Air Berlin (which styles itself ‘airberlin’) will officially become a full member of the oneworld alliance on Tuesday, March 20, adding Europe’s sixth-largest carrier to the alliance.
Austrian airline Niki (which styles itself ‘NIKI’), also a member of the Air Berlin group, will join oneworld at the same time as an affiliate member.
Air Berlin has received formal approval to join oneworld after successfully completing a thorough review of its readiness conducted by the oneworld central management team and British Airways, which is sponsoring its entry into the alliance.
From March 20, Air Berlin will offer oneworld’s full range of services and will substantially expand the alliance’s network in Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, and throughout South and Central Europe.
Air Berlin will add almost 70 destinations to the alliance’s map, extending oneworld’s global coverage to some 840 destinations in 150 countries. Oneworld serve these destinations with more than 9,000 departures a day, operated by a combined fleet of some 2,500 aircraft carrying nearly 300 million passengers a year. Oneworld airlines’ annual revenues total almost US$100 billion.
The Air Berlin news comes at a good time for oneworld, whose largest member, American Airlines, is under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and yesterday announced it expects to lay off 13,000 employees.
Additionally, Budapest-based oneworld member Malév Hungarian Airlines has newly been put in receivership by the Hungarian government, which also placed the airline under extraordinary protection from its creditors. Some airline-industry observers believe Malév is unlikely to survive.
Prospective Indian member Kingfisher Airlines, due to join oneworld in February, is also in serious financial trouble and has grounded many of its aircraft. In 2010 another sizable oneworld member, Mexicana Airlines, ceased operating.
Recently, oneworld member LAN Airlines (along with all its subsidiary carriers) and Brazil’s TAM Airlines (the country’s largest carrier) obtained approval from the Chilean and Brazilian governments to merge to form the LATAM group. LAN is currently in oneworld and TAM is in the Star Alliance, but the regulatory terms of the deal require the merged carriers to keep membership in only one alliance.
Oneworld members are keeping their collective fingers that the merged carriers will choose to remain in oneworld – and the signs to date are that this is their preferred course of action.
The German carrier will become part of oneworld three months before it moves into the new Berlin Brandenburg Airport (IATA code BER), which will open on June 3 and is designed eventually to offer capacity for 27 million passengers a year. Air Berlin and its alliance partners will be co-located at Europe’s newest hub, sharing lounges and many other facilities, tso they can offer the alliance’s customers smooth connections.
“Air Berlin makes an ideal oneworld partner. It has an excellent reputation for customer service – right in line with oneworld’s focus on quality,” says Bruce Ashby, CEO of oneworld. “Oneworld already features five of Europe’s best airlines.”
Continues Ashby: “Adding the continent’s sixth biggest carrier and the second-largest airline based in the continent’s biggest economy will greatly enhance our coverage throughout this region and, with the other airlines joining us this year, position oneworld more strongly still as the alliance of choice, particularly for global business travellers.”
“Becoming a member of oneworld is one of the most significant departures so far for Air Berlin,” remarks Air Berlin CEO Hartmut Mehdorn. “It will strengthen our competitive position considerably, enabling us to offer our customers a truly global network together with our partners – who include some of the best and biggest airlines in the world – while enabling us also to tap into all the financial benefits that come from being part of a global alliance, through additional passenger feed and participation in various efficiency programmes.”
Adds Mehdorn: “We are very pleased and proud to be lining up to join what is clearly the world’s top-quality airline grouping on 20 March.”
When Air Berlin joins oneworld, members of its topbonus frequent-flyer program will be able to earn and redeem mileage awards on all oneworld partners – American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific Airways, Finnair, Iberia, Japan Airlines, LAN Airlines, Malév Hungarian Airlines, Qantas, Royal Jordanian, S7 Airlines and almost 20 affiliated airlines.
Also from March 20, the 120 million members of the established oneworld airlines’ frequent-flyer programs will be able to earn and redeem awards and tier status points and receive all other oneworld benefits on Air Berlin and Niki.
Air Berlin’s network – serving more than 160 destinations in 40 countries – will be covered by oneworld’s full range of alliance fares and sales products from April 1.
All of oneworld’s active member airlines serve Germany, flying to a total of seven gateways in the country. Air Berlin will add another 18 destinations in its home country.
The carrier says its alliance-implementation programme has represented one of the most extensive projects in Air Berlin’s history, with working groups covering some 20 streams of activity.
Projects are nearing completion to bring its various internal processes and procedures into line with the alliance’s requirements, and extensive employee training and communications programmes are now underway at Air Berlin and the alliance’s existing members, to ensure they are ready to provide oneworld’s customer services and benefits across the expanded alliance from March to.
Since accepting an invitation to join the alliance in July 2010, Air Berlin has begun code-sharing with seven established oneworld partners – American Airlines, British Airways, Finnair, Iberia, Malév Hungarian Airlines, S7 and Royal Jordanian.
Since its launch in 1978, Air Berlin has grown into Germany’s second largest airline – and the sixth-biggest in Europe in terms of passengers boarded – after taking over Deutsche BA and LTU and gaining a 49.9 per cent stake in Austria’s Niki and a 49 per cent holding in Switzerland’s Belair.
It serves 162 destinations in 40 countries, carrying more than 35 million passengers in 2011. Its fleet comprises 170 aircraft with an average age of five years. The group employs 9,200 staff.
Air Berlin has developed from its origins in the short-haul leisure market to cater also for business travellers, with its Euro Shuttle service providing high-frequency connections between many of the continent’s key destinations. Air Berlin now also flies long-haul.
The carrier offers the full-range of services associated with a full-service network carrier, including its frequent -flyer program topbonus and, for premium passengers, lounges, priority check-in. All passengers are offered free alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks and meals or snacks on every flight.
On its short-haul services, Air Berlin offers a single-class cabin. On its long-haul routes the carrier offers two-classes, including a premium business cabin, and provides individual in-flight entertainment screens for each passenger.
Air Berlin’s hubs are Berlin Tegel (moving to Brandenburg in June), Dusseldorf, Palma de Majorca and Vienna. Among its international destinations, Air Berlin serves oneworld hubs Helsinki, Los Angeles, Madrid, Miami, Moscow Domodedovo and New York JFK.