Is AirBerlin About To Leave The Oneworld Alliance?


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Airberlin has been a sickly airline for some time now and things appear to be going from bad to worse for the one-time low-cost carrier. At the end of September, in an attempt to cut costs and stem losses, the airline entered into an agreement with Lufthansa which will see it pass most of its short-haul routes and 40 aircraft to the German flag carrier….but the news appears to have just got worse.

Aviation Daily is reporting that American Airlines is cancelling its codesharing agreement with airberlin (effective March 2017) leaving its fellow oneworld member without a US partner. [HT: JonNYC]

That’s quite a big issue when the bulk of airberlin’s remaining “core routes” involve flights to/from the US.

Aviation Daily is suggesting that this somewhat brutal blow has come about because of airberlin’s ownership structure and the involvement of Etihad.

airberlin-etihad-javier-rodriguezImage courtesy of Javier Roríguez via Flickr

Etihad holds a near 30% stake in airberlin and American Airlines, along with Delta and United, is in the middle of a truly pathetic campaign against the big three Middle Eastern carriers. I won’t go into the detail of the dispute with the ME3 but what it boils down to is that the US airlines think that the ME3 are government subsidised and that this creates a situation of unfair competition.

It’s amusing how conveniently the US3 forget the billions in government subsidies they’ve each received and how they conveniently omit to mention that the US3 don’t actually fly most of the routes flown by the ME3 anyway.

But let’s not get bogged down in the hypocrisy of the US3 here – at least not that particular bit of hypocrisy – let’s concentrate on the issue with airberlin.

If American Airlines is truly pulling the plug on the codesharing agreement with airberlin because of Etihad’s ownership stake this raises a lot more questions than I think American would like to see raised.

Questions like:

The fact of the matter is that, by cancelling its codesharing agreement with airberlin, American Airlines is knowingly dealing a hammer blow to a fellow oneworld airline that’s already on its knees.

Even if airberlin survives this latest blow could it possibly remain in an alliance with an airline that treated it so harshly? I doubt it.

There have already been some questions raised about airberlin’s participation in the oneworld alliance thanks to its involvement in another pseudo-alliance –  the Etihad Airways Partners network (a.k.a a group of largely failing airlines in which Etihad has an ownership stake) – and this latest issue with American in unlikely to make things any better.

One could argue that a very similar situation has arisen before when Qantas and British Airways cancelled their codesharing agreement and Qantas joined forces with Emirates (very successfully). Both airlines managed to stay reasonably friendly and both are still members of the oneworld alliance…but that’s not quite the same as what is going on now.

qantas-british-airways

Qantas wasn’t the healthiest of airlines back then but it wasn’t on its knees…and the split with BA wasn’t massively damaging to either airline in the long run. This situation with airberlin is much more serious.

Whatever American’s reason for pulling the codesharing agreement with airberlin I cannot see the German carrier remaining in oneworld – the rift with American Airlines (a key player in oneworld) must surely be too big.

Bad News For Flyers

Having airberlin leave oneworld would be a big blow to a lot of European Avios collectors. While British Airways charges horrendously high fees on Avios awards airberlin does not. Travelers can use their Avios balances on the airberlin’s transatlantic routes without the same penalty.

A one-way Business Class ticket between Düsseldorf and New York would set you back 60,000 Avios and a little under $90 on airberlin….

airberlin-avios-redemption

…while British Airways will charge 50,000 Avios and over $400 for a one-way Business Class flight between London and New York:

british-airways-avios-redemption

When more than one person is traveling that difference in carrier imposed fees adds up very quickly.

Bottom Line

I’m honestly not sure how much longer airberlin will survive but, if it does, I cannot see it remaining part of the oneworld alliance. How could it?

As it is I can’t imagine any oneworld alliance meeting being a particularly cordial event thanks to the American Airlines/Qatar Airways friction but, now that American appears to have inflicted a big wound on airberlin, it’s only going to get worse.

If this really is all about American flailing around and throwing a hissy-fit because of Etihad’s ownership stake in airberlin the rest of the oneworld airlines really need to take Doug Parker and Co. to task. So far American has fallen out with Qatar Airways (who are also part-owners of British Airways) and now airberlin…how many more oneworld carriers does it plan on having a row with?