“There’s a battle being fought for our skies and most people don’t even realize it,” intones the narrator of a Delta Airlines video released in late June.
The video, a slick, 15-minute production, was created to educate Delta employees about the supposed unfair practices of the three largest Gulf carriers, Emirates, Etihad and Qatar, and features “the perspectives of Delta employees and executives, as well as experts in trade, economics and aviation,” according to the Delta press release accompanying the video.
In a nutshell, the Delta video claims government subsidies to the tune of $50 billion over the past 10 years are propping up the Gulf carriers, which is creating unfair competition and costing American jobs.
“The Gulf Carriers have destroyed competition in countries worldwide, and now they are targeting the United States with lavish sponsorships and slick advertising,” narrates the video.
Which is where a snippet from an Emirates commercial starring Jennifer Aniston is looped in. The video segment shows Aniston looking for the showers on an American carrier and being laughed at by flight attendants. (The full Emirates commercial can be viewed below.)
A Delta employee called that commercial “hurtful.”
“I’ve always liked Jennifer Aniston,” said the in-flight service crew member identified as Meleia J in the Delta video. “But when I saw that ad, [it was] very hurtful to see that.”
Another, unidentified crew member also comments, “For her to be sending that message inside the United States, it hits me right here as a Delta employee.”
The Delta video is shown here. Forward to minute 7:00 to see the commentary about Jennifer Aniston.
In addition to the shot at Aniston, the 15-minute video features numerous high-profile analysts, business leaders, airline executives and diplomats, who all reiterate facts presented by the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies, a lobbying group comprised of American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines as well as a number of industry labor associations and trade groups.
While the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies claims that Gulf Carriers operate at a loss and are propped up by these unfair subsidies, the Gulf carriers dispute these claims. Emirates says it has been profitable for 27 years, an assertion the Partnership calls “laughable.”
Not all American carriers support the claims of the big three, however. JetBlue, Hawaiian Airlines, Atlas Air and FedEx have formed their own coalition, “U.S. Airlines for Open Skies,” (USAOS) which opposes the Partnerships' claims and says the big three are distorting facts to avoid competition.
“The legacy carriers don’t speak for all — or even most — U.S. airlines,” said the carriers an ad campaign released in April. Additionally, the coalition released its own video in July in response to the Delta video.
The USAOS also states that “Full air liberalization would lead to a 10 percent increase in air traffic and support an additional 9 million aviation jobs.”
These estimates are supported by the U.S. Travel Association, which itself was a target of the Partnership earlier this year, when the Partnership accused the trade association of violating the law by failing to register as a lobbyist for a foreign entity. (Emirates and Etihad are members of U.S. Travel.)
A study released in June by U.S. Travel found that Gulf carrier flights brought nearly 1.7 million incremental visitors to the U.S. in 2016. These visitors were found to have spent $7.8 billion during their trips which supported some 80,000 additional U.S. jobs.
“Every city with a Gulf carrier flight can attest—Open Skies agreements, and the airline competition they engender is a pure positive for passengers and for local economies. End of story,” said Roger Down, President & CEO of the U.S. Travel Association.
Delta Airlines, however, says the playing field is not level which makes it difficult to compete.
“It’s all about fairness,” said one employee in the Delta video. “You give us a level playing field and we can compete with any airline.”
The Delta video, which was posted on YouTube by LuchtzakBelgium, an aviation discussion forum based out of Belgium, has had more than 85,000 views. Viewers, however, overwhelmingly seem to disagree that the airline actually can compete. So far, the video has generated 1,044 thumbs down responses, as opposed to just 156 likes.
Comments largely do not favor Delta, with particularly harsh words for the airline’s customer service.
“Boo hoo. When you are trying to compete, just make your product better. Don't try to talk sh*t about your competitors,” wrote “Thimelicious Ole.”
“From a consumer point of view and living in Dubai, I tried to take Delta a couple of times to the US, however, the service level and rudeness of the crew is the main reason I switched to Emirates! I challenge all the Delta employees on this video, including the CEO, to take an economy overseas flight on Delta and then take one on Emirates! Guess what, they will probably never fly on Delta overseas again. Perhaps Delta and the other US airlines can address the real problem and start improving their service, seat comfort, food, and airports! Provide the consumer with connections and hubs that make sense? What about the business lounges? I urge [you] to visit the Emirates lounge in JFK, and then visit Delta's! What a difference!” wrote Hamedkie Z.
Others took issue with Delta’s claims that jobs were being lost.
“So you want to say that these Middle east airlines are not creating jobs in the US? There [are not] thousands of jobs directly or indirectly created by them for each destination they fly to? There [are not] hundreds of aircrafts purchased from Boeing by them, and that's not creating jobs and profit? I'm afraid this story is not about American jobs, but about profits of few who are leading three American airlines,” wrote vivalavida.
Another just thanked Delta for educating passengers about its “big and luxurious” competitors.
“Wow, I never know that Emirates and Etihad Airways are so big and very luxurious airlines and they have very nice and huge airports. Thank you it was a nice video to know other competitors better,” posted Saleh Saeed.