United Airlines announced Wednesday that its employees, along with several members of Congress from New York and New Jersey, would stage a protest on Sunday at Newark Liberty International Airport, where the inaugural flight by Emirates Airlines is set to depart for Athens, Greece.
The fury surrounding Emirates’ new non-stop flight between New York/Newark Liberty International Airport and Athens Eleftherios Venizelos International is the latest episode since the Middle East carrier announce the route in January.
United and its unions expect to draw between 150 and 200 people to the protest.
The three largest U.S. airlines— American, United and Delta— all protested that the route was a violation of an Open Skies Agreement between the United States and the Gulf States. A lobbying group representing the U.S. airlines was able to convince two dozen members of Congress to write a letter to President Donald Trump to ask him to intercede.
The three Middle Eastern Airlines, known in the industry as the ME3 have denied these allegations.
Emirates has reported 28 straight years of profitability while returning more than $3 billion in dividends to the airline’s investors. Officials also point to annual audits by global accounting firms that prove the airline doesn’t receive state subsidies. The airline issued a point by point response, refuting claims of state support by the government.
And the airline is also fighting back the U.S. airlines’ claims with accusations of their own, as well as pages and pages of counter-claims and evidence that the airline hasn’t broken any rules.
In 2015, Emirates released a report that accused the US airlines of receiving more than $100 billion in support from the U.S. government since 2002 in the form of government assumption of pension responsibilities, bankruptcy protection, antitrust immunity, direct grants, loan guarantees, and tax exemptions.
The airline is also claiming that they are serving an underserved market, since they will be the only airline flying non-stop between the United States and Greece, year-round.
“The New York-Athens route was underserved by other carriers — no airline has operated a year-round, nonstop service between the US and Greece for more than five years,” the Emirates representative told The Pappas Post in an email, adding that “We are launching our New York-to-Athens service following multiple requests from Athens International Airport and the Greek aviation authorities, and after careful study, we believe it will be commercially successful and mutually beneficial to the US, Greece, and the UAE.”
United currently operates daily service between Newark and Athens, but only for a few months in the summer when travel to Greece is at peak, leaving winter travelers and business travelers, as well as many families who travel to Greece during the winter months with the option of connecting flights.
The same applies for Delta, which operates seasonal service between New York’s JFK airport and American, which connects Philadelphia and Athens— both during peak summer travel months, but not year-round.
Emirates recently placed the largest aircraft order in U.S. history— valued at $76 billion for 150 planes— with Boeing. The airline currently operates the world’s largest fleet of Boeing 777 planes. In a press release at the time of the order, Emirates claimed the single order with Boeing was “creating and supporting an estimated 436,000 jobs in the US.”
United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz admitted, in a Business insider interview that it was all about the economics of the airline industry and United only flies seasonally to Greece, because, “that’s where the demand is.”