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More oneworld alliance woes? Finnair going low-cost low-service

I’ve been writing a lot about airline alliances lately. Not always with the most accurate predictions (but just wait…) As a fairly frequent traveler over the years, whether for work, family, or now as an expat, I need to maximize my miles. So knowing (and speculating on) who is partnering with whom, who else I can earn miles and status benefits with, and thus what grouping I should plan my future travel on, is important. Also I find it fun. Yeah, I know.

Couple of weeks old, but I don’t hang out much in the Finnair forum on FlyerTalk all that much. Nor for the most part with oneworld alliance airlines. I’ve burned off the last of my American AAdvantage miles with my upcoming LAN flight home to Uruguay in August. I do have earnings in LANPass, but my recent paid LAN flights were credited to unaligned Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan, rather than to LAN’s own program within oneworld.

But I have noticed that the oneworld alliance has been getting weaker and shakier, at least in comparison to the booming Star Alliance and the now no-longer-leftover SkyTeam. Finnair’s move, as reported in this thread at FlyerTalk, looks to be weakening one of the core European players in that alliance.

In the past few years, other European airlines have either left that alliance, scaled back service significantly to just intra-European and near-Europe routes, or gone out of business entirely. Hungary’s Malev is no more as of early this year, and they discontinued their Budapest-USA service a couple of years before that. I flew them just intra-Europe a few years back, when they were a Northwest Airlines partner despite being in competing alliances. Ok, nothing special, pride-of-a-small-proud-country airline. (Like pathetic little Pluna of Uruguay, which exists despite the country not being big enough to justify its own airline.) But another hub, another network in the alliance gone. Aer Lingus used to be a oneworld member. It switched to so-called low-cost, mostly Europe-centric and lessened TATL, with subsidized weird deals,  even doing a wet-lease Washington-Madrid flight flying as United Airlines. Aligning on other routes with FF benefits and codeshares with United, arch-enemy of oneworld co-founder American.

Elsewhere, oneworld is further weakening. American Airlines is a mess, with a bankruptcy reorganization crippled by employee unions making deals with a competitor to take them over. Even though that competitor itself still hasn’t completed its 8-year-old merger and has warring unions. The only other North American oneworld carrier, Mexicana, went into bankruptcy and was grounded about two years ago. There is no Central American carrier, while Star Alliance just gained two (or three, or four, or even five, depending on if you count Avianca and Taca separately, and Copa and Copa Colombia, and LACSA as different from Taca.)

There’s been no Canada representation since the early 2000’s takeover of Canadian Airlines by Star Alliance co-founder Air Canada. The only north-south lift in Western North America of substance is provided by non-alliance partner Alaska Airlines, who also partners with arch-competitor SkyTeam founder Delta (and in Europe, with founder AirFrance-KLM.) In South Asia, oneworld was supposed to gain Kingfisher of India by now. But while the Kingfisher Beer brewery is doing great, the airline is bouncing checks and repeatedly being grounded, likely soon for good.

Yes, oneworld has gained some airlines in that same timeframe. Royal Jordanian a few years ago. Most recently airberlin, which though tiny compared to Lufthansa, does serve well as a northern and central European hub carrier. But with Malev gone, Finnair weakening (and don’t ignore Finnish flagship company Nokia’s failings as part of what will drive down international travel to Finland), oneworld’s European position is weak. Yes, IAG is a giant international conglomerate that now owns British Airways, Iberia, and now former Star member British Midland BMI (being folded into BA). But look at the geography: Both England and Spain are on the periphery of Europe, not its core. Berlin is core, but airberlin can’t fully compete against Star founder Lufthansa‘s giant built-over-decades Frankfurt and Munich hubs. Nor its wholly-owned or affiliated partners Austrian (Vienna hub), SWISS (Geneva and Zurich hubs), and LOT Polish (Warsaw hub)

I’m no insider. But it doesn’t look good for oneworld from where I sit on the plane. And it thus makes me less likely to book on any oneworld carrier until this all shakes out. Unless it is a carrier such as American or LAN which is a full partner including Elite earnings and benefits with non-oneworld Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan.

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