesterday “Americans For Fair Skies” put out a press release responding to Emirates’ new Dubai to Orlando route, which seemed more like a middle school smear campaign than anything else.

Today the unions representing US flight attendants put out a press release, entitled “Airline Unions Send Letter Questioning U.S. Travel Association Support of Gulf Carriers.”

So they’re calling out the US Travel Association for “supporting” Gulf carriers:

Today the union presidents of the Association of Flight Attendants; the Association of Professional Flight Attendants; the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters sent a joint letter to the U.S. Travel Association Board questioning their continued support for the repugnant policies of three Gulf carriers – Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways and Emirates.

These carriers require their female employees to obtain permission before getting married or pregnant and ban lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from employment.  The union presidents asked whether the U.S. Travel Association’s top-tier board members, such as American Express, Google Travel, Hyatt Hotels and Disney Destinations, believe that these archaic policies are acceptable.  In the letter, they ask why U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow would continue to support these companies:

“We are writing to you, a member of the board of directors of the U.S. Travel Association, to ask two simple questions: Do you support these labor standards? Do you want to associate your name and your company’s reputation with such repugnant practices?”

Specifically let me point out that they are:

  • Questioning the US Travel Association’s “continued support for the repugnant policies of three Gulf carriers”
  • Asking whether the top-tier board members from “American Express, Google Travel, Hyatt Hotels and Disney Destinations, believe that these archaic policies are acceptable”

I really want to support the US airlines in this debate, but they make it so difficult. Congrats to the US airlines’ unions for calling out rather arbitrary companies for being on the board of a company which at best indirectly supports the Gulf carriers.

Dare I point out the obvious — American Airlines partners with both Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways.


American will even sell you a flight operated by Etihad and marketed by American directly on aa.com:


Just as they’ll sell you a flight operated by Qatar and marketed by American on aa.com:


You must have balls the size of a tuberous bushcricket (the fun things you learn when Googling!) to call out the US Travel Association, which they’re somehow indirectly linking to the Gulf carriers, while ignoring the fact that American partners with two of these airlines, and will even sell you tickets for travel on them.

And let’s not even get into how tangential their argument is. So their problem with Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar, is how they treat employees. Why are we leaving out all the other Middle Eastern airlines, many of which have much worse policies than Emirates and Etihad?

Bottom line

It really disgusts me how the unions and political action committees (prompted by the US airlines, of course) are choosing to fight this battle. The actual debate here is about whether or not it’s fair for private companies to be competing with governments under a policy which is intended to liberalize air travel and remove government intervention.

The fact that they’re trying to make that point by hypocritically and childishly shaming companies is just wrong.

Am I off base?

  1. Spot on Lucky.

    US airlines have really lost their heads and in the process their ability to present a viable and considerable case. Their concerns are valid, but the way they’re going about is, hurting themselves more in the process, no wonder the 3 are quietly watching off the sidelines, while US Airlines self destruct their own case. And shame on Delta CEO to stoop so low in the conversation.

    Oh aside, doesn’t Etihad has a beautiful ad (Nicole Kidman)!

  2. Tough to get amazing margins for your shareholders when you are up against the Borg of Krug supplying airlines out of the Gulf! Thing is, the ME3 picking up more and more US flights is the best thing to happen for travelers in years and they fly into largely underserved regions like India and Central Asia. Definitely watching this one closely, because as has been mentioned before, the ME3 are also some of the biggest purchasers of Boeing products.

  3. Even on that point they’re wrong, and are complete hypocrites. From the recent Forbes article:

    “Having been the recipients of billions of dollars of government aid and support, the airlines are trying to have it both ways. Delta and other airlines lobbied for and received $18.6 billion in bailouts from the federal government in 2001. Delta and Northwest lobbied for and received a pension bailout from the Pension Guarantee Benefit Corporation, a federal agency, when Delta underfunded its pension plan by $3 billion and filed for bankruptcy. Delta Airlines received an $84.8 million loan guarantee from the Export-Import Bank in April 2012. It’s hard to argue with a straight face that you can’t compete against companies that receive government aid when your own pockets were filled with government aid.”

  4. I was going to support the US carriers initially but the absolutely disgusting tactics by them and the unions makes we want to book all overseas flights on those 3 carriers going forward.

    It’s one thing to debate valid points but that’s not what is no longer happening.

  5. i applaud this action. Regardless of motive, bias or hypocrisy that the context of their letter may imply, it’s good that a voice is putting these horrible, repugnant and archaic employment policies up for discussion. I dare say most employees of these three carriers come from developing countries and would put up with the low pay, unfair employment contracts just to travel the world and so.

