Emirates scales back U.S. flights after Trump administration curbs

Last Updated Apr 19, 2017 9:20 AM EDT

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Emirates, the Middle East’s biggest airline, is cutting flights to the United States because of a drop in demand caused by heightened U.S. security measures and Trump administration attempts to ban travelers from Muslim-majority nations, it said Wednesday.

The decision by the carrier, which is owned by Dubai’s government, is the strongest sign yet that tougher measures imposed on U.S.-bound travelers from the Mideast are taking a toll on tourism and travel. They have particularly hit fast-growing Gulf carriers that have expanded rapidly in the United States in recent years.

Dubai was one of 10 cities in Muslim-majority countries affected by a ban on laptops and other personal electronics in carry-on luggage aboard U.S.-bound flights.

Emirates’ hub at Dubai International Airport, the world’s third busiest, is a major transit point for travelers who were affected by President Donald Trump’s executive orders temporarily halting entry to citizens of six countries.

The latest travel ban suspended new visas for people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, and froze the nation’s refugee program. Like an earlier ban that also included Iraqi citizens, it has been blocked from taking effect by the courts.

Emirates said the reductions will affect five of its 12 U.S. destinations, starting next month. It called the move “a commercial decision in response to weakened travel demand” in the three months since Trump took office.

“The recent actions taken by the U.S. government relating to the issuance of entry visas, heightened security vetting, and restrictions on electronic devices in aircraft cabins, have had a direct impact on consumer interest and demand for air travel into the U.S.,” the carrier said in a statement.

But U.S. carriers disputed that Emirates’ decision was economic. “It is well known that the Gulf carriers, including Emirates, lose money on most of their flights to the United States and are propped up by billions of dollars in government cash,” said Jill Zuckman, spokeswoman for the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies. The coalition is made up of United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines as well as a number of airline workers’ unions. 

Etihad, a Mideast airline that competes with Emirates, said it had experienced no drop in demand for U.S. flights.

Emirates’ cuts will reduce the number of U.S.-bound flights from the carrier’s Dubai hub to 101, down from 126 currently. Twice-daily Emirates flights to Boston, Los Angles and Seattle will be cut to once a day. Daily flights to Ft. Lauderdale and Orlando will be pared down to five per week.