Over 500 passengers aboard the first Qatar Airways direct flight from Doha to Atlanta on a super jumbo A380 faced inconvenience as they got caught up in an international rivalry between airline heavyweights.
When Qatar Airways Flight 755 flew over 12,000 km from Doha, Qatar’s capital, and landed at Atlanta airport, the world’s busiest, a gate for the double-decker jet could not be provided, US media reports said.
That forced the 517 passengers on Qatar Airways to deplane on Wednesday via mobile stairs and shuttle buses. Atlanta’s airport has only one gate that can accommodate the A380 — the world’s largest airliner.
The airport and resident hub carrier Delta Air Lines said they could not make that gate available for Qatar Airways. “The very public battle between Delta Air Lines, the world’s second largest airline, and competitor Qatar Airways represents a microcosm of the national debate over whether the amount of alleged government subsidies foreign airlines receive violates international Open Skies agreements,” CNN commented.
The Atlanta airport and Delta blamed Qatar Airways for not giving enough notice that it was sending a Super Jumbo to an airport with only one gate that could handle such a big plane, the report said.
“It is a part of the common use lease agreement that we have,” said airport spokesman Reese McCranie. “We have to be given a certain amount of time when there is an equipment swap.”
Four to six Delta aircraft needed access to the A380 gate at the time the Qatar Airways plane requested access. “… there wasn’t anywhere Delta could put them,” he added.
Delta offered as a “solution” a scenario that included parking the A380 on a remote stand near the international terminal.
“Delta applies for accommodations months in advance,” a Delta spokeswoman said. “Qatar did not do that when asking for the A380.”
When asked if the airline gave enough notice to schedule access to the gate, Gunter Saurwein, Qatar Airways’ vice president for the Americas, smiled and said, “In general yes, we gave some lead time that we would be here.”
When asked if Delta may have deliberately prevented Qatar from using the gate, Sawrwein said, “I do not want to comment on that. We as an airline don’t finger point.”
Later, the outbound A380 flight also experienced a two hour delay due to the same gate situation, the CNN reported. US carriers claim that Qatar Airways and other Persian Gulf airlines receive billions of dollars in subsidies and have done so for many years.
While Delta accuses Qatar of improperly using subsidies to fund new routes, many argue that Qatar offers passengers a higher quality experience at a more competitive price.
The feud between the two carriers escalated last March when Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker said he had launched the Atlanta route “to rub salt into the wounds of Delta.”