The war of words between three state-owned Persian Gulf airlines and three major U.S. carriers has turned into a war of numbers.
American, Delta and United airlines have complained that Etihad, Emirates and Qatar Airways have an unfair advantage when competing against U.S. airlines because they have received as much as $42 billion in subsidies over the last decade from their owners, the oil-rich United Arab Emirates and the Qatar government.
The U.S. carriers have asked federal officials to renegotiate a so-called Open Skies agreement that allows foreign carriers access to U.S. markets.
But now a congressional report has surfaced that says the U.S. airline industry benefited from $155 billion in support from the U.S. government from 1918 to 1999.
The money came in the form of federal subsidies to serve outlying markets, loan guarantees to purchase new aircraft and investments in runways, control towers and radar systems, according to the previously unpublished report, which was unearthed by WikiLeaks in 2009.
The Business Travel Coalition, an advocacy group for business travel managers, and the U.S. Travel Association point to the congressional report as evidence of hypocrisy by the U.S. airlines.
"The big three U.S. airlines have constructed themselves an enormous glass house," U.S. Travel Association spokesman Jonathan Grella said.
Representatives for the U.S. airlines have fired back, saying the funding from the U.S. government to build control towers and runways is not the same as the interest-free government loans, grants and exemption from government fees received by the Persian Gulf carriers.
"It is laughable that a two-decade-old unpublished paper examining U.S. aviation since 1918 is being trumpeted as evidence that U.S. airlines are supported the way that the United Arab Emirates and Qatar routinely subsidize their airlines," said Jill Zuckman, a spokeswoman for the U.S. airlines and their supporters.
Passenger complaints soar for Frontier Airlines
As Frontier Airlines continues the transition to becoming the nation's newest ultra-low-cost carrier, the rate of passenger complaints has soared.
In the latest data reported by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Frontier had 123 complaints filed in February, or 14.4 complaints for every 100,000 passenger boardings. In contrast, the top 13 airlines in the country had a combined rate of 1.97 complaints for every 100,000 passenger boardings.
The complaint rate for Frontier has been on the rise. In November, the rate was 3.3 complaints for every 100,000 boardings, before rising to 4.14 in December and then 8.61 in January, according to the Department of Transportation.
The Denver carrier was purchased in 2013 by the same private investors who helped convert Spirit Airlines of Florida into an ultra-low-cost carrier with dozens of passenger fees. Frontier has already adopted new fees for carry-on bags and other extras.
Frontier acknowledges that "some complaints stem from our transition into an ultra-low-cost carrier as we focus on bringing everyday low fares to more of the country," Frontier spokesman Todd Lehmacher said.
He said many complaints were the result of long delays that customers had to endure trying to talk to reservation agents -- a problem the carrier hopes to address by hiring more staff for its call center.
But another reason for complaints may be Frontier's below-par on-time performance rate. In February, Frontier arrived on time an average of 59 percent of the time, the second-lowest rate for all major airlines in the country.
Lehmacher expects complaint numbers to also be high for March but to drop for April.
"We are focused on improving and believe we have turned a corner," he said.