Was American Airlines Pressured By Qatar to End Israel Service?

Several readers e-mailed me with a rumor that American Airlines’ decision to end Philadelphia – Tel Aviv service was driven by American’s Middle East partners.

One reader emailed,

My sources tell me that the pressure came from Qatar, that threatened to pull out of oneworld

Another mention was pressure from the BDS (“Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions”) movement.

I see as well that Israel’s Haaretz has picked up the story.

American made the decision due to the OneWorld global alliance, whose members include Arab carriers like Qatar Airways and Royal Jordanian and the carrier of the Muslim-majority Asian country Malaysia, asserted the source.

There are so many things wrong with this theory I hardly know where to begin. It’s worth noting that American claims the Philadelphia – Tel Aviv service was a money loser. No doubt heavy competition (United, Delta, and El Al) in the New York market did dampen yields.

However, there are many independent reasons that I’m skeptical of any alternative explanation.

  • There isn’t even a fully formed theory being suggested here. What did American supposedly get for dropping the flight? What would they have been denied had they continued serving Tel Aviv? Since when have these Middle East carriers refused to partner with airlines that fly to Israel?

  • Saudia hasn’t had any problems co-existing with Delta in Skyteam despite Delta’s Tel Aviv service.

  • American Airlines passengers traveling after January 6 are being rebooked on British Airways and Iberia. Those airlines are part-owned by Qatar.

  • The piece cites Royal Jordanian as a Middle East partner American wants to be close to. But Royal Jordanian has Tel Aviv service itself.

  • Qatar didn’t make its oneworld membership contingent on the alliance exiting Tel Aviv. Etihad increased its codesharing with American months ago.

  • Somehow Malaysia Airlines was lobbying for this? They’re struggling to survive and they are not any position to demand anything from anyone and besides they do not even fly to the US.

The news of the end of Tel Aviv service did take me by surprise. I assumed that the end of American’s El Al partnership signaled a likelihood that they’d increase service to Israel themselves.

On the other hand though, if you needed more evidence that it was possible to cooperate closely with Middle East airlines while still doing business with Israel, Qantas remains an El Al partner and is in a joint venture with Emirates (in addition to partnering with Qatar through oneworld).

The Haaretz piece is skeptical of the simple explanation that the route wasn’t profitable because:

  • “No one would have operated a money losing route for so many years.” I don’t have independent data on the profitability of Philadelphia – Tel Aviv. But you don’t expect to make money serving a new destination (country!) when you first start. After the first 3 years of service the focus of US Airways leadership was on the American merger, and they could have judged that an inopportune time to kill the route. There’s nothing inherent in six years of service that alone suggests the route was making money.

  • “American signaled its commitment to the Israel route by sending a team of executives to Israel. In meetings with the media, they vowed to expand the route and add US destinations.” Of course they did. Airlines don’t tell the media their plans to end service to a destination before doing it. Cleveland was trumpeted as a profitable hub for United right up until the airline stopped being CLE_friendly.

In the absence of any evidence at all that makes sense, even a theory of why American would need to do this to cooperate with Gulf carriers, I’m going to dismiss this one 100%.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I also don’t agree with the Haretz article
    but the facts are clearly not with what AA is saying

    There are many other options why they chose to stop the route incl. The TWA issue which was never resolved

  2. I agree with you. No conspiracy. Just $$. And that’s why airlines are in business.
    Now, what I’d like (living in the IAD vicinity) is: UA flying NS from IAD-TLV, and Etihad or Emirates flying via their hubs to TLV. The world is changing.

  3. Did I miss something? When did US airlines EVER succumb to external pressure? And let’s add Egyptair and Turkish Airlines in *A (even tho both have – directly or indirectly – service to Tel Aviv.) Come to think of it, wasn’t there some hubbub regarding Saudia joining ST and pressure on Delta because it wouldn’t fly anyone with an Israeli passport? The pot is stirred!

  4. I think it significantly more likely that Israel was behind the 9/11 bombings than that this story is true. Which means the chances are less than 0%. But some folks love a good conspiracy theory.

  5. Maybe it had to do with AA never having a flight due to pension obligations from li20 years agoo – see DD.

    This was US Airways flight but once it legally is owned by AA – The plane can be grabbed in Israel to satisfy unpaid debt form the bankruptcy 20 years ago.

  6. To some people, everything is an anti-Israel/anti-Jewish conspiracy, facts be damned!

    As others have said, if the nutters in Saudi allow their national airline to cooperate with an American carrier serving Israel, I’m sure the more moderate Gulf states don’t really have an issue either.

