I haven’t weighed in on the current battle between the Big 3 US airlines and the Big 3 Middle Eastern carriers because it’s largely beyond the scope of LNC. But I like commercial aviation history, so I thought I’d bring up a little.
In the era immediately post-World War II, when third, fourth and fifth freedom rights were being negotiated between the US and the Rest of the World, there was a member of Congress, Claire Luce Booth of Connecticut, summed it up nicely: “American postwar aviation policy is simple. We want to fly everywhere. Period.”
At the time, the US civil transport industry was miles ahead of anyone else. During the War, the US built fighters, bombers and transports (the Douglas C-54/DC-4 and, toward the end, the Lockheed C-69/Constellation). Great Britain concentrated on bombers and fights, but no transports. The US airlines were ready to fly “everywhere;” the Allies’ airlines were not and the Axis countries weren’t allowed.
International service was restricted, of course, in order to nurture and protect national airlines owned by governments. Pretty much pick any non-US flag airline today and at one time it was a government-owned operation.
Go forward to more recent history.The US government negotiated what was called Bermuda One (or Bermuda Two, I don’t recall which) with the British government that, among other things, regulated US airline access to London Heathrow Airport to just Pan Am and TWA or the “corporate successors.”
When Pan Am and TWA began to fail and sold off important international routes to try and survive, the US government realized it had been snookered. The route sales, including Heathrow, were to United and American airlines as asset sales, not as “corporate successors.” The Brits exacted a huge set of concessions to allow the route transfers. British carriers got authority to a number of US cities in trade.
As the US, in the name of free enterprise, negotiated Open Skies with one country after another, I remember thinking at the time, “these are one-sided deals.” KLM got access to “everywhere.” The US got access to Amsterdam. Air France gets “everywhere,” the US gets France–but there still is pretty limited demand from the US to, let’s say, Toulouse…. Sure, there are other cities in France that at one time or another that’ve had direct service to the US, but they hardly compare to access to the USA’s major metropolitan cities.
This is, to me, what makes today’s fight so silly. The US negotiates Open Skies with United Arab Emirates (Emirates Airline and Etihad Airways) and Qatar (Qatar Airways). They get “everywhere” in the US and we get Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Doha.
And then we’re surprised when their airlines exercise their rights and the “power of the hub” of the Middle East Big 3 makes it impossible or nearly so for our carriers to fill their airplanes?
US carriers complain the Middle East Big 3 get. or have gotten subsidies, and this present unfair competition. Where have we heard this before? (Can you say “Airbus” and “Boeing”?) And, as I pointed out, pick a non-US flag airline that wasn’t founded on state control, ownership and subsidies.
Go back into our own history. There were postal “subsidies” for just about all early US carriers, including American, United and Delta. All the local service airlines received subsidies (Ozark, Allegheny, Mohawk, etc). After 9/11, a number of US carriers received government loans and guarantees.
Most particularly, every single US major airline except Southwest and Alaska went through bankruptcy (some twice or even three times), cutting billions in costs in the process. I well remember Robert Crandall, then CEO of American Airlines, decrying the “subsidies” (in the broadest sense) of the bankruptcy courts of his competitors. At one time 40% of the US capacity was operating under bankruptcy. This is one reason I have little empathy for the US Big 3’s whining. (The fact that US carriers generally have, at best, fair international service is another.)
I’ve never flown the Middle Eastern carriers. Frankly, the Middle East is not exactly on the top of my Bucket List. I’d sooner go to Iceland and Greenland, which are, thank you very much.
If Open Skies are to be reopened, it shouldn’t be just for the Middle Eastern carriers that take advantage of the international agreement. It should be for all Open Skies agreements, which are lop-sidely in favor of the Little Countries from the get-go.
But that’s too radical. And it shouldn’t be done. Instead the Big 3 should, as has been suggested, actually compete on service.
What a concept.
Remember when Pan Am, TWA, British Airways and BCal lined up against Laker Airways for low-fare trans-Atlantic service?
Then it’s been the fight against Norwegian Air Shuttle’s long-haul, low-fare service.
Now it’s the Big 3 vs the Big 3.
See a pattern here?