oneworld builds on antitrust immunity for British Airways, Iberia and American Airlines

Three members of oneworldBritish Airways, American Airlines and Iberia – continued their schedule integration this week by adding an additional 317 routes they will codeshare. Primarily affected by the announcement are the carriers’ trans-Atlantic routes, which will now carry the codes of all three partners, making it possible to board, for example, British Airway’s Heathrow-San Diego flight with a ticket showing an AA or IB flight number.

Under the new arrangement, American “serves” all the cities in the US and Canada currently by either BA or Iberia. The reverse is true for the European operators, allowing an Iberia passenger to fly from Dallas to Frankfurt on an Iberia-designated service.

In the announcement of the route integration on the AA website, there are 10 additional European connecting points via Gatwick for passengers originating in the US. Unfortunately, there is no service from the US to Gatwick offered by BA, giving the designation little actual passenger benefit, so not every aspect of the agreement is of inherent value.

Like SkyTeam, unlike Star

The arrangement aligns with the way SkyTeam operates in that it includes all of the carriers’ trans-Atlantic services, a situation that does not prevail in Star. Looking at travel in March from Chicago to London on Iberia, one is presented with the option of travelling non-stop on Iberia using any of the BA or AA services. Only one offer actually involves travel on an Iberia aircraft or via Spain. Looking at the KLM offer for New York to London, Delta non-stops all carry KL flight numbers as well.

Conversely, the Lufthansa site offers a non-stop option from Washington to London only as a United flight, with LH flight numbers applying only if travel is via Germany. Star carriers do not automatically include every trans-Atlantic routing flown by the partners, unless travel is via the carrier’s home base. The Washington to London travel does offer a codeshare on United from Washington to Frankfurt with an onwards Heathrow connection.

Still not inclusive of all partners

Interestingly, the other oneworld European partners are not party to the route integration. Searching the Iberia site for travel between New York and Helsinki fails to offer any options, and on the BA site the same routing supplies only connections via Heathrow. Only by booking with American or Finnair are travellers offered the Finnair non-stop.

And, despite alliance ties, it is not possible to book a flight from Barcelona to Helsinki or Budapest as these cities are not available on the drop-down destinations list.

Benefits for oneworld members

The biggest and most immediate benefit for frequent flyers of the oneworld carriers is the seamless accrual and redemption of mileage on previously restricted routes. The mix and match reality supplied by antitrust immunity finally makes it possible for travellers to collect miles in a single-carrier account, irrespective of the airline flown.

Further integration of other systems and processes will be beneficial but it is in this one area – frequent traveller benefits – where most passengers will see the greatest change. The limitation of alliance-wide accrual and redemption has certainly been oneworld’s greatest disadvantage up until now.

Some distance to go

As noted earlier, the upgraded schedule integration involves the largest, but not all, of the oneworld members, and in that respect the alliance lags its competition. Regular travellers on Finnair or Malev have little cause for celebration.

Madrid, as an alternative transfer point, has experienced labour difficulties and, given the economic uncertainty in Spain, may have more hard times ahead.

Ongoing progress

Despite all of these challenges, the recent antitrust immunity decision has finally provided oneworld with a level playing field. They will doubtless continue to provide new benefits for their member airlines’ passengers. Especially those in Dallas, Miami and London.

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