Mid East Air Alliances: Emirates, Etihad, Qatar

The recent Qantas -Emirates partnership agreement seems to be having a flow through effect with two major announcements today. One World Alliance has been set  for a week now to announce a “significant membership development” today in NewYork. The alliance includes American Airlines, British Airways/Iberia, Cathay Pacific, LAN and Royal Jordanian. The shortlisted options are: Qatar Airways or Emirates. In the meantime, Etihad snuck in their own announcement today with a wide sweeping relationship with Air France-KLM.

Etihad’s a major code-sharing arrangement is between itself and 30% owned Air Berlin (itself a new member of One World with Air France-KLM), a Skyteam founding member The code-sharing agreement is seen as “the first phase of a much larger strategic partnership” which includes “the proposed integration of frequent flyer programs”, between the Etihad Guest Program’s 1.5 million members and  Air France-KLM Flying Blue 21 million members. It includes code sharing on all flights from Etihad’s hub  Abu Dhabi  (the United Arab Emirates’ capital) to Amsterdam and Paris, as well as some  flights to other European, Asian and Australian destinations. Etihad now has code-sharing relationships with 40 airlines as well as investments in four other carriers.

Most people are tipping Qatar Airlines will be the new member of One World but CEO Akbar al-Baker has refused to answer this question saying: “It’s all rumors.” The more he protests, the more it seems likely. It is no secret that Qatar has been very interested in One World for some time now. Qatar is rated by Skytrax as a five star airline and it has also been their Airline of the Year for the past two years. Its code-share partners are largely Star Alliance airlines including ANA, Asiana, Lufthansa, USAir, United, Lufthansa. It also partners with soon to be One World member Malaysia Airlines. Qatar  had tried to link up with Qantas earlier in 2012 but was beaten by Emirates. Qatar joining One World could be both tricky and immensely useful for Qantas as it would then be in a relationship with two middle eastern carriers.

Emirates has eschewed alliances until the recent Qantas one. The carrier does have code sharing relationships with One World carrier Japan Airlines, JetBlue (who have a relationship with One World’s American Airlines), Skyteam airlines: Korean Air and Star Alliance members:  South African Airways  and Thai Airways International.

If Qatar joins One World today and Etihad continues to cosy up to Skyteam, then that leaves Emirates without a global alliance connection. If it now wanted one, the logical thing would be for Emirates to join Star Alliance.  The Star Alliance group will be working very hard to entice the partner less middle eastern carrier in. This will be intensified in Europe where Lufthansa faces the double blow of Air Berlin and Etihad code sharing and the possible new One World member.  This has the complicating factor of Qantas’s One World membership. Qantas, of course, could switch to Star but that seems extremely unlikely.

The announcement of all One World announcements would be Emirates and Qatar both joining simultaneously! The OneWorld announcement could, of course, also be to announce that Kingfisher will never be joining One World. Or that US Airways is defecting as part of a possible American Airlines-US Air merger!

Any movement at One  World will be watched keenly bv Qantas arch rival Virgin Australia which is also partly owned by Eihad. VA is not in an alliance but has chosen to pick and choose strategic code share partners including Etihad, Skyteam’s Delta and Star Alliance carriers: Air New Zealand and Singapore Airlines.

Whatever happens, these changes are massive in terms of the future of the airline industry. Lets see what happens today in New York! Bets on for Qatar!

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