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An airline alliance is an agreement between two or more airlines to cooperate on a substantial level. The three largest passenger alliances are the Star Alliance, SkyTeam and Oneworld. Alliances also form between cargo airlines, such as that of WOW Alliance, SkyTeam Cargo and ANA/UPS Alliance. Alliances provide a network of connectivity and convenience for international passengers and international packages.



Benefits can consist of:

  • An extended and optimized network: this is often realised through code sharing agreements. Many alliances started as only a code sharing network.
  • Cost reduction from sharing of:
    • Sales offices
    • Maintenance facilities
    • Operational facilities, e.g. catering or computer systems.
    • Operational staff, e.g. ground handling personnel, at check-in and boarding desks.
    • Investments and purchases, e.g. in order to negotiate extra volume discounts.
  • Traveler benefits can include:
    • Lower prices due to lowered operational costs for a given route.
    • More departure times to choose from on a given route.
    • More destinations within easy reach.
    • Shorter travel times as a result of optimised transfers.
    • A wider range of airport lounges shared with alliance members
    • Faster mileage rewards by earning miles for a single account on several different carriers.
    • Round-the-world tickets, enabling travelers to fly over the world for a relatively low price.

Airline alliances may also create disadvantages for the traveler, such as:

  • Higher prices when all competition is erased on a certain route.
  • Less frequent flights: for instance, if two separate airlines each fly three and two times a day on a shared route, the alliance may fly less than 5(3+2) times a day on the same route. This might be especially true between hub cities for each airline. e.g., flights between Detroit (a Northwest fortress hub) and Amsterdam (a KLM fortress hub).


The ability of an airline to join an alliance is often restricted by laws and regulations or subject to approval by authorities. Antitrust laws play a large role.

Landing rights may not be owned by the airlines themselves but by the nation in which their head office resides. If an airline loses its national identity by merging to a large extent with a foreign company, existing agreements may be declared void by a country which objects to the merger.

The first airline alliance started in the 1930s, when Pan American Grace Airways and parent company Pan American World Airways agreed to exchange routes to Latin America. The first large alliance which is still functioning started in 1989, when Northwest and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines agreed to code sharing on a large scale. A huge step was taken in 1992 when The Netherlands signed the first open skies agreement with the United States, in spite of objections from the European Union authorities. This gave both countries unrestricted landing rights on each others' soil. Normally landing rights are granted for a fixed number of flights per week to a fixed destination. Each adjustment takes negotiating, often between governments rather than between the companies involved. The United States was so pleased with the independent position that the Dutch took versus the E.U. that it granted antitrust immunity to the alliance between Northwest and KLM. Other alliances would struggle for years to overcome transnational barriers or still do so.


Membership and market data for the largest airline alliances (as of December 2008) [1][2][3]

Star Alliance
26 members
Founded 1997
11 members
Founded 2000
11 members
Founded 1999
Rest of Industry
(selected major non-aligned carriers)
Passengers per year 586.60 million 462 million 328.63 million 489 million
Destinations 1071 905 673 (most destinations are served by some non-aligned carrier)
Revenue (Billion US$) 141.71 97.9 99.78 113
Market share 29.3% 20.6% 23.2% 26.9%
Participants¹ Members
(JP) Adria Airways (2004)
(AC) Air Canada (founder)
(CA) Air China (2007)
(NZ) Air New Zealand (1999)
(NH) ANA (1999)
(OZ) Asiana Airlines (2003)
(OS) Austrian Airlines (2000)
(KF) Blue1 (2004)
(BD) BMI (2000)
(SN) Brussels Airlines (2009)
(CO) Continental (2009)
(OU) Croatia Airlines (2004)
(MS) EgyptAir (2008)
(LO) LOT Polish Airlines (2003)
(LH) Lufthansa (founder)
(SK) SAS (founder)
(FM) Shanghai Airlines (2007)
(SQ) Singapore Airlines (2000)
(SA) South African Airways (2006)
(JK) Spanair (2003)
(LX) Swiss International Air Lines (2006)
(TP) TAP Portugal (2005)
(TG) Thai Airways International (founder)
(TK) Turkish Airlines (2008)
(UA) United Airlines (founder)
(US) US Airways (2004)

Future Members
(A3) Aegean Airlines/Olympic Air (2010)
(AI) Air India (2010)
(JJ) TAM Airlines (2010)

