Former mortal enemies, American Airlines and Qatar Airways, have seemingly made peace, as the two carriers announced signing a strategic partnership and code-sharing agreement on February 25, 2020. 

The strategic partnership would allow the two airlines to increase commercial cooperation, bolster connectivity and create new travel options for their customers, both companies announced on February 25, 2020. 

In particular, if the deal is granted governmental approvals, American Airlines would place its code on Qatar Airways’ flights between the U.S. and destinations in the Middle-East, East Africa, South Asia, the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia.  

In turn, Qatar Airways, would place its code on American Airlines’ domestic flights departing Boston (BOS), Dallas (DFW), Chicago (ORD), Los Angeles (LAX), Miami (MIA), New York (JFK) and Philadelphia (PHL), in addition to international flights to and from Europe, the Carribean, Central and South America.

American Airlines would also start looking into additional service between the U.S.and Doha.

Moving on past issues

American Airlines and Qatar Airways once already had a code-sharing agreement, which was cut by the former in March 2018. At the time, the Qatari airline was looking into purchasing a 10% stake in the U.S. airline, but dropped the idea in the following months. 

Now, the two say the past disputes are resolved and the carriers are ready to move on. 

“We have moved on from past issues and look forward to working closely with American Airlines to build a world-leading partnership for all our customers,” Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive Akbar Al Baker is cited saying in the company’s statement. 

“The issues that led to the suspension of our partnership two years ago have been addressed, and we believe resuming our code-share agreement will allow us to provide service to markets that our customers, team members and shareholders value, including new growth opportunities for American Airlines,” American’s Chairman and CEO Doug Parker is cited in the U.S. carrier’s statement as saying. “We look forward to the renewed cooperation between our airlines and hope to build an even stronger relationship with Qatar Airways over time.”

The disagreement between Qatar Airways and American Airlines dates years back. American, together with other U.S. legacy carriers United Airlines and Delta, have long accused Qatar Airways (as well as Emirates and Etihad) of receiving government subsidies, alleging the state help was in direct violation of the “fair competition" stipulated by the Open Skies agreements with the U.S.

What appeared as a break-through came in January 2018. At the time, Qatar Airways agreed to make concessions in its Open Skies agreement with the biggest three U.S. carriers, promising to have greater financial transparency and not to conduct “fifth freedom” flights to the U.S. (not run any indirect flights to the U.S. through other countries). 

However, the truce was short-lived and tensions began heating up again (including the ending of the code-sharing agreement two months later). At one point, Qatar Airways even threatened to leave Oneworld alliance due to tensions with American Airlines. 

"Qatar's commitment to the OneWorld alliance has diminished as we are constantly being attacked by OneWorld partner,” Al Baker said at a media conference in October 2018. 

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Qatar Airways CEO AL Baker threatens to withdraw from the OneWorld alliance due to a trade dispute between the state-owned carrier and its archrival and alliance member American Airlines.  
 

One of the latter-day rounds in the long-lasting conflict revolved around Air Italy. When the Italian carrier announced plans to launch flights to the U.S. in December 2018, the country’s legacy carriers responded in outrage, seeing it as Qatar Airways’ attempt to bypass its commitment not to launch new “fifth freedom” flights to the U.S. At the time,  Qatar Airways had a 49% stake in Air Italy. However, earlier in February 2020, Air Italy suspended flights as its owners decided to liquidate the company.

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The relationship between American Airlines and Qatar Airways is “fun‘, says William Walsh, CEO and Executive Director of International Airlines Group (IAG).