MIAMI — Qatar Airways will fly its Airbus A380 in one-off service in its inaugural flight to Atlanta on June 1, the airline announced today.

The Doha-based carrier also announced that the route will be served regularly using a Boeing 777, instead of the Airbus A350-900 previously announced.

Qatar Airways currently operates six A380s in its fleet, which have a three-class configuration. The upper deck offers eight seats in first class, 48 in business class and a lounge for premium passengers, and 461 economy class seats spread across both decks.

These aircraft are deployed on Qatar Airways’ routes to London Heathrow, Paris and Bangkok. Interestingly, Qatar Airways does not operate scheduled A380 services to any of its destinations in the United States.

Akbar Al Baker, Qatar Airways GCEO said “Qatar Airways will inaugurate Atlanta, its tenth destination to the United States, in just a few weeks’ time and in honour of that, we wished to provide our passengers with a unique experience, in addition to the Airbus A350 and the Boeing 777, which are signature products that we currently fly across all our gateways in the United States.”

Akbar Al Baker, Qatar Airways CEO. (Credits: Qatar Airways)
Akbar Al Baker, Qatar Airways CEO. (Credits: Qatar Airways)

The selection of Atlanta to host the airline’s A380—the largest passenger aircraft in the world—comes as a subtle provocation for Delta Air Lines. Last February, the Atlanta-based carrier opted to put to an end its Dubai service, alleging “overcapacity on U.S. routes to the Middle East operated by state-owned and heavily subsidized airlines.”

Delta’s CEO Richard Anderson, due to step down from his office on May 2, became one of the leading voices behind a controversial dispute between U.S. Legacy carriers (Delta, American and United) and Gulf carriers (Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways), which Anderson accused to have benefited from government subsidies, allowing them to move into the U.S. market under existing open skies agreements.

Qatar Airways’ answer to such allegations has been to increase seat capacity, add additional frequencies and open new markets to the United States. Just in 2016, Qatar Airways added service to Los Angeles on January 1, and launched Boston on March 16. It has also added a second daily frequency to New York JFK on March 1, utilizing an Airbus A350-900.

So far, Qatar Airways is the only Gulf Coast carrier that has unveiled plans to launch new routes to the U.S. this year, and presumably intends to unveil at least two new destinations.

The airline is also increasing the seat number on its 777-300ER routes by moving from a 9-abreast layout in economy class to 10, thereby increasing seats from 293 to 316 on certain configurations and from 356 to 388 on others, while business class remaining the same. The North American routes affected by such changes will be Chicago O’Hare, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Miami, Montreal, New York JFK and Washington Dulles.