After years of working together with Air France-KLM and Delta, two founding members of SkyTeam, Virgin Atlantic has just announced its intention to join the global alliance in early 2023. This announcement follows that of Oman Air, which had announced in June 2022 that it would join the oneworld alliance by 2024. So there is renewed activity around the major global airline alliances, which, after the impact of Covid-19, seem to be experiencing a certain return to favour.
Virgin Atlantic has just announced that it will join the SkyTeam alliance in early 2023. It will be the nineteenth member of the alliance (Russian carrier Aeroot having been suspended from the alliance on April 27, 2022, following Russia's invasion of Ukraine). Other members of the alliance are Aerolineas Argentinas, Aeromexico, Air Europa, Air France, China Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, CSA, Delta, Garuda Indonesia, ITA Airways, Kenya Airways, KLM, Korean Air, Middle East Airlines, Saudia, Tarom, Vietnam Airlines and Xiamen Airlines."
Already close ties
Virgin Atlantic will be the first UK member of the alliance and will bring new routes and connections to the alliance on the transatlantic route from London Heathrow and Manchester. Virgin Atlantic is already a member of the joint venture that has begun operating transatlantic routes with Air France-KLM and Delta. The four partners have a common roof at London Heathrow's "Terminal 3" alongside two other SkyTeam partners, Aeromexico and China Eastern. Air France, KLM, Delta and Virgin Atlantic launched their expanded joint venture on flights between Europe, the UK and North America in February 2020. The partnership provides access to more than 341 transatlantic flights per day, covering the top ten routes in direct service, with connecting service to 238 cities in North America, 98 in Europe and 16 in the UK and a choice of 110 non-stop transatlantic routes." The joint venture accounts for approximately 23 percent of total transatlantic capacity, including cargo and passengers. Its combined annual turnover is estimated at €13 billion. Air France, KLM and Delta have been partners in a transatlantic joint venture since 2009. Virgin Atlantic and Delta have had a partnership agreement for flights between the UK and North America since 2013. In 2019, the airlines opened the door to expanded cooperation with the announcement of the first code-share agreement between Air France, KLM and Virgin Atlantic following the terms of a partnership reached in 2017. This agreement gave Virgin Atlantic passengers access to 58 new transatlantic routes from 18 UK airports via Paris and Amsterdam. For their part, Air France and KLM have extended their offer to 24 new routes operated by Virgin Atlantic and Delta from the UK to North America, notably via London Heathrow and Manchester. The governance of the joint venture is shared equally by Air France-KLM, Delta and Virgin Atlantic. The 2017 agreement also included, initially, an entry into the capital of Virgin Atlantic of Air France-KLM which was to take 31'% of the capital of the British company for an amount of 240'million. This would have made the Franco-Dutch group the second largest shareholder of Virgin Atlantic, behind Delta (49'%), with the Virgin group keeping only 20'% of the capital. But nally, Richard Branson gave up, on December 3, 2019, and the Virgin group thus kept its 51' % majority stake in the airline.' Virgin Atlantic's announcement follows by about six months the one made last June concerning Oman Air. After several weeks of talk, Oman Air officially applied for membership of the oneworld alliance, supported by Qatar Airways as sponsor, at the IATA (International Air Transport Association) General Assembly in Doha, Qatar. The application was accepted by the alliance's Governing Council, which includes representatives of all the alliance's member airlines. Oman Air is expected to finalize its membership by 2024, at which time Oman Air customers will be able to enjoy all the benefits of the alliance's services. Members of Oman Air's loyalty program, Sindbad, will also be able to earn and redeem miles on all other member airline programs and gain access to airport lounges. Oman Air's entry into oneworld makes it the only global airline alliance to have three of its members from the Middle East region, along with Qatar Airways and Royal Jordanian. Oman Air's membership will add many new destinations including Duqm and Khasab in Oman and Chittagong (Bangladesh). Oneworld Emerald and Sapphire members, as well as premium class passengers, will also be able to access Oman Air's lounges in Muscat, Salalah and Bangkok.'
Fourteenth or fifteenth?
