A History Of oneworld Alliance Airline Members

Alliances are groups of airlines that work together, sharing resources to make them more competitive. This brings benefits in the routes and networks the airline can market and opportunities for passengers to share benefits across airlines. oneworld is one of the three main alliances today. It was formed by five airlines in 1998, with several more joining (and leaving) to bring it to its current 13 full members.

Starting the oneworld alliance in 1999

The first major alliance to form was the Star Alliance in 1997. It was started by United, Lufthansa, Air Canada, SAS, and Thai Airways, and marked a new era of such large-scale alliances. Agreements between airlines had existed long before, but this was a new level of collaboration between airlines. Star Alliance remains the largest alliance today by both airline members and passenger numbers.

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The oneworld alliance followed soon after the Star Alliance. It was announced in September 1998 and became operational in February 1999. The alliance was founded by five airlines – American Airlines, British Airways, Canadian Airlines, Cathay Pacific, and Qantas. Canadian Airlines left soon after it was acquired by Air Canada in 2000, but the other four remain key members still today.

Each of the alliances has a major US airline as a founding member –
one
world has American Airlines. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

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Growing the alliance and presence

The next two members were the European airlines Finnair and Iberia, both joining the oneworld alliance in September 1999. Aer Lingus joined in June 2000 (it would later leave in 2007 after changes in its business strategy to focus on lower fares). By now, the alliance had a strong presence in North America, Europe and Australia, and good connections to Asia.

Global presence is a major focus of all the alliances, with each one wanting to have the strongest connections possible in every region. With that in mind, the next addition was a significant one. LAN Chile joined the alliance fully in June 2000, having been a member-elect since May 1999. It brought with it its LAN Peru subsidiary. This added connectivity within South America.

This focus on global reach continued, with a significant expansion in 2007. Japan Airlines, Royal Jordanian, and Hungary’s Malev all joined as full members at this time. Malev left after suspending operations in 2012.


Malev was a member of
one
world from 2007 until it ceased operations. Photo: Getty Images

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Russian airline S7 Airlines (along with its subsidiary Globus Airlines as an affiliate member) joined oneworld in 2010, filling another critical gap in the alliance’s routes. However, its membership has been temporarily suspended following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year. Mexicana was a member for a short time. It joined in 2009 but left after bankruptcy in 2010.

Expansion again from 2012

The alliance embarked on another major expansion from 2012. Several of the airlines that we know as key members today joined at this time.

  • Air Berlin joined in March 2012. It left in 2017 after filing for insolvency.
  • Malaysia Airlines became a full member in February 2013, giving the alliance a strong presence in South East Asia.
  • Sri Lankan Airlines joined in May 2014, after nearly two years as a member-elect airline.
  • Qatar Airways was a major addition in October 2013. This was the first of the large Middle Eastern airlines to join an alliance.
  • TAM and US Airways both joined in March 2014. These carriers would later join with LAN and American Airlines and remain part of the alliance.


Qatar Airways joined the alliance in 2013. Photo: Getty Images

The alliance introduced the new concept of oneworld Connect in 2018. This allows airlines to join with less strict terms and conclusions at a lower cost for the airlines. These airlines can tailor which benefits are offered to which other member airlines – a somewhat confusing option, but potentially a good way for smaller airlines to participate. So far, only Fiji Airways has joined this way (in 2018).

Changes from 2020

Recent years have seen two further airlines join the alliance. Royal Air Maroc joined in April 2020. As the alliance’s first African airline member, it opened up a new range of destinations in Africa and the Middle East. This is an important new strategy for the alliance, with other changes seen, such as American Airlines adding connectively from Philadelphia to Royal Air Maroc’s Casablanca hub.


Alaska Airlines became the alliance’s newest member in 2021. Photo: Alaska Airlines

The newest member of oneworld is Alaska Airlines. It joined in March 2021, giving a welcome boost to its North American routes. Until then, Alaska Airlines was a carrier that had never been an alliance member.

It has not all been positive changes for the alliance, though. LATAM announced in 2019 that it would leave the alliance in 2020. This followed a 20% acquisition of LATAM by Delta Air Lines. There is no denying that this leaves a significant gap in the alliances’ connectivity, with South American countries now only served by international flights from North America and elsewhere.

Oman Air will be the next member

Oman Air announced in September 2021 that it intended to apply to join the oneworld alliance. It already had a partnership in place at the time with existing member Qatar Airways. The airline has been growing in recent years and would add connectivity to major hubs in Europe, as well as new routes to India and domestic flights in Oman. The addition was approved in June 2022.

Oman Air will become a full
one
world member in 2024. Photo: Getty Images

Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker is also the Chair of the oneworld alliance. Speaking exclusively to Simple Flying at one of our webinars back in May 2021, he stated the following on alliance growth:

“I will endeavor to expand the alliance, even further. I think there are opportunities and [the] alliance is for us to work together, not against each other. And once that is the spirit of working together, Qatar Airways will stay and keep on making the alliance strong, especially – now being the chairman – it is my duty to do that. “

The major alliances have different strengths and weaknesses. oneworld has always lacked coverage in China and now finds itself weak in South America too. Its new additions will boost it in other regions, but not these. Feel free to discuss in the comments where you think the alliance may head next.

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