Get Your Popcorn: The Qatar Airways & Atlanta Airport Drama Continues!

Filed Under: Delta, Media

A couple of days ago Qatar Airways launched flights between Doha and Atlanta, a route which they started to “rub salt in the wound of Delta,” according to the airline’s CEO. To create even more of a scene when they arrived, Qatar Airways decided to operate an A380 for the inaugural flight, which is the world’s largest plane.

There was only one problem. Qatar Airways didn’t go through the proper process to get that approved by Atlanta Airport, which is required given that the airport has only one A380 gate. As a result, the whale of a plane had to deplane and board from a remote stand, meaning passengers had to walk down air stairs and take buses to get to the terminal.


The airport’s single A380 gate was occupied by a Delta plane, which is sort of hilarious, when you consider the huge rivalry between the two airlines.

While I covered the situation in great detail on the day of the inaugural flight, it looks like the spat between Qatar, Delta, and Atlanta Airport isn’t over yet.

Here’s what Qatar’s CEO says about the Atlanta gate scandal

Qatar Airways’ CEO, who is one of the most outspoken and prolific people in the airline industry, had some choice words for Delta and Atlanta Airport today. Per Bloomberg:

“This is an absolute violation of the air-services agreement,” Al Baker said Friday while attending the International Air Transport Association’s annual meeting in Dublin. “Old and frail people had to walk up very large steps to get into the terminal. We had check-in issues, we had obstruction in loading handicapped passengers.”

Suppliers also failed to cooperate with Qatar Airways, Al Baker said, forcing the airline to get help from another company to obtain ground handling equipment.

The conduct of the airport and Delta will be taken up “very seriously” by the Qatar government, he said.

It’s ironic that he’s mentioning “old and frail people” having to walk up “very large steps to get to the terminal” as a violation of the air-services agreement. At his airline’s hub, Doha’s Hamad International Airport, plenty of planes have to board and deplane at remote stands using stairs. What about the “old and frail” people there, Your Excellency?

Qatar-Airways-A320-First-Class - 43

It gets better, as Al Baker calls Delta’s new CEO “arrogant” (which I suppose is a compliment, given that Al Baker called Delta’s previous CEO weak, unethical, and unpatriotic). Further, he claims that both the outbound and return flights were oversold, presumably in response to Delta suggesting there was no demand for the flight:

Al Baker called Delta CEO Ed Bastian “arrogant” and complacent about the “stiff competition” the Gulf airline would offer. The first A380 service — which will later switch to a Boeing 777 — was overbooked by 16 passengers for the inbound service and 27 outbound, Al Baker said. Planes on the Doha-Atlanta route are booked to fly almost 80 percent full, Al Baker said.

It’s interesting that the flight was supposedly oversold, since Qatar was still willing to sell plenty of seats on the day of the flight. Hmmm…

Here’s what Atlanta Airport says about the gate scandal

Atlanta Airport reached out to me to share their side of the story. They provided an official statement, as well as the letter they sent to Qatar Airways’ CEO on May 31, 2016. Before I share the statement and the letter, I figured I’d summarize, since they’re quite lengthy:

  • On April 25, Qatar Airways approached Atlanta Airport requesting to operate an A380 on the inaugural flight
  • Atlanta Airport’s regulations require 60 days advance notice of A380 operations at the airport, though despite that, the airport said they would evaluate the request and work with airlines in hopes of making it happen
  • Two days after the initial request, without approval from Atlanta Airport, Qatar Airways put out a press release stating they would operate an A380 on the inaugural flight
  • Atlanta Airport couldn’t accommodate that without disrupting operations, but said that if Qatar adjusted their schedule they could get a gate; they’d have to arrive by 10AM and leave by 1PM, or arrive by 8PM and leave by 12AM; Qatar Airways refused

Here’s the letter Atlanta Airport sent to Qatar Airways:

Atlanta-Airport-Letter-1 Atlanta-Airport-Letter-2

Lastly, here’s the official statement I was provided by Reese McCranie, Atlanta Airport’s director of policy and communications:

At the world’s most traveled and most efficient airport, we strive for providing customer service excellence for our passengers and our airlines. We work with our existing carriers to expand routes and always look for ways to entice and welcome new carriers to start service in Atlanta.

