Airline alliances in Africa

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There are three notable international airline alliances, namely Star Alliance, Oneworld and SkyTeam. Most large airlines are part of one of these alliances. Notable exceptions are Emirates, who have been hugely successful on their own, and most low-cost airlines, whose business model is much different to traditional airlines that form these alliances.

Many people favour flying primarily with one alliance, to reach upper status levels and get the best benefits. The negative side is that they often miss cheapest flights (most of them are business traveller who don’t have to pay themselves). The other problem is that the desired route or destination is often not served by an airline of the “right” alliance. This is especially true for those who travel in Africa, where the choice is often nonexistent.

Out of the three alliances, it is much obvious that Star Alliance is the only real option for travellers in this region, offering the best connections both within Africa and to other continents.

Star Alliance has, by far, the best representation in Africa. Three leading African Airlines are part of the alliance, namely Egyptair, Ethiopian Airlines and South African Airlines. Mango, the low-cost subsidiary of South African Airlines, is set to join Star Alliance later this year.

In addition, Turkish Airlines has a large and growing number of destination in Africa. Other Star Alliance airlines serving airports in Africa include Air China, Brussels Airlines, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, Swiss, TAP Portugal and United Airlines.

Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 767 aircraft. Photo source: Wikipedia

Kenya Airways (KQ) is the sole African airline that is part of SkyTeam. KQ has a wide network within the continent, but has been struggling financially in recent years.

KLM has several destinations in Africa, as does Air France. The latter serves Francophone Africa particularly well. Aeroflot and Alitalia both used to have several African destinations in the past, but now only fly to northern Africa. Delta Airlines connects the US with a few African destinations. Saudia has several African destinations mainly to the northern part of the continent, as does, to lesser extent, Lebanon-based Middle East Airlines.

A Kenya Airways 777 plane. Photo source: Wikipedia

Oneworld has just one small African airline under their wings, that is the Comair (a British Airways affiliate in South Africa, using BA livery). Another tiny BA affiliate, Kenya-based Regional Air was part of Oneworld until 2005 when the airline stopped operations.

If Oneworld’s intra-continental representation is almost non-existent, the situation is much better if flying in and out of Africa. Qatar Airways has plenty of destination in Africa, offering excellent connection to Europe and Asia. British Airways has traditionally had many destinations in Africa, even though some have been dropped in recent years. Iberia has destinations in northern and Western Africa, but has similarly reduced its destinations. Air Berlin has also terminated its Sub-Saharan African destination, but still flies to North Africa. Cathay Pacific and Quantas both fly to Johannesburg.

Why are so few African airlines part of any alliance? Most of these airlines are small, stay afloat only by government subsidies and have old fleet. As such they are of minimal interest to alliances. The three largest African airlines not part of any Alliance are Air Algerie, Royal Air Maroc and Tunisair should be big enough to join alliances. There have been rumour of Royal Air Maroc joining either Oneworld  or Star Alliance

Rwandair is another potential airline to join an alliance in the future. While still small, the airline is growing steadily, and this year the airline will start. Thanks to their centrally located hub, Kigali, they offer good transit connections within Southern and Eastern Africa. In the meantime, the airline is set to co-operate with Ethiopian Airlines  , something that is not good for competition within the African airspace.


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