  7. @Gary – I doubt this story is true for the reasons you have enumerated above, as well as the fact that Qatar had quasi-diplomatic relations with Israel prior to the last Gaza war, and there have been attempts to restore them recently.

    In addition, if true, this would be a decision of such monumental error, for not only is a new leadership taking over AA and thus comes with additional scrutiny, but if true, then it would likely catch the eye — rightly — of the US Attorney General’s office for supporting a boycott of Israel which is against US law.

    Not only would such a move garner Congressional scrutiny, as well, but it should not be lost on anyone that we are entering a Presidential election cycle, and doubtless, such a decision would also become embroiled with most if not all hopefuls, clamoring for such an investigation into the accuracy of such claims.

    I think that this conspiracy proves, if anything, is that it is not only the Arab street that perpetuates such conspiracy theories.

  8. I am firmly opposed to the BDS movement, which is wrongheaded in many ways. But I don’t think this time it is anything but an economic decision by American. Their problem is, as I see it, that this route doesn’t connect to anything out of Tel Aviv, and there are limited logical destinations it could connect with. So it’s only for passengers flying to Tel Aviv itself. I think the political realities did and do hurt American’s chances of economic success in the market, but I don’t think politics dictated their decision.

  9. @mh The route and plane are legally owned by AA today, what’s to stop them from seizing a plane between now and the end of the route in January?

  10. I would be highly skeptical of the speculation regarding cancellation of the TLV routes, as such action would likely violate US antiboycott laws, resulting in severe penalties. Even the mere request by a business partner requires the US company to file a report with the US government.

    More likely that AA reevaluated the TLV route in light of the merger, and decided that it does not make sense to compete with all of the other carriers in this space when more profitable long haul routes can be found. TLV is not a partner hub, and therefore limited to O/D traffic.

  11. What about the theory that AA cancelled the TLV route as a first step in future negotiations for US – Tehran route? It is a good starting point for negotiations with Iran – “we are the only major US carrier with no flights to Israel”.
    AA is now (and in the near future) one of the biggest operators of flights to Cuba, why would it not be the same case with Iran? Why would AA not be the first and biggest US operator of flights to Iran – a-77 million people market, right after the lifting of the sanctions?

  12. HI I am furious that American cut out the non stop flight direct to Tel Aviv. i do not buy for one minute they were losing money on the route . They claim 95,000 people flew that route and mostly every flight was full. I think the smartest thing for them to do was to move the direct non stop flight to Tel Aviv to JFK. EL AL added a flight to Israel and i believe Delta did to . El Al has flights from NEWARK,TORONTO AND BOSTON. United leaves from NEWARK NON STOP TO TEL AVIV. What do these airlines see that AMERICAN does NOT. many people who have the Citi Bank American Airlines credit card are cancelling their cards. They are very upset about the cancellation of the American flight direct non stop to Tel Aviv and even more upset about not being partners with EL AL. To use your American miles on British Airways to go to Israel is insane. the taxes are ridiculously insane. iberia air is ok but it stops in Spain and is annoying. For sure noone would want to go Royal Jordanian or Qatar Air to Israel . everyone has to call and write to American to add the flight back and to depart from JFK not PHILADELPHIA and to impress upon the fact that EL AL is their best partner and we are all missing out on that fact . write and call sooner rather than later . the more we are heard, the better chance of it happening

  13. can you please remove the last 2 emails about posting and change the name to Robert S and Not my last name it should match up with all the other comments not showing the last name. Thanks so much and Happy Thanksgiving.

  14. @robert s: Just because other airlines can make flights to Tel Aviv work on different routes doesn’t mean AA’s flight from Philadelphia was profitable. Moving it to JFK wouldn’t necessarily improve things either. That would mean 4 carriers in the NY-TA market instead of 3, likely reducing fares and decreasing or eliminating profits for everyone.

    If AA could fly the route profitably no doubt it would. I’m not a route planner, but I suspect your ability to redeem miles without surcharges to Tel Aviv was not a major consideration in the decision.

    Oh, and how is El Al “their best partner?” At best, they provided a tiny amount of feed from a small market onto a few AA flights.

  15. to Arcanum; from the previous comment US Airways was the one who said 95,000 flew that route from Philadelphia to Tel Aviv . Cant say it was not profitable if every flight was full. El Al was the ONLY direct non-stop partner for American flying to Israel. obviously it must be making sense to El Al and Delta adding flights to Tel Aviv. what is American missing that the other guys are not. it also makes the Citi/ American Airlines credit card worthless as thousands of people who have the card have used it on El Al to israel to redeem their AAmiles , maybe they will get tha partnership back as there is a void. british air taxes are astronomical when redeeming miles.

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