While some airlines have a cautious to negative stance towards Middle East network carriers, American Airlines’ outgoing CEO Tom Horton expects American can have a partnership with all of the Middle East’s Big Three: Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways.
American has a limited relationship with Etihad that covers US-Abu Dhabi services, both direct and via some common European ports, such as Brussels and Frankfurt (but not London Heathrow). Onward flights from Abu Dhabi are only to Kuwait, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Frequent flyer points can only be earned on codeshare services. “We think that can co-exist with our partnership with Qatar,” Horton told the APEX editor’s blog during the recent IATA AGM in Cape Town.
American will have a relationship by default with Qatar once the latter joins the oneworld alliance, which Qatar expects to do in October, although the date is subject to confirmation. American and Qatar will have to honour oneworld requirements relating to mileage, status recognition and lounge access, making the partnership deeper on some levels than American’s relation to Etihad.
Finally Horton is hopeful the carrier can work out a partnership with Emirates, the largest of the three (Qatar is second-largest). Horton says American still has to see “what Emirates’ interests are” and does not say how Emirates and its other Middle East partners could co-exist.
Overlap could cause friction as each Middle East carrier seeks more than its competitor has with American. For example, the Etihad partnership is limited and does not have full earn and burn frequent flyer opportunities, a component Etihad typically deems critical to partnerships. American’s promiscuity could cause Etihad to look for a new partner.
Etihad over the last year has increased its US appearances and depth of conversation in a move seen as Etihad preparing the US market for a larger footprint, organically (with its own metal) and virtually (with partnerships).
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