  6. You made some good points, and you’re right, the Americans aren’t gonna make any allies with BS like that.

    It reminds me of the “boycott” campaigns that we see nonstop on twitter, or even flyertalk. You know, don’t go to Whaleworld, or buy Coors beer, or shop at wherever, etc, etc. Campaigns that go nowhere.

    Flyers buy our plane tickets based on flight details, not stuff going on “off stage.” —

    “These carriers require their female employees to obtain permission before getting married or pregnant and ban lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from employment.”

    Is this group honestly so stupid as to think that is going to win their case? If the public started buying tickets based on “employee policies” uhh, the first policy under the spotlight would be whether or not the FAs are unionized. Hmmm… who’s gonna be a losing airline? {wink, wink}

  7. Are the US carriers afraid that the ME3 are going to take away their lucrative Houston to Austin or Tallahassee to Atlanta routes or are they afraid of premium competition on routes into Europe?
    Delta, United and USai errrrr I mean American certainly aren’t Emirates but they seem to be “good enough” for Int’l travel. Not great but passable.
    Is this all about squeezing margins?
    And the double talk and sophomoric responses from the US carriers(and to be fair Al Baker as well) are hilarious…and tragic…..

  8. Cry me a river American airlines
    I didn’t turn to International carriers because of marvelous food, better service or newer aircraft (but it helps)
    I’m slowly moving away because of declining loyalty programs value
    massive devaluation’s and shrinking award availability pushed me to these other carriers.
    Simply learn how to compete or sink

  9. They have to make these hypocritical arguments, since as Stannis points out above, there is no argument to be made strictly on the facts. I welcome more competition in the US, especially from airlines that provide much higher quality in both soft and hard products. I just wish it was coming from SQ instead of the ME3…

  10. I find it laughable that any union here in the US is calling them out for their treatment of any class of people, whether it be race, religion or gender. I travel in and out of LAX on a regular basis and many times take the same shuttle to and from the airport employee parking area that is shared with one of the main parking areas. To hear the comments from these “union” members is amazing. Many times they assume they are the only ones on the shuttle speak their language so they are safe with their comments. Then if you look into the history of our “unions” here in the US, it isn’t a sterling history. As is the norm here in the US, every move is bought and paid for by some faction that is looking for a leg up in their position.

  11. Now another voice complaining and they the flight attendants should look in the mirror. It’s their members that have added to this and is a reason many of us prefer to fly other carriers than US Flag. I mean come on who are you kidding? Especially DL International flights. I had a 767 with “duct tape’ in the lav of business class, a seat that would not properly function and I paid for that. To the FA’s credit she did apologize profusely on that flight.

    I watched at SFO yesterday in the International terminal, US flags had what appeared to me far less than full flights compared to foreign flags. And EK was packed.

  12. I don’t necessarily agree with the personnel policies of the Middle East carriers, and I definitely don’t agree with the limited rights and civil liberties that exist in those countries – but I don’t see why this type of international competition is any worse than the competition that most of us have to deal with every day. In fact, why would an airline that has enjoyed tremendous growth due to reduction of trade barriers and increased international commerce then complain when they are faced with a similar competitive environment? We all have to compete, that’s why we have to drag our asses all over the world. And almost all of us enjoy far, far fewer competitive protections or governmentally imposed barriers to entry than the airlines.

  13. @ psyched — Except they’re not true. Of those three carrier, Qatar is the only one which requires crew to get permission to get married or pregnant. Emirates and Etihad don’t. It’s fabrication. As far as laws against gays, though, they’re just that. They’re laws (horrible as they are), and not company policies.

  14. i would not fly US airlines unless there is no choice, I would often avoid going someplace rather than fly US airlines. They treat ppl like crap and there is no way I am going to willingly support that by paying money into these airlines.

  15. I read somewhere that only 7% of private sector employees are unionised. Would be interesting to see what the stats are for the American majors, and how those numbers shifted pre bankruptcy protection and post.

    Broadly, though, I disagree with the premise that government ownership of airlines is inherently bad. Why aren’t there protests against SQ, who provide a better product than the ME3, out of the best international hub in the world (also government owned)?

  16. You will love US airlines after you are physically located in Canada. Since AIR CANADA are providing the WORST service at a TOP cost.

  17. When an airline wants to use SFO, they have to agree to nondiscrimination against LGBT employees. Emirates response was that since no LGBT people work at the airline, it was an irrelevant demand. Just sayin’.

  18. It’s sad that the US carriers feel so threatened, they’re blurting irrelevant points to anyone who will listen. They are trying to appeal to the feels. That’s it. Cold, hard facts won’t do them any favors at this point and they know that, so they are resorting to insults and scare tactics. And by the way, US carriers aren’t that far removed from their own crappy labor practices when it came to their flight attendants.