Former Members
(AN) Ansett Airlines 1999-2001, defunct
(MX) Mexicana 2000-2004, later joined Oneworld
(RG) Varig 1997-2007, ejected
(SU) Aeroflot (2006)
(AM) Aeroméxico (founder)
(UX) Air Europa (2007-associate)
(AF) Air France (founder)
(AZ) Alitalia (2001)
(CZ) China Southern (2007)
(OK) Czech Airlines (2001)
(DL) Delta (founder)
(KQ) Kenya Airways (2007-associate)
(KL) KLM (2004)
(KE) Korean Air (founder)

Future Members
(RO) TAROM (2010-associate)
(VN) Vietnam Airlines (2010)
(GA) Garuda Indonesia (2011)
(ME) MEA (2010-associate)

Former Members
(CO) Continental Airlines 2004-2009, changed to Star Alliance
(CM) Copa Airlines 2007-2009
(NW) Northwest Merged with Delta
(AA) American Airlines (founder)
(BA) British Airways (founder)
(CX) Cathay Pacific (founder)
(AY) Finnair (1999)
(IB) Iberia (1999)
(JL) Japan Airlines (2007)
(LA) LAN (2000)
(MA) Malév (2007)
(MX) Mexicana (2009)
(QF) Qantas (founder)
(RJ) Royal Jordanian (2007)

Future Members
(S7) S7 Airlines (2010)
(IT) Kingfisher Airlines (2011)

Former Members
(EI) Aer Lingus 2000-2007
(CP) Canadian Airlines 1999-2001, acquired by Air Canada

(AR) Aerolineas Argentinas
(AS) Alaska Airlines
(AV) Avianca
(CU) Cubana
(G3) Gol Transportes Aéreos
(TA) Grupo TACA
(HA) Hawaiian Airlines
(B6) JetBlue
(FL) AirTran
(WN) Southwest
(WS) Westjet
Europe / C.I.S
(EI) Aer Lingus
(VV) Aerosvit
(AB) Air Berlin
(KM) Air Malta
(CY) Cyprus Airways
(FI) Icelandair
(JU) Jat Airways
(DY) Norwegian Air Shuttle
(FV) Rossiya
(UN) Transaero
(VS) Virgin Atlantic
Africa & Middle East
(AH) Air Algérie
(W3) Arik Air
(LY) El Al Airlines
(EK) Emirates
(ET) Ethiopian Airlines
(EY) Etihad Airways
(GF) Gulf Air
(QR) Qatar Airways
(SV) Saudi Arabian Airlines
(CI) China Airlines
(MU) China Eastern Airlines
(HU) Hainan Airlines
(9W) Jet Airways
(MH) Malaysia Airlines
(PK) Pakistan International Airlines
(PR) Philippine Airlines
Network Capacity
Within North America 23% 28% 15% 34%
Within South America 1% 2% 14% 83%
Within Europe 20% 16% 11% 53%
Within Middle East 2% 0% 3% 95%
Within Africa 23% 10% 4% 63%
Within Asia 35% 11% 9% 45%
Within Oceania 11% 0% 32% 57%
Between N. America and Europe 27% 34% 21% 18%
Between N. America and S. America 9% 29% 40% 22%
Between Europe and S. America 20% 28% 22% 30%
Between N. America and Asia 41% 29% 10% 20%
Between Europe and Asia 36% 22% 19% 23%
Airline Alliance Market Share By Network Capacity 2007


  • In 2005, SkyTeam launched its Associate Program, whereby existing codeshare alliances (such as Continental and Copa) can be integrated into SkyTeam's marketing (shared loyalty programs, etc.) [1]PDF.
  • Network strengths are continents or regions where listed airlines have one or more hubs or a major presence in several destinations.
  • Network weaknesses are continents or regions with no hubs and few (if any) flights for any airline in the alliance.
  • On June 19, 2008, Continental announced that it would be leaving SkyTeam on October 24, 2009 and it expects to begin participating in Star Alliance on October 27, 2009 as part of a codesharing agreement with Star Alliance charter member United Airlines (Continental will cut its codeshare ties to Delta and Northwest). [2] [3]
  • As the table shows, the three alliances combined fly 60.8% of all passengers.


1. oneworld
2. SkyTeam
3. Star Alliance


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