Although American, Delta, and United want to squelch the rapid U.S. growth of Persian Gulf airlines, Qatar Airways announced Monday that it will fly a larger wide-body aircraft daily between Philadelphia and Doha, the Qatari capital, starting Jan. 1, 2016.
Qatar picked Philadelphia to be the first U.S. airport to fly its larger Airbus A350 XWB jet, which offers wider seats in business and economy classes, less engine noise, and mood lighting to reduce fatigue, the airline said.
"Philadelphia is the sixth-largest metropolitan area in the U.S.A., and is an important international business hub that is home to seven Fortune 1000 companies," Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker said in a statement.
"With the launch of the new A350 service . . . , Qatar Airways will be further strengthening its position in Philadelphia and the U.S. overall."
Qatar began daily nonstop flights between Philadelphia and Doha in April 2014, using Boeing 777-200 LR aircraft, with 259 seats.
Qatar will fly the A350 planes to New York starting March 1 and to Boston beginning March 16, 2016. Qatar also announced new routes to Los Angeles and Atlanta for next year.
"We are very excited to have this aircraft serving Philadelphia, and, even more so, on our airport receiving the distinction of being Qatar Airways' U.S. launch site," Philadelphia airport CEO Mark Gale said. "This new aircraft will both add capacity and will also enhance the passenger experience."
Qatar has ordered 80 of the A350-900 and larger A-350-1000 models, according Flightglobal.com, an aviation news and information website.
The aircraft will have 36 seats in business class equipped with 80-inch flat horizontal beds. Passengers in economy and business cabins will be able to access more than 2,000 movies, games, and audio entertainment options, Qatar said.
"New entry from foreign carriers provides pricing discipline in international markets and also helps domestic competition," said Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition in Radnor.
When Emirates Airlines began flying to Boston from Dubai last year, JetBlue Airways, which had a code-share ticketing partnership with Emirates, began new daily flights to Detroit from Boston, Mitchell said. Previously, Delta had a monopoly on the route, and fares were high.
"The international traffic from Emirates enabled JetBlue to put the Boston-Detroit flight in, and the average fare came down 40 percent," Mitchell said.
Competition "also supports Philadelphia tourism and national tourism objectives," Mitchell said.
But the three biggest U.S. airlines - Delta, United, and American - the last of which has a hub in Philadelphia, have asked the Obama administration to renegotiate Open Skies treaties, or flight rights, with the rapidly growing Qatar, Emirates, and Etihad airlines.
The U.S. carriers contend that since 2004 the state-owned Gulf carriers have received $42 billion in subsidies and benefits from the United Arab Emirates and Qatar in violation of the U.S. Open Skies policy, creating an unfair advantage for U.S. carriers that operate without such subsidies.
The U.S. airlines say they have lost significant bookings to Gulf rivals because of government subsidies that included interest-free loans with no repayment obligation, government assumption of fuel-hedging losses, subsidized airport charges, and free land.
The Gulf carriers deny the allegations and say that the U.S. airlines are losing market share because of poor service and should focus on improving their own product.
The Partnership for Open & Fair Skies, a coalition representing American, Delta, and United, and several airline employee labor unions, responded to Qatar's announcement: "As momentum grows for the U.S. government to seek consultations with the governments of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, the Gulf carriers are rapidly adding flights to the United States, including Philadelphia, because they are scared that the massive, illegal subsidies they receive from their governments will prompt the U.S. government to place a freeze on new routes," spokeswoman Jill Zuckman said.
In October 2013, Qatar joined the OneWorld global airline alliance, which includes American and merger partner US Airways.
Worldwide airline partnerships allow customers to buy tickets on one airline and travel via the partners. American and US Airways passengers can earn and redeem frequent-flier travel miles on Qatar flights.
Qatar, which borders Saudi Arabia, operates 47 flights a week between the United States and Doha. Qatar flies to 146 destinations worldwide, with connections across Africa, Asia, India, and the Middle East.