  19. Considering that in many US states you can be fired for being gay, and the numerous “religious freedom” and anti-trans bills being considered, the US has little room to criticize anyone for how they treat people.

  20. Let us just admit the fact, in US we have strong stereotypes toward some countries, especially those evil rich countries ,such as UAE / Qatar (911), China (Poor human rights record / Tibet) … They are rich yet they are immoral (at least in our opinions) … So we just try to object anything associated with these governments.,,

  21. This whole battle between the big 3 U.S. Airlines and the Gulf Carries is pathetic. The U.S. have really embarrassed themselves with their comments and let’s face the facts, I think the real reason they’re scared is because the Middle Eastern Airlines are on point and have high standards!

  22. @ Joseph N – boycott campaigns are incredibly effective, and have worked in thousands of situations. Coors is one, and although it took a long time, it worked.

    @ Lucky – I think you’re off base on the issue of the ME carriers providing unfair competition (whatever that is in an increasingly consolidated industry here in the U.S.).

    I also think you’re offbase chiding the unions for trying to protect their employers in this case. When they strike, the entire country thinks they’re spoilt, overpaid, trying to send the company bankrupt etc. When they try to do something on behalf of management, people seem to think they’re acting in bad faith.

    The US airlines are indeed fighting a campaign in bad faith, as far as I am concerned (and they’re going to lose, I am sure). But don’t blame the unions for that.

    Equally, I think their points on the way that some of these carriers and countries treat women and LGBT people is as valid as any reason to prevent them from competing here. It worked wonders when SAA wasn’t allowed to fly anywhere because of their country’s policies. Those policies are repugnant, and the easiest way to point that out is by criticizing them publicly.

    I have said before in these comments pages that you make a conscious decision- as a gay man – to ignore those policies everytime you board their aircraft. I like that the unions are calling you out, even if it’s in the wrong argument.

  23. Both sides have valid concerns, but the rhetoric one is presently hearing from the ‘Big 3’ seems as if they’ve reached the point of desperation, have they? Are they getting this defensive because they have reason to believe that they aren’t winning the war of words – are they trailing when it comes to PR/Political traction?

  24. I usually can’t wait to get off US metal as quickly as possible — the foreign carriers generally see pax as customers and not revenue/self-loading-cargo. The US carriers seem to think their shareholders are their #1 concern and have forgotten that without pax, there’s no airlines.

    Re: unions — I’ll go out of my way to avoid giving them business. I’ve worked union and non-union jobs and I’ll take a non-union job any day of the week. I’ve done far better for myself, and my employers, by being non-union and being able to do any particular task needed when it is needed and letting employees get promoted by skill and motivation rather than seniority. I will support employers who voluntarily treat their workers better (ie: Costco) though.

  25. “Considering that in many US states you can be fired for being gay, and the numerous “religious freedom” and anti-trans bills being considered, the US has little room to criticize anyone for how they treat people.”

    Um…you do realize citizens of the USA can be self-critical of the US federal and state governments’ treatment of certain individuals, while simultaneously being critical of other countries’ governments who do the same thing, right?

  26. Emirates was founded in 1985, Qatar 1993, Etihad in 2003: where were the objections all these years? I would guess that these airlines have not changed their HR policies recently (if ever)

  27. I didnt see anything in the unions statement on what they are going to do on improving the service attitude of their members, which is one of the major issues that prevents US airlines from being able to compete with any international carrier. This is all about the question who provides the best end to end service experience to his customers. We can easily agree that is not any US airline. So guys fix your own problem first before whining about others.

  28. As a many million miler who has suffered through all the devaluations and diminishing customer service through the ‘outsourcing’ practices of all of the majors……

    How is it OK to send all those jobs overseas, where there isn’t an equal playing field, and then whine about unfair competition through the other side of their face?

    I always purchase my overseas travel on a carrier with a better product, which unfortunately, is never a US carrier. I still get the points through the loyalty network.

    Sink or swim…that’s what I say.

  29. @John I fully agree with your comments – regardless of the merits of the US airlines arguments about unfair competition, it is the role of the union to point out the discriminatory practices of any employer. Just as it’s appropriate for US garment workers to point out the unsafe working conditions endured by labourers in competing overseas factories.

    I also think it was important to point out that, indeed, boycotts can indeed be a powerful force for change. South Africa being a prime example.

    @Lucky – You’ve said that charges of gender discrimination with respect to Etihad and Emirates are fabricated. I wonder what your source is? A number of reports, including those from the Daily Mail and Washington Post suggest otherwise. Moreover, two years before this action by the US unions, a complaint about all three of the ME carriers was filed by an International Union representing aviation workers. While they did point out that Qatar was the worst offender because of its pregnancy policies, all 3 airlines were called out for discriminatory practices.


