Oneworld CEO Rob Gurney is counting down to the alliance's 20 year anniversary in early 2019, and reflects that “everything has changed” over those two decades.
“Markets have changed, industry structures have changed – every one of our member airlines has undergone at least one, sometimes multiple, transformations," he tells Australian Business Traveller during a whistlestop visit to Sydney to meet with founding member Qantas.
"We've seen mergers, acquisitions, cross investments, joint businesses have formed.”
Gurney even cites Willie Walsh, CEO of British Airways’ parent IAG, as questioning the need for alliances “and whether they will exist in 10 years from now.”
“And those are the right questions to be asking," he says. "Arguably the development of the alliances in terms of customer value proposition perhaps hasn't evolved in same cases, so we've basically been doing quite a lot of work developing some strategic options for the alliance, a new strategic direction for the alliance moving forward.”
Gurney isn’t ready to be drawn on exactly what this new direction will look like, or how it will play out when it comes to the passenger experience.
“Essentially it's about bringing the focus back on the customer, simplifying the proposition (and) using technology to deliver that (and) articulating what the tier benefits are, for example.”
No alliance-wide points upgrades
But he admits letting travellers use points and miles earned on any member airline to upgrade on another member airline – something which is possible with competitor Star Alliance – isn’t on the cards.
“We don't have any plans to do that. Yes, it’s a highly sought-after benefit for customers, but when you look at individual member airlines it’s a high demand offering for their own customer franchises. Generally, there's more demand for those than supply (because) the vast majority of our member airlines have very strong home market customer franchises.”
“We could see the value for customers as something that people want, but if you can't deliver it effectively because of the supply/demand equation then you run the risk of disappointing more customers than delighting, and that's something we'd rather stay away from.”
Gurney also refuses to climb onto the ‘chasing new members’ treadmill, saying he’s “not expecting to see much movement” on the membership roster.
That is, with the exception of troubled German member AirBerlin, which last month filed for insolvency and now faces an asset sale which could see German flagship carrier and Star Alliance member Lufthansa take over large parts of the airline.
“It’s never helpful if you lose members in any circumstances” Gurney admits. ”We’re continuing to work with them and are in constant dialogue with them, and let's see what emerges from the process that they're currently going through.”
Solving the Chinese puzzle
Mainland China remains a black spot for Oneworld, with the leading Chinese airlines aligned to competitors Star Alliance or SkyTeam, but Gurney sees Cathay Pacific and its offshoot Cathay Dragon – along with joint ventures such as those between Qantas and China Eastern as filling the gap to best effect in the meantime.
“I'm a glass half-full person. I still think there's opportunity for us in that market, but we have a very strong presence even without that.”