In January, I argued the question is not whether Qatar Airways is leaving oneworld, but whether Qatar Airways is plotting to take over oneworld. I stand by that assessment and think the latest threats by the eccentric Qatar Airways CEO are pure grandstanding.
Qatar Airways has been threatening to leave oneworld for years. The Gulf carrier argued it has been mistreated by its alliance partners, especially American Airlines, and it sees greener pastures divorced from its overbearing partners. But like a longsuffering spouse, Qatar Airways endures.
A reporter asked Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker in Berlin today about the future of Qatar in oneworld. Al Baker’s response merits highlighting in full:
About oneworld, it was not a rumor, you heard it from me. And we have given them a breathing space to get their act together. You see when you invite somebody, you invite me, to your house, and then you tell me that I can not drink the water from the glass I have to drink from the tap, and then you tell me that we will not give you any food, we will only give you bread and water. This is not why you invited me to your house. You invited me to your house as your guest, and as somebody that you respect.
Qatar Airways is not a Mickey Mouse airline. We are the largest ASK contributor to the oneworld if you add all our investments. And if you remove those investments, we are the second largest ASK contributor to the oneworld. And if we leave oneworld we will create a big hole for them in their entire connectivity.
We are not going to be bullied by some individual who thinks that the world belongs to them. The world belongs to the world community. And we as an airline, we will demand respect, and we will not submit to anybody that is trying to bully us.
We in the matter of a month or two will give you the news if we are going to stay or we are going to withdraw. And I think it is the latter that will happen. Since the people that invited us are now constantly targeting us and our growth.
Baker makes a convincing argument that Qatar adds tremendous value to the alliance and has received the cold shoulder in return. His numbers are correct: Qatar Airways alone provides the second highest ASK (available seat kilometers) in the alliance. It takes passengers around the world and opens up many destinations to oneworld flyers. And the severing of codeshare agreements and general disdain from American Airlines and Qantas are nothing more than desperate protectionism.
But Qatar Airways has far too much invested to quit oneworld. Strategic investments in British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Iberia, and LATAM represent the groundwork for exerting more influence later on. And as much as “freedom” may feel liberating, alliance membership still feeds Qatar many valuable passengers. It also helps Qatar to at least temper policies or agreements that are seen as detrimental.
Thus, Qatar should feel free to remain in the alliance even while pursuing relationships outside of the alliance, as Cathay Pacific did with Lufthansa and Air Canada or Qantas did with Emirates.
As One Mile at a Time rightly notes, Al Baker runs into a “boy who cried wolf” problem when he continues to threaten to leave oneworld but never follows through. As satisfying as it would be, I don’t think Al Baker rose to the top of Qatar Airways by cutting off his nose to spite his face.
> Read More: Is Qatar Airways Plotting To Take Over Oneworld?