If you wonder why US airlines are cozying up to Gulf carriers, it is helpful to look to Russia, the War in Ukraine, and the economics of operating a worldwide route network under a new set of constraints that have made many routes unviable. Indeed, Gulf carriers solve a practical problem for US airlines.
Gulf Carriers Will Help US Airlines Maintain Access To Indian Subcontinent And Beyond
While US and European carriers avoid Russian airspace, Gulf carriers continue to use it. This “neutrality” may frustrate the effects of sanctions, but it provides a back door for airlines to continue service to destinations that simply are not otherwise possible.
Take Bangalore for example. American Airlines has teased Seattle – Bangalore for years. United Airlines has teased San Francisco – Bangalore. With the inability to use Russian airspace, those routes will not operate. No chance. Indeed, United cannot even operate its longstanding Newark – Mumbai service without using Russian airspace.
With a huge population essentially blocked off from US carriers, US carriers solve a problem. American’s cozy relationship with Qatar Airways provides a way for passengers from the Indian Subcontinent (and beyond) to continue to feed onto American Airlines. This gets to a central goal of the new United partnership with Emirates, set to be officially unveiled on September 14, 2022.
Emirates will do what United cannot: serve passengers in India. And if United launches service to Dubai on 1-2 new routes, United not only has access to a whole new base of customers but will still benefit from US connections to / from Emirates long-haul flights.
Of course, the same is true with American Airlines and helps to explain its new service between New York and Doha (though that flight does not seem to attract many passengers thus far… a warning that Gulf carriers cannot provide such a soft product premium that customers are driven away).
I don’t think US carriers have suddenly had a total change of heart about Gulf carriers. These are still competitors and both Emirates and Qatar Airways arguably receive the better end of the deal with these new strategic relationships in the USA, namely access to immense connecting traffic for its long-haul flights. But US carriers have figured out that if they want a shot at the Indian market in the current conditions, working with these carriers represents the least of two risky choices (the other being abandoning the market altogether).
US carriers are cozying up to Gulf carriers in large part due to the geopolitical realities of the day. While codeshares can theoretically be helpful regardless of airspace closures, it is the difficulty of serving key markets that now brings once-reluctant US airlines to the table.