The widely rumoured, but also widely denied entry of Qatar Airways into an airline alliance has finally been confirmed at a press conference in New York this afternoon as the Middle Eastern carrier officially joins the Oneworld alliance.
Qatar Airways is the first of the three major airlines based in the Gulf (the others being Emirates and Etihad) to sign for any of the global airline alliances. The Doha-based airline's implementation into Oneworld is expected to take between 12 and 18 months.
British Airways will serve as Qatar’s sponsor in joining Oneworld, supported by the central alliance team, mentoring the recruit through its alliance implementation programme.
Qatar Airways will be Oneworld's second member airline based in the Middle East, alongside Royal Jordanian, which became the first airline from the region to join any of the global alliances when it joined in 2007 (see online news October 20, 2005).
Qatar Airways' network serves 120 destinations in 70 countries in the Middle East, Europe, Africa, North and South America, Asia and Australasia. Fifteen of its destinations and three countries - Iran, Rwanda and the Seychelles - will be new to Oneworld.
Qatar already code-shares with Oneworld member designate Malaysia Airlines (see online news May 15).
Oneworld members will be able to take advantage of Qatar's new home airport, the New Doha International Airport, when it opens in 2013, (see online news August 28) with an eventual capacity for 50 million passengers a year.
Once Qatar becomes part of Oneworld its Privilege Club frequent flyer members will be able to earn and redeem rewards on any other alliance carriers, with top tier members able to use any of the group's 550 plus airport lounges.
At the same time, frequent flyer cardholders of other Oneworld airlines will be able to earn and redeem rewards when flying on Qatar Airways and can access Qatar Airways' lounges.
Qatar Airways chief executive officer Akbar Al Baker said: "Alliances are playing an increasingly important role in the airline industry today - and that will continue long into the future. Qatar Airways has carefully reviewed its strategic options and it is very clear that joining Oneworld is by far the best way forward for us as we look to strengthen our competitive offering and give passengers what they fully deserve - more choice.”
Willie Walsh, chief executive of IAG, parent of British Airways and Iberia, said: "In Qatar Airways, Oneworld is pleased to welcome another great airline that will enhance Oneworld's network and product offerings in one of the world's fastest growing regions for air travel demand.”
The news comes on the same day that Etihad, Air Berlin and Air France / KLM announced a series of code shares which will see passengers from all four airlines move across each others’ networks (see online news October 8).
It might also be seen as evidence that important though the airline alliances are, airlines are also willing to make deals with airlines not in those alliances (Etihad), or in a different one (like Qatar Airways, Air Berlin recently joined Oneworld, and Air France/ KLM are founding members of rival alliance SkyTeam.)
For more information visit oneworld.com.
Report by Tom Otley and Scott Carey