Created in 1993, Oman Air serves 41 destinations in more than 20 countries and operates a fleet of some 40 aircraft. It operates routes to five main Oneworld hubs:Amman, Colombo, Doha, Kuala Lumpur and London-Heathrow, and has code-shares with four Oneworld members:Malaysia Airlines, Qatar Airways, Royal Jordanian and SriLankan Airlines. After joining Oneworld, Oman Air will be the third member to join in five years, after Royal Air Maroc in April 2020 and Alaska Airlines in March 2021. Oneworld currently has thirteen members, since the Russian company S7 Airlines was "temporarily suspended" from the alliance on April 21, 2022, following the invasion of Ukraine by Russia (Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacic, Finnair, Iberia, Japan Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas, Qatar Airways, Royal Jordanian, S7 Airlines, Royal Air Maroc and SriLankan Airlines) Oman Air will thus be the fourteenth member of the alliance. The next membership to oneworld could come from Africa. In a statement recently sent to the specialist website Business Traveler, African carrier RwandAir made clear its intention to apply for oneworld membership. "As we continue to expand our partnership with Qatar Airways, we are always looking for ways to improve our customer ore and global reach. We are therefore exploring the possibility of joining the oneworld alliance. This would be a great fit for RwandAir and would help us build closer ties with like-minded airline partners abroad," says Yvonne Makolo, CEO of RwandAir. The Rwandan national airline was established in December 2002. It serves some 30 destinations with a fleet of 12 aircraft (one Airbus A330-200, one Airbus A330-300, three Boeing 737-700, four Boeing 737-800, two Bombardier CRJ-900s, two Bombardier Dash 8 Q400s) and still has two Airbus A330-900s and two Boeing 737 MAX8s on order. The Rwandan airline has entered into a global codeshare agreement with Qatar Airways by the end of 2021. It has launched a route between its Kigali hub and Doha, where it can access the entire Qatar Airways connection network. Conversely, the agreement strengthens Qatar Airways' presence in East Africa with access to Bujumbura (Burundi), Kinshasa and Lumbumbashi (Democratic Republic of Congo), via the Kigali hub. The two airlines have also announced reciprocal frequent flyer programs allowing RwandAir's Dream Miles and Qatar Airways' Privilege Club members to access each other's destinations and earn and redeem miles on each other's networks. Passengers will also have access to the airlines' lounges at their respective hubs in Doha and Kigali.
Changing strategy in the Gulf?
Oman Air's joining of the oneworld alliance seems to show that Gulf airlines, which apart from Qatar Airways have been reluctant to join a global airline alliance so far, may be changing their strategy. In 2018, Etihad Airways, the Abu Dhabi-based carrier, had raised the possibility of joining Star Alliance, building on a cooperation agreement on catering and maintenance with Lufthansa Group. A turnaround could also come from Emirates, which until now has always held on to its independence and preferred to strengthen its Dubai hub. In mid-September, the Dubai-based airline signed a strategic partnership with the U.S. carrier United Airlines. Starting in November, Emirates customers traveling to Chicago, San Francisco and Houston will be able to easily connect with United flights to and from nearly 200 cities in the Americas with a single ticket. The two airlines will implement an interline agreement at the eight U.S. airports served by Emirates: Boston, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York-JFK, Orlando, Seattle and Washington DC. In addition, beginning in March 2023, United will serve the New York/Newark-Dubai route directly. As an extension, customers will be able to travel to more than 100 cities through Emirates or its subsidiary Flydubai. The agreement is also historic in that it ends a long period of open hostility since the open skies agreement between the US and the UAE, signed in 1999, allowed Gulf carriers to gain a strong foothold in the US market. The major U.S. companies tried to convince first the Obama and then the Trump administration to reverse the open skies agreement. The latter denounced unfair competition linked to the aid given to Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways by their home countries. In the meantime, the international air transport crisis linked to the Covid-19 pandemic has come and gone, and the American airlines have themselves been largely helped by the American federal government...Add to the strategic partnership with United Airlines the fact that Emirates also entered into a partnership in July 2022 with Air Canada paving the way for "a reciprocal multi-code operating relationship," and there are thus two announcements made with two major Star Alliance airlines in quick succession, perhaps not entirely coincidentally pointing to future membership in the premier global airline alliance.
Find this article in full in Air&Cosmos' October 7, 2022 issue #2799.
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