Abu Dhabi airline Etihad has launched ‘Etihad Airways Partners‘, a pseudo alliance aimed at bringing together some of the various national airlines in which Etihad has invested.
Over the last few years, Etihad has been making equity investments and providing cheap loans to several struggling airlines. These include:
Air Seychelles (40%)
Aer Lingus (3%)
Darwin / Etihad Regional (33%)
Virgin Australia (10%)
Air Serbia (49%)
Jet Airways (24%)
Not all of these airlines have joined Etihad Airways Partners. Virgin Australia, Aer Lingus and Alitalia are not taking part. The first two are probably excluded because the Etihad shareholding is so small. Alitalia may just be a timing issue as the Etihad investment has only just been completed. The participating airlines serve 250 cities between them.
What will Etihad Airways Partners offer?
Good question. Etihad’s CEO says it will offer “a partner proposition for like-minded airlines which will result in synergies and efficiencies for participating airlines on the one side, and enhanced network choice, service and frequent flyer benefits for the consumer on the other.” Which doesn’t mean much.
The main impact appears to be with the frequent flyer programmes of the various airlines. It appears – although the exact details were not announced – that there will be reciprocal earning and burning across all partners, that status benefits from one airline will be recognised across all the others, and that membership tiers will be standardised with equivalent benefits. To this extent, Etihad Airways Partners will be operating in the same way as Star Alliance, oneworld and SkyTeam.
Er, isn’t airberlin already in an alliance?
Yes, oneworld, alongside British Airways. Because Etihad Airways Partners is not, officially, an alliance, they believe that it does not matter.
Alitalia is a member of SkyTeam and they are also likely to be pulled into the grouping at some point.
The real issue is how airberlin status benefits align with those of Etihad Airways Partners. Since airberlin is obliged to offer certain benefits to specific tiers because it is in oneworld, this may mean that Etihad Airways Partners will de facto adopt the oneworld benefits.
An airberlin frequent flyer card could now become attractive. You would receive status benefits when flying all of the 19 oneworld member airlines but you would also benefit when flying with the six Etihad Airways Partners airlines.
It is also possible that flights on both oneworld and Etihad Airways Partners could count towards airberlin status. For anyone who flies Etihad as well as British Airways / oneworld, it would make status easier to achieve.
There is still a lot we don’t know about this new non-alliance. Will oneworld put its foot down at some point and force airberlin to make a choice? Will SkyTeam have similar concerns about Alitalia? This will presumably play out during 2015.