Some Airlines Support Open Skies Agreements, U.S. Travel Reports

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Although the "Big Three" U.S. airlines -- American, United, and Delta -- oppose "Open Skies" agreements with the Middle East, several other airlines have joined the U.S. Travel Association in supporting them, the association announced yesterday.

Along with the heads of 21 major corporations and industry associations, including FedEx, Caesars Entertainment Corp., the Convention Industry Council (CIC), Hilton Worldwide, Marriott International, and the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA), among others, the heads of Alaska Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, and JetBlue Airways added their signatures to a letter sent this week by the U.S. Travel Association to Secretaries John Kerry, Penny Pritzker, and Anthony Foxx, the chiefs of the three Cabinet agencies hearing an appeal by the Big Three airlines to break Open Skies agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

The Big Three U.S. airlines claim that Gulf carriers Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways, and Emirates receive subsidies from their sponsoring governments that put U.S. airlines at a competitive disadvantage. As those airlines seek expansion in U.S. markets, U.S. carriers have asked the Obama Administration to renegotiate its Open Skies agreements with Gulf nations in order to level the playing field.

In place for over two decades, Open Skies agreements were designed to facilitate increased competition, lower fares, and more flights in the international air travel marketplace -- which is exactly what they've achieved, according to the U.S. Travel Association, which has accused the Big Three of trying to stymie competition.

"I wake up every morning alarmed and sad that the Big Three have staked out this position on Open Skies," said U.S. Travel President and CEO Roger Dow. "Even if I tried hard I couldn't think of a policy change that would be as utterly terrible for the economy, jobs, and consumers. We'd rather be working with airlines to enhance the flying experience for travelers and get more people booking trips, but instead we have to spend time and energy opposing them on this self-interested maneuver that just makes no sense at all. I'd like to thank my fellow CEOs for speaking out in favor of Open Skies in the face of an incredibly aggressive arm-twisting campaign by the Big Three."

In a response to the U.S. Travel Association's letter, the Partnership for Open and Fair Skies -- a coalition representing the Big Three airlines and their labor -- reiterated its argument against government-subsidized competition.

"We agree with the U.S. Travel Association that Open Skies agreements have benefited the United States and we stand behind these valuable policies," said Chief Spokesperson Jill Zuckman. "But when other countries aren't abiding by their end of the deal, the U.S. needs to stand up for its aviation industry and enforce the rules. In this case, Open Skies is clear -- subsidies are a violation of the policy. The more than $42 billion in subsidies and unfair benefits provided by Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways, and Emirates have been well documented, as has the fact that these airlines have created no new demand among passengers."

The U.S. Travel Association's full letter to Cabinet officials is available on its website, along with the complete list of corporate signatories.

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