'There was a lot of yelling': Trump was furious that Delta's CEO skipped a White House meeting

Donald Trump Oscar Munoz Edward BastianU.S. President Donald Trump takes his seat along with United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz (L) and Delta Airlines CEO Edward Bastian (R) for a meeting with airline industry CEO's at the White House in Washington, U.S. February 9, 2017.REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

  • President Donald Trump "repeatedly harped" on Delta CEO Ed Bastian's absence from a recent meeting between the White House and the CEOs of major US airlines, according to a major new NBC News report.
  • The meeting - which was lobbied for by a group representing Delta, American Airlines, and United - was to discuss the "Big Three" US airlines' accusations that Middle Eastern carriers, including Qatar Airways, are competing unfairly.
  • The meeting was a failure for the US airlines, with Trump refusing to help them outside of the normal, arduous process of filing a complaint with the Department of Transportation.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

When the CEOs of major US airlines and freight carriers met with President Donald Trump at the White House earlier in July, there was one person conspicuously missing: Delta CEO Ed Bastian. Far from going unnoticed, his absence became a sticking point for the president, according to a detailed new report by NBC News.

The CEOs of American Airlines, United, JetBlue, FedEx, Atlas Air, and Qatar Airways met on July 18th with the president, Vice President Mike Pence, trade advisor Peter Navarro, national security advisor John Bolton, and several other advisors.

During the meeting, the CEOs of American and United asked the White House to intervene in a long-running dispute with Qatar Airways and two other Middle Eastern airlines. American and United, along with Delta, accuse the airlines of competing unfairly by receiving subsidies from their governments. In recent years, Delta has been particularly vocal.

At the root of the issue is a small recently rebranded and expanded Italian airline, Air Italy. Qatar Airways has a 49% stake in the airline, which flies to several locations in the US. The "Big Three" US airlines, in a lobbying coalition, argue that Air Italy's flights represent illegal "fifth freedom" flights - flights in which an airline flies between two countries that are not its own. Those flights are highly regulated and typically must originate or end in the airline's home country after making a stop in the third.

Executives from other airlines and industries, though, have argued that, since Qatar is not the majority owner of Air Italy, there is no violation of the Open Skies trade treaty that regulates international air travel. They've also argued that any action taken against the Middle Eastern airlines would result in a harmful trade war.

Read more: Trump sided with Qatar over US airline CEOs in the nastiest battle in the aviation industry

According to the NBC report, the lobbying coalition that represents the "Big Three" - the Partnership for Open and Fair Skies - sought a meeting with Trump by airing television commercials during Fox News programs, including Fox and Friends, to try and get his attention in the weeks after Qatar Airways signed the contract on a major purchase from Boeing and GE. The thought was that the Trump administration's overall protectionist trade tendencies would lead the White House to side with them.

Ultimately, the White House sided against the Big Three - and according to NBC, the meeting was "a heated, Apprentice-worthy showdown."

During the meeting, Trump "repeatedly harped" on Delta CEO Bastian's absence from the meeting, and criticized the airline for buying planes from European planemaker Airbus rather than American firm Boeing.

He was particularly offended that Bastian didn't attend the meeting because the airline has been so vocal in the fight against Qatar.

"The president kept going back to it," a source told NBC. "There was a lot of yelling."

Delta told Business Insider after the meeting that Bastian had pre-scheduled international travel that he was unable to change. The airline did not say where he was traveling to, what he was doing on the trip, or why he was unable to change it. The airline also did not immediately respond to a request for comment related to the new reports.

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