Airline Dispute Enters New Phase

The Partnership for Open & Fair Skies, a coalition of US airlines, has long been charging three Middle East airlines of unfair trade practices, but neither the Obama administration nor the Trump White House have taken notice or acted on the issue.

The coalition includes United, American and Delta airlines, who contend that there should be restrictions on Emirates, Etihad and Qatar airlines, all companies that compete with the coalition members, to counter-act the unfair advantage these airlines have due to subsidies they receive from their home countries’ governments.

The Middle Eastern air carriers deny the charges.

The coalition is now taking a new path to leveling the playing field of flight costs between the US and the Middle East. They are claiming that the US Travel Association

, the largest travel trade group in the country, is being influenced by Emirates and Etihad airlines, both having paid a combined total of $330,000 in membership fees when they joined the association this past year. They are two of 1,200 members of the trade group, which the association says has an annual budget of $33 million, making their contribution less than 1% of their annual revenue.

The Partnership for Open & Fair Skies claims that the US Travel Association is a lobbyist for a foreign agent because they have opposed placing restrictions on the foreign airlines from the Middle East, but they have failed to register as such. The penalty for failure to register as a lobbyist, a violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, enacted in 1938, is punishable by up to a $10,000 fine or five years in jail.

“Despite claiming to represent the American travel industry, the U.S. Travel Association is promoting the interests of the United Arab Emirates by lobbying on behalf of Emirates and Etihad Airways,” said Jill Zuckman, a spokeswoman for the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies.

Jonathan Grella, spokesperson for the US Travel Association, says otherwise:

“Their narrative doesn’t add up in any way at all,” he said.