About a month ago I wrote about how Qatar Airways’ CEO, Akbar Al Baker, threatened that his airline may be leaving the oneworld alliance.
Why Qatar Airways is threatening to leave oneworld
This is a threat he has been making for years, going back as far as 2015. Al Baker’s primary issues seem to be with American and Qantas, as he feels his airline is being treated unfairly by both of them:
- Al Baker is angry that American continues to target Qatar Airways, and now is targeting their investment in Air Italy, despite the US and Qatar having settled their Open Skies dispute
- Al Baker is angry that Qantas has tried to block Qatar Airways’ growth in the Australian market, instead favoring non-alliance member Emirates
As I explained, I think Al Baker has legitimate gripes. American Airlines is being a crybaby (as usual), while Qantas is (understandably) trying to defend their market, and is viewing Qatar as a threat rather than as a partner.
So I don’t put much weight into Al Baker’s threat. I think he’s right to be frustrated, but when push comes to shove, I think oneworld is better off with Qatar Airways, and Qatar Airways is better off with oneworld.
IAG’s CEO gives credibility to Al Baker’s comments
There’s an interesting update on this. On Friday IAG (the parent company of British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus, etc.) had their capital markets day, and IAG’s CEO, Willie Walsh, had something interesting to say. IAG’s CEO said that he thinks it’s “highly likely” that Qatar will leave the oneworld alliance, as reported by Air Transport World:
“I think it’s highly likely that Qatar will leave the oneworld alliance. I have had regular contact Akbar Al Baker on this issue. He doesn’t say these things without being genuinely behind the comments. He is annoyed at the way some oneworld members have responded, as alliance partners. I think this is a genuine threat.”
Is it time to redeem American miles on Qatar Airways before they leave the alliance? No, definitely not. First of all there’s no rush because if they do leave, it won’t be instant. Second of all, I still don’t think it’s happening.
Why do I not put much weight in Walsh’s comments? Let’s keep in mind that Qatar Airways owns a roughly 20% stake in IAG, so the company is IAG’s largest shareholder. It’s in Walsh’s best interest to keep Al Baker happy and to validate what he says.
Regardless of how he really feels about the odds of Qatar Airways leaving the alliance, I think it’s in his best interest to suggest that Al Baker is serious.
Let’s keep in mind that British Airways is in an interesting position here. In addition to Qatar Airways owning a 20% stake in IAG, IAG’s single biggest joint venture is the transatlantic joint venture with American Airlines, British Airways, Iberia, etc.
So while Walsh is defending Qatar Airways here, American and British Airways also work together more closely than any other oneworld airlines.
But the real reason we know Walsh isn’t too serious is because he also says this about Al Baker:
“He doesn’t say these things without being genuinely behind the comments.”
Let’s keep in mind that Al Baker vehemently denied Qatar Airways would join oneworld just a day before the airline announced they’d join the alliance. It’s one thing to say “we don’t discuss rumors,” but he outright denied it.
Al Baker is known for making comments he’s not genuinely behind, so I’d view all of this through the same lens.
IAG’s CEO claims it’s “highly likely” that Qatar Airways leaves oneworld. I think he’s making this statement for political reasons, rather than because he truly believes it. But I could be wrong.
Where do you guys stand — do you think it’s “highly likely” that Qatar Airways will leave oneworld?