After continually shunning established airline alliances such as Star Alliance, Oneworld and SkyTeam, it seems that Etihad has just created its own globe-striding alliance network – albeit with five Etihad partners, along with the Gulf carrier, as founding members.
Airberlin, Air Serbia, Air Seychelles, India’s Jet Airways and Darwin Airline have joined Etihad Airways in pulling up chairs to the Etihad Airways Partners table in what the airline describes as "a new brand which brings together like-minded airlines to offer customers more choice through improved networks and schedules and enhanced frequent flyer benefits."
Virgin Australia, in which Etihad holds a cornerstone 21% stake, says it has no plans to join Etihad Airways Partners.
However, Etihad Airways Partner membership will be open to any airline, "even if it is part of an existing alliance", Etihad claims – and cites the example of Airberlin, which is a member of Oneworld.
"The key emphasis for Etihad Airways Partners is a strong commercial partnership and shared values."
Etihad Airways CEO James Hogan suggests that Etihad Airways Partners differs from "legacy airline alliances" by offering benefits beyond "pure commercial cooperation."
“The potential for network alignment to maximise flight connectivity for passengers, together with a shared passion for superior service, are central to the ethos of the Etihad Airways Partner concept,” he said.
Frequent flyer alignment
“Frequent flyers will benefit from the formation of Etihad Airways Partners as it will remove the complexity and confusion that exists within the global alliances."
"We’re aiming to deliver a consistent experience for frequent flyers when they travel, as well as a consistent framework for earning and using their miles.”
This will include standardised mileage and tier benefits across all partners, no blackout periods and priority services.
Speaking with Australian Business Traveller in May this year at the opening of the airline's new Sydney Airport lounge, Hogan observed that "the reason we haven't joined the alliances is that when you join an alliance you’re stuck, that's why we are happy to be non- aligned."
"We're in a different business model (to alliances)."
Last month Hogan cited Qantas, Emirates and British Airways as examples of what's wrong with the conventional alliance model.
"The model of alliances is fractured" Hogan told reporters on the sidelines of the annual IATA airline conference in Abu Dhabi.
"We believe partnerships are better, strong codeshare relationships and equity investments."
"We're not an alliance"
However, Etihad is eager to frame its Partners group as something other than an "alliance", at least in the conventional sense.
"We are a grouping of like-minded airlines working together to improve our competitive offer against those alliances and the major legacy carriers" the airline said in a statement.
"However, the depth of our relationships allow us to go further than the long-established global alliances, from greater network alignment which maximises flight connectivity to shared centres of excellence in cabin interior design, catering, IFE and customer service."
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About David Flynn
David Flynn is the editor of Australian Business Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.