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Subsidy debate fuels Qatar CEO’s ire

If you thought the campaign for the American presidency was getting nasty, wait until you hear the latest salvos in the feud between the top U.S. carriers and the big Middle Eastern airlines.

The nation’s three big carriers — American, Delta and United — started the conflict by accusing Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways and Emirates Airline of competing unfairly in the U.S. because they receive financial support from their oil-rich government owners.

The U.S. carriers have even urged the Obama administration to investigate the Middle Eastern airlines for allegedly violating the “open skies” agreement, a bilateral accord meant to promote fair competition among international carriers.

During a recent news conference to announce new service from Los Angeles to Doha, Qatar Airways Chief Executive Akbar Al Baker didn’t mince words when asked to comment on the accusations by the U.S. airlines.

“What they are talking about is sheer” nonsense, although he used a much stronger word before the crowded conference room at the posh Peninsula Beverly Hills hotel. (Emirates also announced recently the addition of a second daily flight from Los Angeles to Dubai.)

Al Baker charged that the U.S. carriers are on the attack because they can’t compete with the superior service of the Middle Eastern airlines. He also accused the U.S. carriers of hypocrisy, saying they have accepted fuel subsidies and have taken advantage of U.S. bankruptcy laws to reduce debt.

He vowed to trounce his competitors by expanding from Qatar’s current 155 destinations to 220 within three years, including flights starting in June to Atlanta, the biggest hub for Delta Air Lines.

Jill Zuckman, a spokeswoman for the three U.S. airlines, fired back:

“Mr. Al Baker can say the moon is made of cheese but it won’t change the fact that Qatar Airways has received more than $17 billion in subsidies from its government.”

Luxe hotel unveils ‘club fee’

The Luxe Rodeo Drive Hotel has launched a new “club fee” at the boutique hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. Guests who pay an extra $35 a night get free breakfast, plus hors d’oeuvres in the afternoon and evening as well as free coffee, soda and alcoholic drinks around the clock.

A similar program was announced last month for the Double Tree Inn hotels, called Little Extras Upgrade. It offered guests who stay in a standard room snacks and drinks for an added cost of $25 to $35 a night, depending on the package.

But the Luxe won’t be serving bags of chips and cans of soda. The food, to be prepared daily by the hotel’s chef, Olivier Rousselle, includes sandwiches, chilled soup, crostini, flavored popcorn and freshly made lemonade.

The problem, according to general manager Adam Sydenham, is that most major online travel search engines cannot distinguish the Luxe’s new club fee from the mandatory resort fees that many of the big hotels charge to use the gym or hook into the wireless Internet.

‘Darker side’ of travel studied

A university study out of Britain has confirmed what many business travelers already know: Regular travel can be a big bummer.

The study, titled “A Darker Side of Hypermobility,” says that society glamorizes travel but ignores the physical and psychological drawbacks. The negative aspects include the risk of deep-vein thrombosis, jet lag, exposure to radiation on commercial jets, anxiety about getting robbed or being the victim of terrorism, and the stress on spouses left behind.

“In more extreme cases, mobility can engender psychological disorders and mental illness,” according to the study by the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at the University of Surrey.

The study doesn’t advocate putting an end to travel. Instead, it says travelers might stay closer to home if they understood the true “darker side” of travel.

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