Qatar Airways Joins Oneworld Alliance

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At a press conference held at the Four Seasons Hotel New York, Oneworld partners from American Airlines, British Airways, and Qatar Airways announced that Qatar Airways would be the newest member of the Oneworld alliance to an audience of senior executives from Oneworld member airlines and journalists.

Before officially signing the agreement to join the Oneworld alliance and exchanging gifts with his new airline partners, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker remarked at the conference, “Today is recognition that Gulf carriers have come a long way. As a member elect of Oneworld, we look forward to working with our partners and capitalizing on a new era.” He added, “This is a win-win for all, and we rise to the new challenge as Qatar enters a new chapter in its short life.” 

The addition of Qatar Airways marks a major addition for the Oneworld alliance, Oneworld executives stressed during the media conference. The Doha-based airline is the first of three major airlines based in the Gulf Region to sign onto any of the major global air alliances. With the addition of Qatar Airways, Oneworld’s global reach will expand to 856 destinations in 159 countries, served by a combined fleet of 2,600 aircraft operating more than 9,300 flights and carrying almost a million passengers every day (342 million a year), generating annual revenues of nearly $ 120 billion. 

“Why invite a gulf carrier to join in the first place?,” Oneworld CEO Bruce Ashby asked. “Well, we must offer a collection of high quality carriers that provides a global network most relevant to the needs of our frequent international carriers. Gulf carriers have grown into big airlines. They’ve been embraced by consumers. We don’t see why passengers who fly with gulf carriers should be refused by alliance privileges.”

Qatar Airways is also the second airline based in the Middle East to join the alliance, following Royal Jordanian, which joined in 2007. Over the past two years, the 15-year-old airline has consistently ranked as a top international airline and was named Airline of the Year by independent airline quality rating agency Skytrax. It currently flies to more than 120 destinations in 70 countries throughout the Middle East, Europe, Africa, North and South America, Asia, and Australasia with the majority of its flights flying nonstop from Doha. It also has one of the youngest fleets in the industry, with the average age of its aircraft being just four years old.

Qatar Airways already codeshares with Oneworld member designate Malaysia Airlines, which is slated to be the next airline to join the alliance. Oneworld member elect SriLankan Airlines is expected to join the alliance in 2013.

When Qatar Airways officially becomes part of oneworld, its 2.2 million Privilege Club frequent flyer members will be able to earn and redeem rewards on any of Oneworld’s other carriers. Likewise, the 125 million frequent flyer cardholders from Oneworld’s established airlines will be able to earn and redeem rewards when flying on Qatar Airways.

When asked about Qatar Airways’ decision to join Oneworld over other airline alliances now, Al Baker said, “We have joined an alliance very fast. We are only 15 years old. It was good step and a very fast step. As long as the other Gulf carriers are concerned, I cannot speak for them. But you must have heard that Etihad had preempted this by having a relationship with Skyteam.  People have their own strategies … we always go for goldsmiths, not for people who are scrap dealers.”

Also in attendance at the press conference were Tom Horton, American Airlines chairman and chief executive, and Willie Walsh, chief executive of IAG, the parent company of British Airways and Iberia. While the executives alluded to some of the labor- and aircraft-safety troubles that have put American Airlines in the media spotlight in recent days, they were quick to show their support for American and tried to shift the focus of the conference toward the addition of Qatar Airways.

Executives in attendance were also quick to stress that the addition of Qatar would not compromise any existing codeshare agreements or partnerships that its member airlines have with other Gulf carriers, including Qantas’ relationship with Emirates.