For the last several months, our team worked diligently with Qatar Airways to ensure a smooth and successful inaugural flight. Initially, Qatar planned on flying a Boeing 777 and the Airport was able to accommodate this aircraft. In late April, Qatar switched to an Airbus A380 and did not provide adequate notice for the Airport and other airlines to make the operational changes needed for this much larger aircraft. Hartsfield-Jackson has only one gate area that can accommodate an A380 presently. This aircraft is the largest in the world, can hold more than 500 passengers, and because of its wingspan takes up two gates. Additionally, it requires a longer period for disembarking, cleaning, and refueling than a smaller Boeing 777.

Due to the sheer size of the aircraft, time needed to service and short advance notice the Airport was given, aircraft operations would have been significantly disrupted and would have displaced four or five other aircraft. This was communicated multiple times to Qatar. As a result, we were unable to gate Qatar’s A380 for its inaugural flight and we used our hard stand option with several busses, plane mates for the disabled and elderly and mobile stairs. We have a dedicated gate available for Qatar’s daily Boeing 777 flight at our new international terminal.

We are happy to welcome Qatar Airways to Hartsfield-Jackson and we are confident we can move past these initial operational challenges so that we may work together more collaboratively in the future.


Bottom line

To simplify this as much as possible, Qatar Airways started a route in order to rub salt in the wound of their competitor, and they decided to fly an A380 there for the first day of service, to further rub salt in the wound of their competitor.

However, they only decided they wanted to fly the A380 on the route a month in advance, and the airport tried to accommodate them, even though it was outside the 60 day window usually required. Without the airport’s permission, the airline announced the A380 operation publicly. They turned down the timing proposed by the airport, which would have allowed them to have a gate.

To top it all off, according to Al Baker, the airport violated the air-services agreement, old and frail people were inconvenienced as a result of the horrible actions of Atlanta Airport and Delta (even though people have to do the same thing at Hamad International Airport every day), and the conduct by the airport will be taken “very seriously” by the Qatari government.

Oh, and Delta’s CEO is the one who’s arrogant.

Did I miss anything? 😉

(Tip of the hat to TravelinWilly)

  1. “Well over 100 passengers” required wheelchairs or special handling? That’s some high maintenance!

  2. If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were talking about Michael O’Leary, of Irish LCC Ryanair, who was (until it was felt that it was getting Ryanair a bad reputation and affected the bottom line) equally as brash

    It all creates news / interest, which Al Baker is clearly getting for Qatar

  3. “Did I miss anything?”


    You missed the part where he called DL “wicked.” 🙂 🙂 🙂

    That was my fave.

  4. I am no fan or Delta or Qatar but if it comes down to a choice I will choose Delta every time. I respect peoples choice to fly whoever they want, but when I choose top spend money, ethics play a huge factor in where that money goes. The luxury, and often value, offered is not enough to make me look past the rampant sexism and employee abuse that plagues, as has plagued, Qatar for years.

  5. Glad ATL put an end to this drama.

    @Lucky if you read comments section of Doha trip revies, people clearly mention Doha is King of remote stands.

    You even mentioned new Doha in SeaTac Remote Stand plan blog.

    Sam Chui’s Doha coverage clearly states Doha bus transfer issue. So does several aviation bloggers.

    DOH and DXB transfer old and frail in large numbers from remote stands. They have tons of wheel chairs and cheap labor to do it.

  6. 60 days in advance to accommodate a plane in the airport? Love competition and Delta is very afraid of that.

  7. This is my favorite part: “The conduct of the airport and Delta will be taken up “very seriously” by the Qatar government, he said.”

    Given that DL doesn’t fly to Qatar, what the hell can the Qatari government do to them?!

    I believe that the US3’s best ally in their fight against the ME3 is Al Baker. The more he runs his mouth saying ridiculous, outlandish crap like this, the more he’s going to turn off the people who can influence the outcome (Congress, other politicians, the press, some interest groups, etc), and eventually, they’ll just go, “This guy’s batshit crazy.” If I were Bastian, Oscar, or Parker, I’d be doing everything I could to piss guy off, knowing that he’ll eventually snap. Conversely, if I ran EK or EY, I’d be screaming at him to STFU before he ruins everything.

