But that is changing. "People said these carriers would never have been invited to any alliance because they were incompatible," Ashby said. "They think they are the enemy and compete with all other carriers, but that is not true. An alliance is a customer proposition. If customers need access to some point that members don't serve well, there are no rules (at oneworld) against customers getting to where they want to go." Ashby said oneworld is more flexible than Skyteam and Star in allowing cross-alliance alliances by its members.
Logically, one would expect each of the big three Mideast airlines to line up with a different alliance, just as each of the big three U.S. carriers have, with Delta (DAL - Get Report) in Skyteam and United (UAL - Get Report) in Star. So far, it has not worked out that way.
Emirates maintains that it has no interest in an alliance, but will sign code-share deals with individual carriers. It recently signed a code-share deal with Qantas, a oneworld member. In some respects, Emirates resembles Alaska (ALK - Get Report), which signs deals with individual carriers but avoids alliances. Said Ashby, "Emirates is like a really big Alaska in a really hot place."
Etihad has also sought relationships with various carriers. It has invested in oneworld member airberlin, and on Monday Skyteam stalwart AirFrance-KLM Group announced a new codeshare deal with Etihad and airberlin."Qatar sees the world differently," Ashby said. "They believe that belonging to a group of complimentary carriers is a benefit to their global customers." Follow @tedreednc -- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C. >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Ted Reed