Commentary

Blaming Impact Of Travel Restrictions, Emirates Cuts Flights To U.S.

Pointing a finger at the Trump Administration’s travel restrictions on flights originating in Middle East countries, Dubai-based Emirates Airlines yesterday said it was reducing the number of flights it makes to 5 of the 12 cities it serves in the United States, cutting 25 flights a week in total. 

“The recent actions taken by the U.S. government relating to the issuance of entry visas, heightened security vetting, and restrictions on electronic devices in aircraft cabins, have had a direct impact on consumer interest and demand for air travel into the U.S,” Emirates said in a statement.

Fort Lauderdale (May 1) and Orlando (May 23) operations will move from daily services to five a week. Seattle (June 1) and Boston (June 2) operations will move from twice-daily services to daily. Los Angeles (July 1) will also move from twice-daily to daily.

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“The decision by the Dubai government-owned carrier is the strongest sign yet that tougher measures imposed on U.S.-bound travelers from the Mideast are taking a financial toll on fast-growing Gulf carriers that have expanded rapidly in the United States in recent years,” writes the AP’s Adam Schreck on FoxNews.com. “Dubai was one of 10 cities in Muslim-majority countries affected by a ban on laptops and other personal electronics in carry-on luggage aboard U.S.-bound flights.”

Emirates maintains it made “a commercial decision in response to weakened travel demand to U.S.” — a characterization that the Partnership for Open and Fair Skies called ‘laughable,’” Benjamin Zhang reports for Business Insider, in that the bottom line has not seemed to be its guiding principle.

Jill Zuckman, chief spokesperson for the coalition that speaks on behalf of American, Delta and United and various airline workers’ groups, “accused the Middle Eastern carriers of being instruments for ‘their governments' goals to dominate global aviation’ and operate without regard for profitability,” Zhang writes. He points out that Wednesday’s announcement is “just the latest episode in the dramatic feud between America's three mega-carriers and the Persian Gulf's trio of heavyweights,” namely Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways.

These three carriers have added and announced plans to add flights to the U.S. by almost 50% since January 2015, the partnership group charged in a release earlier this month, and during the same period, they announced plans to increase seat capacity on flights arriving in the U.S. by 43%. 

But “over the past three months, we have seen a significant deterioration in the booking profiles on all our U.S. routes, across all travel segments,” an Emirates spokeswoman tells Reuters’ Alexander Cornwell. Etihad Airways, however, “said it had not seen any significant change in demand and had no plans at present to reduce flights to the six U.S. cities it serves,” he reports. 

“Qatar CEO Akbar Al Baker told CNNMoney it had seen a drop in demand, but bookings were only down by less than 10 per flight,” reportsCNNMoney’s Zahraa Alkhalisi. Al Baker also maintained “the electronics ban would not make flying to the U.S. any safer.” 

Emirates’ cutback “comes just days after” Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson “warned that President Trump’s immigration policies are damaging the U.S. tourism industry,” point out Tanya Powley and Simeon Kerr for Financial Times. “He was adding his voice to concerns that international travelers are avoiding the country this year.” 

The head of the world’s biggest hotel company, in fact, has been sounding an alarm that the travel restrictions “could pose a risk to American jobs dependent on tourism,” for at least a month now, as he did on CNBC’s Squawk Box March 21.

“Despite the service cuts, Emirates struck an optimistic tone that the reductions might be short-lived,” Ben Mutzabaugh points out for USA Today.

“‘We will closely monitor the situation with the view to reinstate and grow our U.S. flight operations as soon as viable,’ the company said, adding it ‘is committed to our U.S. operations and will continue to serve our 12 American gateways,’” which also include Chicago O’Hare, Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston Bush Intercontinental, New York JFK, Newark Liberty, San Francisco and Washington Dulles.

There is, after all, gold in them thar gateways.

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