  8. @Santastico

    60 is actually quick. Norm is 90 days.

    Mumbai T2 is best example of Code F gate issues. Apparently T2 actually built 4 Code F gates. Two it wanted the ability to switch between dom/int. They are stuck on domestic side. One gate they have to redo to fix disabled accessibility issues. Leaves with ONE Code-F gate and three applicants. SQ and EK are able to operate A380s and LH still uses 744.

    A380 brings more headaches than revenue to an airport operator.

  9. your comments are heavily skewed towards Delta and the Atlanta operations. I am thrilled that is starting services from ATL…even if it is at that cost of rubbing salt on Delta’s wounds. As a Delta passenger who flies to Asia, i have no choice but to deal with the crappy Delta business class service. With Qatar, get better service…PERIOD!

  10. I ran out of popcorn after reading the first page of the letter from ATL airport to QR…Dang it!! (LOL)

    Can’t wait till QR has to “sub” a 380 to ATL at the last minute !!!

    I’ll buy more popcorn for that escapade…

  11. Exactly my thought Anthony. As ‘the worlds most efficient airport’ one would expect some better accomodation for the worlds most efficient and comfortable plane.

  12. From what I’m seeing, the only adults in this situation are working for ATL airport. The airlines have bratty children at the helm.

  13. Im not sure whether Al Baker is right as Atlanta’s letter is quite circustantiated and difficult to argue, but the man has what it takes to fight his way in an industry where airliners in USA, Canada and Europe were over protected. If for a minute I stop and think how Alitalia in my country was treated in spite of poor services then I do welcome this kind of business aggressiveness attitude. Will definitely wake em up.

  14. World most traveled airport has only ONE gate to accomodate a380?
    Call yourself domestic king. LOL

  15. Having worked with QR before, it is no surprise that their people are not told of any plans in advance and seem to haphazardly put things together. A 60 day advanced notice for an A380 at an airport that is only designed to accommodate only a limited number of such aircraft (with only one gate!) is not unexpected. The QR planning team is not the most organized. That’s a fact. I’m sure ATL put in a lot of extra effort to accommodate their A380 at a remote stand let alone a normal jetway/gate. On another note, @Lucky, I think QR uses PROS O&D control and Altea for their revenue and inventory management. It’s possible they set their booking profile to something super aggressive. So it may have been overbooked severely, but it’s still possible to be selling seats across a range of fare classes during the day of departure.

  16. I agree Al Bakar is an arrogant $*%#! But I don’t think ATL is blameless here either. Those of us who are forced to connect through ATL on a regular basis know that last minute gate changes happen all the time. I find it hard to believe that with this much advance notice ATL couldn’t have figured something out for a one time event.

    Maybe the airport authority heard about the unfortunate withdrawal of Delta support for the Fox Theatre, and was worried Delta would decide to move its operations to Birmingham or such if it cooperated with Qatar.

  17. Frog says:
    June 4, 2016 at 3:32 am
    Al Baker is the Donald Trump of aviation…

    Wrong, this is an issue of “bluster”. Something men USED to do but now because they are mostly low T wimps in the west it’s not around as much anymore. Trump does this strategically. He constantly does this to direct the outcome he wants from the media and he plays them for fools.

    Bakar does this haphazardly and stupidly and it always makes him look foolish.

    If you want to deny this as a Trump hater go ahead, his growing support in the face of an onslaught of media attacks then all these people you probably call “stupid” are laughing at you.

  18. The airport is in Delta’s pocket. Anyone knows the gate could have easily been assigned had there been any desire on anyone’s part. Gate swaps happen dozens of time a day in real life. Saying that a320 could not have gone elsewhere is absurd and anyone knows it – even with 2 hours notice. Qatar wanted to jake an inaugural splash. Wouldn’t you? Delta’s childish actions with this and the Fox debacle actually has given Qatar much more publicity had they simply just been big boys and let the plane come and go without pitching a tantrum. I say go Qatar!

