Are The Big 3 US Carriers Taking On The ME3 In India?

The Middle East three (ME3) have long dominated India’s international market with little competition from US carriers. However, a series of moves from the big three US airlines points to a brewing fight in the country. With new services from United and American starting in a few months, are the big three taking on the ME3?

United Airlines Boeing 787-10
United has announced several new routes to India this year. Photo: Getty Images

Bustling market

Traffic between the US and India is bustling, generating over $7 billion every year. The market is growing too, making it a prime target for Indian, American, and connecting airlines.

Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar have long held a substantial share of India’s international market, accounting for nearly 25% of all international flights. This figure is ever more acute when looking at the India-US market.

India’s Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri has previously said that Indian airlines only account for 17% of revenue from US routes, and American carriers don’t make up the difference. This likely means that the lion’s share of the revenue goes to the ME3.

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Qatar Emirates
The Middle East Three capture the largest share of the US-India market, with the figure possibly being as high as 50%. Photo: Nabeel Hashmi via Wikimedia Commons

By comparison, US carriers have had a tough time flying to India. Until last year, only United served India with its services from Delhi and Mumbai to Newark, and later Delhi to San Francisco. Both American and Delta had long withdrawn flights from India, citing unprofitability. However, the carriers have returned in the last year and have plans to expand further.


Since last year, all three US carriers have either announced or made a return to the Indian market. Delta restarted its Mumbai-JFK service in December after nearly a decade, while American Airlines announced a new route from Seattle to Bangalore.

Aside from its three existing routes, United started a new Delhi to Chicago service this month and will add a Bangalore-San Francisco service next Spring.

American Airlines Boing 777
American Airlines will begin its Bangalore-Seattle route in Winter 2021. Photo: Getty Images

The pandemic has hampered plans for a joint return of the big three to India. Delta has been forced to ax its Mumbai service for the time being due to the retirement of its 777 fleet and low demand. American has delayed its Bangalore-Seattle service by one year due to the current conditions, scheduling the first flight for Winter 2021.

Taking on the ME3

While the US airlines fly a minuscule number of flights compared to the ME3, their return does signal a renewed interest in the Indian market. A direct option will also be appealing to many passengers who’d rather avoid the hassle of a layover and longer flight times.

By targeting strategic routes, US airlines could make a dent in the ME3’s market dominance in the next year.

Emirates Beoing 777 Getty
The ME3 won’t give up their dominance without a fight, leveraging their vast networks in India. Photo: Getty Images

While the pandemic has put much of the international market in a freeze, we can expect significant competition between American and Middle Eastern carriers once travel resumes.

Who would you rather fly with on flights from India to the US? Can US carriers challenge the ME3’s dominance? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!