Aer Lingus stands ready to rejoin the Oneworld alliance under the new Oneworld Connect partner model, says Willie Walsh, CEO of parent company IAG.
"Aer Lingus would certainly like to look at the Oneworld alliance again, and given the way that Oneworld has evolved I think that's a fairly realistic prospect," Walsh told Australian Business Traveller at a media briefing in London today marking the alliance's 20th anniversary.
Walsh indicated that Oneworld Connect – sometimes described as a 'membership lite' model – would be a more likely fit rather than the full membership status such as that enjoyed by British Airways and Qantas.
"I think it's fair to say that one of the reasons Aer Lingus left the Oneworld alliance was because of the complexity associated with being a full member, which at the time was difficult for Aer Lingus to justify as the alliance expanded," Walsh expanded.
"I think the iterations that are now in place are much more suited to the business model of Aer Lingus and would be an attractive proposition for Aer Lingus."
The appeal of Oneworld Connect to Aer Lingus
"A Connect member is not required to enter into relationships with every other Oneworld member, only a minimum of three sponsor airlines, so it's much easier and less onerous for an airline," added Oneworld CEO Rob Gurney.
Oneworld Connect partners provide a baseline of benefits to frequent flyers from any Oneworld member airline, with a more extensive range of benefits offered on the partner's sponsor airlines.
That baseline sees travellers holding Oneworld Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald status – in Australia that’s equivalent to Qantas Silver, Gold and Platinum – able to use the priority check-in desks of a Oneworld Connect member, with priority boarding available with a flash of your Oneworld Sapphire and Emerald card.
There's a better set of benefits for top-tier frequent flyers from the sponsors of a Oneworld Connect airline: through check-in of luggage, earning and redeeming points, earning status credits plus lounge access for first and business class passengers and Oneworld Sapphire and Emerald cardholders.
IAG CEO Willie Walsh pointed out that newly-minted Aer Lingus CEO Sean Doyle, having been a 16-year veteran of British Airways, "is very familiar with Oneworld... so it will be Sean's decision."
However, Walsh cautioned that taking a seat at the Oneworld table would not be atop Doyle's to-do list, with the airline currently focussed on growing its trans-Atlantic opportunities, including joining the existing trans-Atlantic JV with British Airways, American Airlines, Iberia and Finnair.
The spearhead of this will be a new fleet of long-range Airbus A321LR jets arriving from June, which will also introduce lie-flat business class to key European cities including London, Paris, Amsterdam and Barcelona.
Aer Lingus was a Oneworld member until 2007, when it left the global airline group as part of a strategic shift away from the premium market to become a low-cost airline.
The airline has since reversed course and, following a £1bn buy-out by IAG, has been edging closer to its parent, including the adoption of the common Avios currency in its AerClub frequent flyer scheme.
David Flynn travelled to London as a guest of Qantas and Oneworld.