Qatar Airways' new Atlanta-Doha route attracts attention

The CEO of Qatar Airways said bookings on the carrier's new Atlanta-Doha route launching June 1 have been strong, contrary to warnings from an Atlanta-based competitor.

Delta Air Lines' incoming president Glen Hauenstein said last month the Atlanta-to-Doha market has fewer than five people a day traveling between the two cities, meaning the rest of the Qatar Airways plane would need to be filled with connecting passengers.

“We don’t think they’ll be successful,” Hauenstein said then.

But Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker boasted at a press conference on Tuesday in Atlanta that flights on the new route launching next month are more than 70 percent full.

Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

"When you want to grow an airline, you have to have the guts," Al Baker said. "We have a superior product and people are craving for an airline to come here" to give them the type of service Qatar Airways provides, he continued.

The war of words highlights the competitive nature of two heavyweights in the airline industry.

Delta, along with American and United airlines, have been engaged in a campaign alleging Qatar and other Gulf carriers unfairly receive subsidies from their governments and compete with U.S. airlines on international routes.

This week, Qatar Airways' plans to launch its new Atlanta route have also drawn calls for boycotts of the carrier, with a group called the Alliance for Workers Against Repression Everywhere citing concerns about the airline's treatment of its workers and women and taking out billboard and newspaper advertisements.

And with a Qatar Airways event to celebrate the new Atlanta route planned at the Fox Theatre on Tuesday evening featuring Jennifer Lopez, a flight attendants union has called for JLo to cancel her appearance.

Al Baker in response said he was "disappointed" with the protests and said the airline gives its employees a "very handsome salary" and benefits.