Categories: Special ReportAir Travel

Smoother Air

Interlines, codeshares, JVs and alliances –what airlines are doing to make the going easier for travelers
Relationships among airlines used to be simple. In the pre-deregulation era before 1978, the Civil Aeronautics Board told airlines when, where and how often they could fly. “Interlining” with another carrier was about the only way airlines could extend their reach beyond their own carefully-circumscribed route structure. Passengers could fly, say, on Eastern Airlines between Miami and Dallas by first catching Eastern up to Atlanta and then transferring to Delta for the remaining leg to Dallas. Their bags would tag along.
Simple enough.

Fast-forward to AD2017. Eastern is gone with the wind and Delta’s route map, when you throw in code shares and SkyTeam alliance connections, resembles a series of clustered starbursts covering the globe like a glove.

Today’s airline relationships only start with interlining. Then comes codesharing, a juiced up species of interlining which often includes airline club access and the ability to earn and burn frequent flier miles.
Then there’s the straight equity purchase by one airline of a stake in another. The percentage of that purchase is often limited by law.

Joint ventures come next in the hierarchy. They allow airlines to set seat capacity and fares on certain routes, oft-times on which the two were competitors. JV’s are often subject to regulatory OK by the Department of Transportation and the Department of Justice. Joint ventures are currently the relationship du jour.

Finally there’s the alliance. It’s “just an amalgamation of codesharing arrangements created by like-thinking carriers having similar customer service goals,” says Robert W. Mann, president of R.W. Mann & Company, a suburban New York-based aviation consultancy.Further complicating this air carrier layer cake are the swirls and exception-laden language that renders one relationship not wholly like the other.

There’s news emanating from each kind of relationship, news that could influence the way business travel is booked and bought. There’s one fundamental thing to remember however: “All of these are beards [disguises] for what the carriers really want: freedom of establishment in a country and elimination of ownership and control,” says Mann.

Here, in descending order of importance, is a rundown of what’s new in each relationship category.

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