Wednesday will be a big day for the oneworld alliance, as it announces a new member in New York. But which carrier(s) will oneworld welcome into the club?
Royal Air Maroc?
The safest assumption is that Royal Air Maroc (RAM) will be added to the fold. Its CEO has confirmed he will be in attendance at the oneworld meeting in New York this week and Royal Air Maroc is an essential addition to the oneworld portfolio, which is sorely lacking in Africa. While Star Alliance has three African-based carriers (EgyptAir, Ethiopian Airlines, and South African Airways) and SkyTeam has one (Kenya Airways), oneworld has a huge hole. That will likely change on Wednesday. While RAM’s network is not a game-changer, it serves three North American cities and has a robust regional network throughout the pan-Arab world and across Europe and Africa.
But what about Alaska Airlines? Alaska Airlines is considering joining oneworld as a “Connect” member.
Chief Commercial Officer Andrew Harrison recently told investors:
There’s a oneworld Connect membership that we’re looking it. The whole goal here is to ensure that when people in the cities we serve travel internationally they are on our partners so they stay in our program.
oneworld Connect membership mandates only access to priority check-in for all oneworld Emerald, Sapphire, and Ruby members and priority boarding for Emerald and Sapphire members. The benefit to Alaska is that it could begin to more easily sell codeshare flights on partners like Qantas or Cathay Pacific. American Airlines, which is best described as a “frenemy” of Alaska Airlines, would not be compelled to work any more closely than the two carriers do already.
Finally, China Southern is also a candidate. The carrier recently left the SkyTeam upon its 10th anniversary in the alliance. American Airlines and China Southern announced an expanded partnership last week, which will include further codeshare cooperation and reciprocal frequent flyer benefits.
The obstacle is not American Airlines, but Cathay Pacific. Will Cathay Pacific veto a mainland partner operating right in its backyard (Guangzhou and Hong Kong are very close geographically)? I actually think the answer is NO. The carriers could actually work together. Sure, Cathay Pacific does not want people to connect from Los Angeles, New York, or San Francisco on China Southern instead of Cathay Pacific, but what about codeshares from Hong Kong? I’m sure struggling Cathay Pacific would love mainland Chinese passengers booking longhaul flights on Cathay metal with Mainland connections on China Southern.
For that reason, I don’t think China Southern joining oneworld is so far fetched as many analysts seem to think. Even so, perhaps China Southern will try to go it alone for a while, noting that it maintains a joint-venture partnership with Air France/KLM and will likely enter into one with American Airlines as well.
I think it a sure-think Royal Air Maroc will join oneworld, likely Alaska Airlines will (as a “Connect” member) and possible that China Southern will too. If all three announce their intentions to join on Wednesday, I would not be surprised.