by Aya Batrawy, The Associated Press, April 24, 2017
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The CEO of one of the Middle East's largest carriers said Monday passenger numbers to the United States have dipped slightly over fears by some Muslim passengers that their visas may be rejected upon arrival, but expressed confidence in President Donald Trump as a "very good businessman."
Qatar Airways CEO Akbar al-Baker said uncertainty about travel to the United States is "affecting the business, but to a very small extent."
"We didn't have massive decline like other carriers so we still have robust loads to the United States and we will continue our commitment to our passengers in the United States," al-Baker said.
Emirates, the Middle East's largest airline, slashed its flights to the United States by 20 percent last week.
Dubai, where Emirates is based, and Doha, Qatar Airways' main hub, were among the 10 cities in Muslim-majority countries affected by a ban on laptops and other personal electronics in carry-on luggage aboard U.S.-bound flights.
"Qatar Airways does not plan and will not reduce frequencies to the United States," he said. "I am sure that these uncertainties that passengers have soon could be resolved by statements from the United States' government."
Al-Baker also expressed hope that Trump would resist pressure from American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines to block aggressive expansion into the U.S. market by Gulf-based carriers.
"I have repeatedly mentioned that President Trump is a very wise individual and a very good businessman, and I don't think that he will buy into bullying by the three American carriers," he said.
The blunt and plain-spoken CEO described the U.S. competition as "wicked" for the way their passengers are treated and said they operate in cities where they "can swindle their customers."
In a further dig, al-Baker quipped that he would travel on a jump seat where cabin crew often sit before removing a passenger if a Qatar Airways flight was full. He was referring to an incident in which a United Airlines passenger was filmed being dragged off an airplane by airport security officers on an overbooked flight.
"We would never offload a passenger in Qatar Airways even if it is the CEO of the airline that wants to travel," he said. "We would not drag out people out of an airplane."
Speaking to reporters at the Arabian Travel Market convention in Dubai, al-Baker said Qatar Airways is planning to launch a new route to Las Vegas possibly as early as next year. The airline currently flies to more than a dozen U.S. cities.
He said Qatar Airways has plans to expand to 26 new global destinations, adding: "The United States is not the entire world."
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