As Qatar Airways prepares to launch its first flights to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the mayor of Atlanta has already heralded its coming arrival — and defended his decision to do so.
Qatar’s new service has heated up a turf war between the Middle East carrier and Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines, and also sparked protests about women’s rights and other issues in Qatar.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed spoke at a Qatar Airways pre-launch gala two weeks ago, prompting some criticism.
Some people tweeted “about me being against women because I went to welcome an airline,” Reed said. He also said Delta expressed “frustration” over his attendance at the event.
“I’m trying to send a message. You’re either in the international game or you’re out,” Reed said when the topic came up at a press conference last week.
When dealing with airlines from other places, “We have to understand… they have different values and operate differently than we do. So if we’re going to apply a standard, it’s going to make it hard for us to be the most connected city… in the United States, which is my goal.”
Atlanta is one of several new U.S. cities in Qatar Airways’ map. The Atlanta-Doha flights will operate daily.
For Wednesday’s inaugural, the airline is using the double-decker Airbus A380, the world’s biggest airliner. After that it will use a Boeing 777.
The mayor has a close relationship with Delta, the dominant carrier at Hartsfield-Jackson.
Reed said there were “multiple other requests made of me as it relates to that opening that I did not participate in.” He attended and gave brief remarks. He noted that he also spoke earlier in the same week at an event for new Turkish Airlines flights to Atlanta.
“We can’t send two messages. We can’t send the message of welcoming and openness [for] Turkish Airlines, and then not participate in any way at Qatar,” Reed said.
“So my friends at Delta did express their frustration, and I did express my reason for attending the event. And I think that we left on very good terms,” he said.
Delta executives were also miffed that the Fox Theatre rented space to Qatar for the gala and said they will not renew the company’s longtime sponsorship deal with the venue.
Delta has sharply criticized what it says are unfair government subsidies for Qatar Airways and other Gulf states carriers, saying they create an uneven playing field. The top executives of Delta and Qatar Airways have exchanged several barbs in the past year and a half.
Delta declined to comment on Reed’s appearance at the pre-launch event.
Qatar Airways has disputed the claims about its treatment of women and workers, saying the accusations are “not only outdated, they are false and overstated.” It also said it competes fairly.