The largest U.S. airlines, led by Delta, ran a years-long campaign to get the U.S. government to limit flights by Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar. They expressly sought to limit customer choice and raise fares. Their argument was predicated on the idea that those Gulf carriers were supported by their governments, and what they wanted was a free market in air travel.
That’s why it’s so striking that after $80 billion in U.S. airline subsidies over the last year, Delta has gotten on board the state-backed carrier train.
Speaking at the J.P. Morgan Industrials Conference this morning, Delta CEO Ed Bastian said,
One of the things that has allowed the U.S. industry to emerge from this crisis bruised but relatively strong is the support of Congress.
He thanked Congress, and complained that Delta’s international partners haven’t received the same support from governments that U.S. airlines have, which has led to a ‘rash of bankruptcies’ but ‘our partners will emerge stronger.’
Aeromexico, LATAM and Virgin Atlantic have been through bankruptcies. Air France alone though received a $7.5 billion government bailout. Last week an American Airlines executive tried to draw a distinction between massive government subsidies airlines have gotten during the pandemic, and government support to sustain an airline industry at other times but the argument fails.
While at first blush it seems like Delta’s applause for government officials who provided them with taxpayers’ cash is a substantive and rhetorical about-face, the truth is that Delta hasn’t opposed government subsidies of Delta: subsidies for me, but not for thee.