In a move many were certain would never occur, Qatar Airways has been invited to join oneworld and has accepted. When they first began to emerge, the Gulf carriers stated an intention to remain apart and to operate in their own sphere, with the specific goal of realigning patterns of travel. As with many things aviation, that resolve has been tempered at both Qatar and Etihad which have entangled themselves in numerous codeshares and other commercial pacts. Even Emirates, the largest of the three, has allied itself with Qantas in an interesting manner.
There are, of course, many voices lauding the entry of at least one of the Gulf players into the more traditional airline community. But the hype does not completely cover some of the pitfalls that may accrue from this move.
The first, and most prominent, is the new competition that Qantas will experience from its new alliance partner. Having just cast its lot with Emirates for traffic to Europe, along comes a competitor, albeit with far fewer seats and network points, that offers its own alternatives for connections from Australia.
Looking at a QR route map, the second obvious threat would seem to involve London, where BA is constrained by a full airport and hard pressed to expand its schedule or network. The ability of regular travelers to avoid the congestion of London by routing themselves via a new facility in Doha would likely hold some appeal – especially when the loss of mileage accrual and oneworld status is no longer a factor – nor is the APD.
Finnair may smile at the table but has to be a bit concerned that its claim to fame in the alliance, connections to Asia via Helsinki, will have direct competition, and the menu of network points in Asia is longer at Doha.
Nor can Cathay Pacific be delighted that so many more European and African destinations can be accessed via Qatar. The same must be true for JAL, which has trimmed its schedules in reorganization.
Competition is no stranger to the aviation marketplace but one of the hallmarks of oneworld has been its judicious protection of the turf of its members. Unlike its counterparts, Star and Skyteam, it has made certain that its members did not directly encroach on each other.
By bringing in Qatar Airways, the alliance has invited one of the more recent additions to the aviation community and one that was established to take maximum value from its geographic location. What all of the Gulf carriers are trying to do is to change longstanding customer travel patterns – routes that bypass traditional connecting points and establish an everywhere-to-everywhere-with-one-stop world.
If they succeed, and there is much evidence to support the idea that passengers buy the idea, perhaps the wolf has been let into the kitchen.