  19. All Qatar have to do is build their own airport…. who built that one at Heathrow just for a Middle Eastern Airline? Build one, they have the money, sure the local government and city would love their money!!! =D And I have no issues with Middle Eastern Airlines… simply the best… with Air France in there too… oh and Virgin Australia =D

  20. Actually AAB missed an opportunity. Without DL’s help this route will remain just O&D/self connect at ATL end. Rather than rubbing salt QR should have wave money at DL.

    Pay $400 pass thru per connecting pax
    Give MX to Delta TechOps
    Give Ground handling to DGS
    Bastian and Baker would be buddy buddies.
    Etihad and AA has such tight extra-alliance relationship.

    BTW, When is CNN going to cover on QR getting recycled deicing fluid at ATL.

  21. I booked a one way F with 105k asia miles a few days before the flight. Round trip J would have only been 120k. I had transferred from amex everyday preferred so a 50% bonus on top of that!

    I did get a tour of the plane. Considering this was the inaugural flight into a non Oneworld hub, I was surprised that the fight was oversold. There were only four seats open in first, so no upgrades.

    I have flown into gate E1, E3 enough times to tell you that the buses were an improvement. Delta knows it because that is the only area that I have gotten the Porsche ride from! For the life of me I don’t understand why they don’t have a sterile section on the current plane train to customs! That walk is crazy and I like to walk.

    I would guess they had a dozen or more large buses. Looking back at my photos I see that they also used a bus that lifted up to the rear door of economy. Even though I was the second passenger off, we had to change buses because one of the doors would not shutting properly. The buses dropped us off near F12. I am sure there was an elevator, but the stairs were short enough. I was in the regular US custom line. Touch down was around 4pm, I was in my office across town at 5:29.

  22. @Anthony – “Isn’t it a bit backwards that ATL only has ONE gate that can accommodate an A380?”

    Not really, since their main airline doesn’t fly it.

  23. You missed the part where Atlanta is still bending backwards to please his excellency even though they say his excellency is just mouthing complete garbage.

    Let’s see if anyone else would have gotten away with so much drama.

  24. If this flight was overbooked and the expected utility is at more than 80 or 85%, why would thy reduce capacity back to a 777? Such high utility should mean you want to use the biggest plane and sell as many as possible seats? I can’t imagine that plane gets such utility rates on alternative routes?

    I liked the explanation in the comments about the super aggressive booking profile. Interesting stuff!

  25. “The airport’s single A380 gate was occupied by a Delta plane”

    I am fairly sure that Delta doesn’t have any A380’s. In fact I am not aware of any US airline that has.

    Petty of Atlanta Airport and their dominant customer

  26. AAB got schooled on American Media. Somebody fed CNN a false story, CNN ran with it. AAB thought he could benefit by jumping on the anti DL bandwagon. ATL set the story right.

    Oops moment for CNN and AAB. Nothing new for Confused News Network with Quest as aviation correspondent. CNN is still searching for MH370.

    Note to AAB, next time do not use CNN stories, you feed CNN. Works much better.

  27. DL sucks. they claim to be proactive, but my email to them has gone unanswered for 2 weeks now(then delta don’t send surveys) they think they are above everyone else. im not a qr fan for how they treat employees but nor I amDL fan either. If DL wants to be the big boy in the game, then at least be able to reply to email…but since mine was negative, they wont. DL in mho is getting to cocky. Being humble goes a long way. ty

  28. State-owned Qatar Airways publicly announced in late April it would be operating an A380 on the first QR755 flight, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported……
    Then why didnt they get a gate…it was surely a deliberate action by delta and the atlanta airport authority…

  29. so sorry.
    i have no desire to fly to the mideast
    or thru the mideast on the mideastern carriers

  30. I for one feel that ATL airport needs more healthy competition than Delta.i have lived long enough in ATL and flying to Asia has always been a pain with Delta intentionally hiking prices or ATL itself suffering because of Delta’s monopoly. I would definitely choose Qatar over Delta simply because it offers better price and better service!

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