Last updated: 12:39 PM ET, Wed September 14 2016

JetBlue Fires Back Over Government Contract

Airlines & Airports | American Airlines | Rich Thomaselli | September 14, 2016

JetBlue Fires Back Over Government Contract

PHOTO: JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes (Courtesy Caribbean Tourism)

Throughout the ongoing debate over Open Skies Agreements, the rhetoric and verbal jabs and accusations and allegations have virtually been kept between the big three U.S. airlines and the three Middle East Gulf carriers they claim are receiving billions in government subsidies.

American, Delta and United airlines have traded shots with Emirates, Etihad and Qatar for the better part of 20 months now.

For the most part, while other U.S.-based carriers such as JetBlue and Southwest differ in thinking from American, Delta and United, they have been respectful in their public pronouncements of support for the current Open Skies Agreements.

That is, until now.

JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes ripped his rivals on Tuesday, defending his airline for being awarded a government contract to fly federal employees between New York and Milan – a contract that, in reality, will be executed by JetBlue codeshare partner Emirates – and telling Reuters that American, Delta and United were disingenuous.

The big three last month accused the government of violating the Fly America Act, which stipulates that federal employees must use U.S.-based airlines to fly internationally on government business, after JetBlue was awarded the New York-Milan contract.

However, the Fly America Act does permit exceptions for codesharing agreements with foreign airlines, which has Hayes in an uproar.

"It’s quite clearly hypocritical nonsense," Hayes told the news service in an interview in Washington. "If the big three airlines can continue to win these contracts using their partners, flying on their partners' metal, why can’t JetBlue?"

That particular route struck a nerve with the big three, however, since all of them have service from New York to Milan.

A similar situation happened last year when JetBlue won the contract for Washington-Dubai flights or government employees, to be operated by Emirates. In response, United cancelled its Washington-Dubai flight.


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