The Fourth Global Airline Alliance: Etihad Airways Partners

The three global alliance have a bit of competition coming. Almost. In a roundabout sort of manner. Except maybe not really at all.


Somewhere in there is the reality of the newly announced “Etihad Airways Partners” group encompassing the six airlines which Etihad has a financial stake in. Previously the group was referenced only as “Etihad Equity Partners” but the new term allows for other airlines to join as well. Etihad has explicitly said that they welcome airlines which are otherwise members of one of the big three to also join the EAP group, though it is not yet clear if such an offer has much appeal. Also unclear, save for a few statements made by Etihad CEO James Hogan, is exactly what level of benefits or reciprocity can be expected from this new group of airlines.

Over a year ago Etihad started laying the groundwork for such an arrangement. Jat and Jet were both added to the Etihad Equity Partners group last summer and many of the codesharing arrangements this announcement apparently encompasses were started around then. At the same time partnerships beyond just the EAP group were announced; that they are not included in this announcement is a bit strange, though not egregiously so in airline world.

For Air Berlin, Air Serbia, Air Seychelles, Darwin Airlines and Jet Airways – plus, of course, Etihad – the arrangement is theoretically something of an upgrade to the way bilateral partnerships between airlines typically work. There should, for example, be reciprocity across the group in terms of frequent flyer earning, redemption and status benefits. The EAP group expects to offer “standardised mileage and tier benefits across all partners, no blackout periods and priority services.” Alas, no further details are available regarding what those standardized benefits or earning rates are. Also of note is that two carriers – Virgin Australia and Aer Lingus – are missing from the Etihad Airways Partners group despite being members of the Etihad Equity Partners group.

Maybe Etihad Airways Partners has a bright future of bringing together “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.” That’s what Hogan expects based on the press release issued this week. And maybe we’ll see announcements in the next few days of full reciprocity amongst all the member carriers for their frequent travelers. Or something more significant in terms of codeshare announcements and joint operations.

But given the rather stark lack of details and no real clarity on why Etihad’s approach to an alliance is any different or better than the other three – aside from the fact that Etihad owns part of all the members in this one – it seems like this might be a bit more noise than truly useful development. At least for now. Plus the name isn’t particularly inspiring nor creative. But Etihad certainly has cash to throw at those problems, so I do expect that there will be greater clarity soon enough.

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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.