    I don’t really have an opinion about the merits of the US airlines’ unfair competition argument. I do think that as consumers we benefit from learning as much as we can about the practices of the businesses we patronize. Even if the ME carriers do offer a better inflight experience, I wouldn’t choose to spend my money or points where employment practices discriminate against women and LGBT people.

  30. The unions have presented a fallacy as a talking point. The ME3 airlines do not have a mandate to conform to Western Civilization standards. If the ambassadors of the USA in UAE or Qatar, are not presenting a formal human rights violations complaint, then there is no point in arguing. Only the foreign minister of Sweden has written to express concerns about the treatment of immigrants in UAE.

    The Big3 in US pay richly their CEO’s to guide their companies through a long-term growth plan. So far they have gambled in a strategy of narrow lie-flats, few planes manufactured in this century, keeping FA hostages with vague wording contracts, giving better catering to premium routes only.

    I am going to do my bit to help the declining US3 with international competition: have Chipotle cater business class, Costco food concession for economy and Taco Bell for eco+. Give free of cost to FA computer self-taught language courses. I have stopped counting the times I had to translate for an elderly pax trying to get an emerging situation addressed. Have NetFlix load the in-flight entertainment. Have Lysol wipes at every seat for the self-loading cargo to clean what the cleaning crews don’t have time to do. Finally, install a customer escalation/resolution phone or tablet in every aircraft to mediate complaints as they arise instead of weeks later.

  31. @TravelinWilly

    Yes I understand that. Doesn’t make it any less hypocritical. Are the US carriers going to pull out of Indiana? They shouldn’t scream about human rights if they chose to ignore it at home. If they want to bitch about airline financing then they should just stick with that.

  32. It is interesting. I always choose middle eastern carriers over american. Thebsimole reason is if the employees are treated so badly when I board anplane on Emirates Qatar or Ethid why do they greet me with a welcoming smile and a helping hand even in economy. Serve me a decent meal and provide top notch entertainment onnlarger more comfortable seats.

    When enter in an American based Airline you are treated like a piece of cattled ordered to your seat. Slung a meal within the first hour and then the crew disappear for the next 10 unless you stand up to use the toilet and then they appear demanding you return to your seat and fasten your belt. Oh ask for water and they shoot you the look how dare you bother us and then act like you are going to bankrupt the airline. Which is possible! And then forced into old uncomfortable seats from the sixties.

    Oh I must pay a premium for the right to fly one of the American carriers. Well not for me. Emirates Qatar are for me

    Maybe the American carrriers should stop whinning and compete in a global market. They wanted open sky’s when they were the only players in town. Bit now they have to work for it they are yelling fail. Oh and the US Government should stop bailing them out.

  33. @ lucky Stimmt! However the bigger point in terms of placing the whole argument in a context of “employee conditions”–referring to the thousands working for these three, i think they could also be very persuasive in changing the rules in their respective countries considering their basically the anchors of publicity for these “unfree” states–wooing travellers from the west. While we can’t hold it against them that they are by chance based in countries where workers aren’t protected, that doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t change the game. And I think this kind of attention that the US is bringing into light is an opportunity for change.. for the better.

  34. @Brian

    “Yes I understand that. Doesn’t make it any less hypocritical. Are the US carriers going to pull out of Indiana? They shouldn’t scream about human rights if they chose to ignore it at home. If they want to bitch about airline financing then they should just stick with that.”

    THIS makes more sense. It sounds like you’re saying “Why all the concern about treatment of women and marginalized populations in the Middle East to protest the ME carriers, when the US Big 3 don’t give one jot about it in the USA?” That didn’t come across in your first post, and I completely see your point now. Thanks for clarifying.

  35. The Middle carrier may not treat their people right but they certainly know with customer service is with all the trimmings .The big three here in the US may treat their people right but don’t have a clue about customer service quality of service or the food served. In any case we weren’t saints either.. Think Pan Am in the early days..

  36. “ban lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from employment” Wait that’s a bad thing? Since when. LGBT’s suffer from a mental illness, as they choose the unnatural way and yet we don’t allow pedophiles to have a job. What’s the difference? I applaud the effort, by intelligent people to remember that LGBT’S suffer from a mental illness and want to destroy the world and should be imprisoned preferably permanently. Yet, they managed to hide the mental illness so well that now most people sadly think they deserve rights and that LGBT’S don’t have a mental illness. I mean come on, who heard of a stupider idea.

  37. My previous comment just highlighted the stupidity of the anti-lgbt laws. The comment doesn’t reflect my actual views. I don’t care if a person is a lgbt or not. I just wrote it in the perspective of an anti-lgbt to highlight their stupidity and as a joke.

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