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Analysis: Do alliances still engender airline loyalty?

29 Oct 2012 by Alex McWhirter
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Ever since airline alliances first saw the light of day 15 years ago, it’s a given that member carriers favour fellow members above all else.

After all, alliances were set up so that member carriers both large and small could compete more effectively on the world stage.

But a series of developments in recent weeks has called alliance loyalty into question.

The most striking example concerns Oneworld member Qantas which, after a 15-year relationship, has torn up its kangaroo route joint venture agreement with fellow carrier British Airways.

Instead the Australian airline has decided to establish a huge marketing tie-up with Emirates – a non-aligned airline.

An announcement now posted on the Qantas website proclaims. “Qantas + Emirates. The world’s leading airline partnership. Together we’re connecting the world.”

But shouldn’t Qantas be promoting the networks of its fellow Oneworld members rather than those of an arch rival?

Another example is Air Berlin. You wouldn’t think this value-for-money airline was a recent Oneworld recruit considering that it seems to work more closely with Oneworld’s rivals in Skyteam rather than with Oneworld itself.

Hardly had the ink dried on the Qantas/Emirates tie-up when Air Berlin announced it was striking code-share deals with Air France, KLM and Gulf airline Etihad on routes between Europe, the Far East and Australia.

And now during an interview with Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine, Air France’s chief executive Alexandre de Juniac hinted of even closer ties, “With Air Berlin we want to expand the important markets of Germany and Eastern Europe. We know the airline well.”

So might Air Berlin defect to Skyteam? An Air Berlin spokeswoman poured cold water on this suggestion. “Air Berlin’s membership with Oneworld was positive,” she told Frankfurter Allgemeine.

It will be interesting to see what happens when Air France’s service from Paris CDG into Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia gets under way next April. As we reported, some passengers using this forthcoming Air France service will switch over to KLM’s onward service to Jakarta. But the remainder will either stop in Kuala Lumpur or continue to regional destinations or Australasia.

In which case it’s logical passengers would interline with Malaysia Airlines (MAS) seeing as they can no longer use Qantas (the Australian airline has cancelled its link with Air France/KLM) for onward services to Australia.

But MAS is poised to join Oneworld in February (see online news October 29). Will this fact affect any possible relationship with Skyteam’s Air France?

We await developments with interest.

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