Changes to service in the Middle East & Central Asia

The past week has been a busy one for carriers in the Middle East and Central Asia. In addition to the move by Saudi Arabian Airlines to join the SkyTeam alliance (covered here and here), Turkey, Pakistan and Iraq have gotten in on the action.

In Iraq a consortium of investors will be working with Greek charter carrier Viking Hellas to establish frequencies and destinations between Iraq and Europe. Most of the service will be focused on moving passengers between Western Europe and northern Iraqi cities located in the Kurdish Regional Government Area. This is notable mostly because it shows a continued growth and recovery of that market. Air service to Iraq has been quite limited for a long time now and seeing that move back a bit towards normal is quite a positive sign.

The other significant announcement this week involves the major shift in traffic between THY Turkish Airlines and Pakistan International Airline. PIA will be cutting service to New York City, Chicago, Spain, Germany and the Netherlands. Customers looking to reach those destinations will now be routed on Turkish Airways-operated flights via Istanbul under a new joint venture that the two carriers recently signed.

PIA will be keeping one long-haul destination in the West with 3x weekly service to be operated from Istanbul to Houston. It is also expected that PIA will add seven weekly service frequencies to European destinations from Istanbul, either in addition to or in place of Turkish service.

Other notes from the announcement include:

  • Both airlines will exclusively use catering facilities of the partner airline, when applicable, on flights between Pakistan and Turkey.
  • The operating carrier will arrange special food, reading material to the taste of marketing carrier’s passengers.
  • The two airlines will cooperate in maximum utilisation of each other’s engineering, maintenance and training facilities.
  • The two airlines will immediately test/integrate interline e-ticketing.
  • Both airlines will provide all assistance/transit/business class lounge facilities to passengers at their home stations.

So there are obvious back-office benefits to an agreement such as this one. In some ways this is just another code-sharing agreement and some minor shuffling of flight hardware to better serve passengers at both ends of the trip. But the announcement also includes this little tidbit

The two airlines will also integrate their frequent flyer programs for mutual benefit of the airlines and passengers travelling on two airlines.

Certainly it is too soon to claim that the frequent flyer programs are merging or that anything major is happening here on that front, but it does open up a number of quite interesting possibilities. Most significant, perhaps, is that aligning the loyalty programs and integrating interline e-ticketing brings about the very real possibility that PIA could make a move to join a global alliance, with Star Alliance being the most obvious target given Turkish’s membership there. The Central Asia region doesn’t have a lot of coverage from the alliances and this sort of move would be a major change on that front.

Also of note is that, while Chicago is largest global gateway in the United States for Star Alliance, Turkish does not currently offer service there. With the PIA service being cut in favor of Turkish this seems like a route that just significantly improved its odds of being announced.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. >> Turkish does not currently
    >> offer service there [Chicago]

    Oh but they do – I flew on their 773ER last January – and the current *A timetable indicates it is still going.

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