Over the last year Delta Air Lines has engaged in a war of words with the big three Middle Eastern airlines - Emirates, Etihad and Qatar. I have generally sided with Delta in this debate, feeling that the airline had reasonable concerns about the fairness of the competition from these carriers. However, Delta has gotten downright petty with its latest position in the dispute..
To celebrate its new service to Atlanta, Qatar Airways held a celebration earlier this week at Atlanta's venerable Fox Theatre. "The Fox" is a former movie theater that opened in 1929. Its architecture features Egyptian and Moorish design elements and it is now a prominent Atlanta concert and live theater venue. In fact, it hosted Prince's final concert. Qatar's gala was a splashy affair celebrating the launch of Qatar's Doha-Atlanta service that commences on June 1. The airline hired Jennifer Lopez to perform for its CEO, Akbar Al Baker.
Well, Delta took exception to this event.
If you are unfamiliar with the well publicized feuding between Al Baker and former Delta CEO Richard Anderson, you might ask why Delta management was so upset? As a long-time sponsor of the Fox Theatre, Delta apparently felt it was owed some level of loyalty from the venue and the theater should not have hosted the Qatar celebration. Though Delta has been a sponsor of the Fox for over 20 years, it has decided to not renew its sponsorship in 2017.
How utterly petty and childish by Delta management! Delta Air Lines does not own the Fox Theatre in whole or in part, nor does it manage the facility. Yes, as a long-time sponsor they are owed a debt of gratitude by Fox leadership, but does that sponsorship preclude the Fox Theatre from doing business with other airlines? Granted, if the Delta agreement is exclusive, then the Qatar celebration could fall in a bit of a gray area. However, there is no indication of any exclusivity for Delta. My take? Delta is overreacting and looking more like a pouty child than the professional, world-class airline that it is.
While Delta deserves criticism for the latest front in the verbal war with Qatar, the Middle Eastern carrier is hardly without blame. Why did it need to host a high-profile event with a star like J-Lo just to celebrate it's new service to Atlanta? Last week, Turkish Airlines commemorated its new Istanbul-Atlanta route with a dignified ribbon-cutting ceremony at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Rather than a Hollywood star, Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed joined Turkish Airlines executives. Qatar did seem to want to "rub salt in the wounds of Delta" and this is as petty and childish as Delta declining to renew its sponsorship.
While I do believe Delta holds the high ground in its policy debate with Qatar Airways, both airlines are in the wrong on the special event at the Fox Theatre. Hopefully, Delta will reverse course and realize that being a good corporate neighbor will gain it more sympathy for its position than haughtily ending a long-time relationship with a beloved. Atlanta institution.