A question of alliances


When it comes to airlines, cooperation is the name of the game. Even if they are not members of the main alliance groupings, carriers still have to make international agreements with other airlines for their passengers' smooth onward journeys.

In addition, at many airports an airline must appoint its own ground handling agents to take care of baggage, check-in etc.

Though most Gulf airlines have code-sharing with friendly carriers, even major airlines like Emirates and Gulf Air have not joined an alliance yet.

In fact there is a big gap in the Middle East for Star, oneworld and other alliances and the key question remains which alliance will be the first to tempt a Gulf airline into its camp and which will be the first airline to enroll?

Chances are it will be Gulf Air, for Emirates has already publicly stated that it is not interested in joining alliances preferring to remain "independent" although it has close links through code-shares with Thai International, South African Airways and British Airways.

Gulf Air too has similar code-share agreements.

Emirates also has a 42 per cent shareholding in SriLankan Airlines with a 10-year management contract.

Until recently it was perhaps one of the most potent subjects in the airlines world of the Middle East, but the aftermath of September 11 and the subsequent economic downturn has seen a number of members of alliances losing money, facing possible bankruptcy and asking for support from governments, all of which according to some aviation experts raises some question marks over the viability of such groupings.

Whether it be alliances, code-shares or the cooperation provided by Iata membership, there is a tradition of help and support between airlines, which is not reflected in their competitive advertising - and particularly among the Arab carriers, who have their own AACO group (Arab Air Carriers Organisation).

Some passengers and travel agents would say that there has always been a 'cartel' type thinking by Iata, but in these days of enhanced security and safety the level of cooperation enjoyed by these airlines is to be welcomed.

Occasionally when a passenger's bags do not arrive on the same flight, passengers quite rightly complain with the system, but everyday from Gulf airports hundreds of thousands of suitcases are checked in, security screened, loaded and at the destination unloaded within minutes of the aircraft's arrival, ready for the passengers to arrive home or at a hotel at a pre-determined time.

A sort of miracle, which happens over and over again.