Qantas & American Airlines seek trans-Pacific tie-up

By John Walton, May 12 2011
Qantas & American Airlines seek trans-Pacific tie-up

Qantas and American Airlines are planning a closer joint venture partnership across the Pacific, with passengers expected to see lower fares, better connection scheduling and improved frequent flyer earning opportunities across the airlines.

Joint business agreements are a step up from the existing oneworld airline alliance partnership that both airlines belong to.

Since fares are shared between the airlines, each has an increased interest in boosting the connections either side and making their service and frequent flyer offerings as attractive as possible. 

That's especially good news for Australian travellers on connecting flights, who can expect to see better timings from regional Australia to a trans-Pacific flight via Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane to Los Angeles or Dallas, and then on to other US cities.  

Since it essentially involves two independent airlines cooperating across multiple countries, the joint business agreement requires approval from Australian, American and New Zealand regulators.

It's a similar situation to the Virgin Australia-Delta tie-up approved by US regulators yesterday. 

The airlines are certainly selling the move as better for passengers, with fares, connections and frequent flyer improvements all billed as benefits.

"This agreement has the potential to make travelling between Australia and the United States -- and beyond -- considerably more attractive for our customers, with better fares, improved connections and increased frequent flyer benefits," Qantas' Rob Gurney, standing in for CEO Alan Joyce (who is recuperating from an operation) said.

Since Qantas is the only partner in the proposed joint business currently flying across the Pacific, it's interesting to note that American quotes a key benefit as: "joint strategic planning and management of trans-Pacific services and 'behind and beyond' services within Australia/New Zealand and North America." Does the US airline intend to start using some of its new long-range Boeing 777-300ER aircraft across the Pacific?

When American purchased the stretched 777-300ERs, industry watchers assumed that its stated joint venture objectives for the planes meant existing Japanese and European partnerships with JAL, British Airways and Iberia.

But with the Japanese economy tanking after the Tohoku earthquake earlier this year, American's newest -- and largest -- planes could well be seen crossing the Pacific to the still-strong Australian resources market instead.

American is also increasing its focus at Los Angeles' LAX airport, where it has over a thousand flights a week. The airline recently increased flights on its regional subsidiary American Eagle from southwestern US cities. Could Australia be next?

Qantas currently flies 41 round trips per week between Australia/New Zealand and the USA. 33 of those flights head to Los Angeles' LAX airport (including some via Auckland), with four weekly flights to Honolulu in Hawaii. Beginning on May 16, four weekly flights will also head to Dallas/Fort Worth. Qantas also flies an A330 onwards from LAX to New York JFK six times a week.

John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.

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