Delta counting Qatar Airways passengers in Atlanta

In the ever more bizarre story of Delta’s behavior related to Qatar Airways’ service in Atlanta, it appears that the home-town carrier is, well, escalating its efforts. A reader provided this video to me taken in Atlanta of a Delta employee at the Qatar Airways departure gate. Apparently the same employee has been at the gate multiple times, always with a counter in hand to track the number of passengers boarding the aircraft.

Here’s a rough transcript:

Camera: What are you doing for Delta right now?


C: Is it true you’re counting passengers as they board?

Her: Why are you saying that?

C: Because you have a clicker in your hand and that’s what you told the staff here yesterday. Is that what you’re doing?

She doesn’t answer the question on camera so I suppose there is plausible deniability there, but there is definitely a counter visible in her hand in the video.

This is jut the latest in a long and twisted set of exchanges, some public and some (like this one) less so. Blocked gates, dropped public sponsorships, hundreds of pages of forensic financial analysis and public bickering between the CEOs is just part of the fun. That last bit has dialed back with the retirement of Richard Anderson and Ed Bastian taking over that role at the company. But apparently the less public stuff continues unabated.

I’ve reached out to Delta for clarification on the behavior and to learn if maybe there’s something else going on that is unclear from what we can see and hear; I’m awaiting a response and will update should that happen.

But, for the life of me, I cannot figure out why this bickering continues. Maybe there are massive subsidies in play and the Open Skies treaty should be torn up. Maybe not. But it seems unlikely to me that actions like these are really benefiting Delta‘s case in any way. Even if it can “prove” that no one is really flying on that particular route what difference does it make? How is that going to help form a coherent and plausible argument that something else should happen? It comes off as mighty petty to me.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. Knowing flight loads of competitors is a straightup business advantage. I’m amazed it doesn’t happen more. I know some of this info is available through one of the trade orgs (ARC? IATA? IATAN? GDSes?) but I don’t know what all info and what airlines participate. I just know our Lufthansa rep shows up at the office and has our booking numbers (# of tickets issued, PNRs, $$ amounts, etc) with BA/AA and DL/KL/AF, along with YOY changes. Doing a post on what info is routinely available to the airlines on competitors’ sales and loads would be extremely interesting.

  2. Only logical reason I can see, is for Delta to refute any claims from Qatar that the service is incredibly successful. I guess, if Delta can gather data that flight loads are quite low they could go up against any argument of “success” by Qatar. Of course, the question is why? Only thing I can think of is furthering the cause of anti-ME3 airline groups by providing proof carriers are operating at a substantial loss on certain routes without a concern. Not sure this really helps, or doesn’t help anyone’s cause.

  3. Delta should channel at least a fraction of their obsession with Qatar into trying to match their customer experience.

  4. Of course it’s petty. And airlines have engaged in ‘competitive intelligence’ (sic) like this for decades. Who cares if Delta wants to spend/waste money with a headcount/catering count?

  5. I’m traveling soon traveling soon ATL-DOH….. I’l make a point to say “don’t forrget me and I’m in J”

  6. @IKC, that’s exactly right, forget their useless counting of pax loads. It’s what’s inside Qatar’s aircraft that counts. Fools at Delta; they don’t get it. People fly Qatar and other carriers because of the hard and soft product offered. Maybe Delta’s CEO ought to take a hop in Qatar, he may find himself screaming ‘Count me in!’.

  7. I flew on Qatar airways in June and both the outbound and return flights were full. We still had to wait for 40 minutes on the tarmac until there was a gate for the 777. Delta holding up the plane. The service was great, the entertainment was very extensive. The flight was much cheaper than Delta by 60%. I’m a gold medallion member, but if I had a choice, I would not choose Delta.

  8. I don’t see the big deal with Delta counting passengers on other airlines. And the camera man is an ass. Poor lady just doing her job.

  9. @Tom, agreed on the comment of camera man. Lady gave him a smile, which was more than he deserved.

    “move along, nothing to see here, move along”

  10. Just buy the IATA data and be done. Costs on 8500$/yr, im sure DL has a bulk discount.

    The data LH reps have is based on IATA data analysis of that particular IATA office I’d associated to the travel agent / corporate travel office. Your office has to agree to that as part of contracts.

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