They teamed up and wrote an open letter to President Trump in the New York Times and other newspapers, basically begging him to take action against a competitor.
Then, they tried a second effort, under an organization called the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies, and ran an ad on Fox News that seemed to have a targeted audience of one: President Trump himself.
Finally, on Thursday, the airline CEOs got the chance to make their pitch to Trump in person, with a meeting at the White House. But the whole thing reportedly had a very different result than they’d hoped.
‘Dear President Trump’
Quick background: In short, the airlines wanted Trump to take executive action against Air Italy, which is expanding and offering nonstop flights between the U.S. and Europe. Their argument is that since Air Italy is owned 49 percent by Qatar Airways, this expansion means Qatar Airways is violating a big airline competition agreement with the United States.
The letter and the TV ad the airlines put together really have to be read and seen to be appreciated. They flattered Trump to no end, and made the issue about keeping promises and protecting American workers — not about helping the airlines themselves.
So, I suspect they must have felt optimistic when they had the chance to go to the White House Thursday and make their case in person.
Only two problems: The unexpected guest at the White House meeting, and the other surprising person who didn’t show up.
‘All the way from Qatar’
CNBC reports that Trump didn’t just meet in the Oval Office Thursday with United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz and American Airlines CEO Doug Parker.
Instead, they were “shocked” to find that the CEO of Qatar Airways, Akbar Al Baker, was there, too, CNBC said, quoting “a person familiar with the meeting.”
The other surprise: Delta CEO Ed Bastian wasn’t there.
Trump reportedly brought up Delta’s absence several times, and Al Baker also reportedly emphasizedthat he had come “all the way from Qatar” for the meeting.
“The real story,” CNBC quoted a senior White House official saying, “is that Delta refused the invite. That didn’t help their cause.”
CNBC quoted a Delta spokesman saying Bastian didn’t “refuse” to attend, but that he:
“unfortunately had some previously scheduled travel that he was unable to reschedule … He is appreciative of opportunities … to discuss this important issue with the president and members of the administration. Delta remains 100% committed to leveling the playing field in international aviation.”
File a complaint
The end result (well, the end result at least for now), is that President Trump reportedly didn’t agree to do anything, and instead told the airlines that they’d have to file grievances and go through the regular legal process.
That’s generally seen as benefiting Qatar Airways, since the status quo means Air Italy can continue to pursue whatever expansion it has going on.
As the airline site One Mile at a Time suggested, this might be the end of the line for the airlines’ efforts — although they expressed some optimism afterward, since they couldn’t even get a meeting to discuss the issue under President Obama:
Despite Trump’s “America first” agenda, it’s pretty telling that he didn’t take any action, but rather told US airlines to just go through the normal processes, which likely won’t lead anywhere.
Unrelated but quite interesting is that this meeting apparently took place not long before President Trump tweeted that he’d been asked by Kanye West to intervene in the case of rapper A$AP Rocky, who is currently being held in Sweden following an alleged street fight.
In that case, Trump tweeted that he’s talking with the prime minister of Sweden and is willing to “personally vouch for” A$AP Rocky in an effort to get results.
All of which suggests American Airlines and United Airlines are going about this all wrong.
Maybe instead of taking out newspaper ads and running television commercials, they should just ask Kanye to plead their case.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.