Skift Take

Oneworld makes a strong showing, and as American Airlines continues to grow, it would appear to offer the strongest product of any of the three alliances. The wild card, though, comes from the non-traditional alliances being built from the Gulf states.

It wasn’t that long ago that a first class ticket wasn’t worth its face-value on long-haul routes with onward connections; neither was a business class one. In fact, it may actually have been yesterday, even this morning.

The disparate product levels and service standards from one member of an alliance to the next, have left many high-revenue passengers over the years feeling cheated. Imagine flying in the ultimate luxury of a five-star airline, only to find that, on connection, that same first class fare brings you down to a three-star level cabin — at best.

This has been a common woe of the world traveler for many years, and some still complain of it; but airline alliances have worked to change that. All of the big three — oneworld, Star Alliance, and SkyTeam — say they scrutinize new applicants to their alliances, ensuring they meet an unspecified but lengthy list of requirements. But how well is that screening process working for them?

The hurried activity we’ve seen in recent years to buy new aircraft and develop increasingly stylish interiors, trying to leap-frog over the last big announcement, proves both airlines and alliances take their cabins seriously. But how well do they manage to maintain a consistent cabin product across the alliance?

We’ve crunched the numbers, basing ourselves on two key measures.

First, we looked at cabin design age. By and large, airlines across the globe have capitalized on good economic situations and the availability of new, fuel efficient aircraft to refresh their cabins. Airlines have worked to furnish their customers a better passenger experience by improving cabin decor, seat comfort, in-flight entertainment, and introducing other cabin environment enhancements. Judging how far an alliance allows member cabins to age, reveals how well the alliance as a whole protects and maintains brand value.

We broke down the figures by percentage of combined alliance fleet, because each alliance has a different number of members. Note that USAirways, though oddly still listed on Star Alliance’s website as a member, is included in the oneworld alliance figures. [Full listing of member airlines, below.]

Also, though TACA has already announced that it will be switching over from Star Alliance to oneworld, its interiors program was in process before the change; therefore it is credited among the Star Alliance airlines.

Last Cabin Update by Alliance

Of the three, oneworld has done the most effective job of pushing its members to renew their cabins, keeping its cabins aged three years or more at a 7% level. All three alliances seem to know that they need to keep up and change. Their percentage of new programs are almost identical.

How well is all their change working for them? Gathering data on such a subjective element of product is nearly impossible, but SkyTrax does a good job of trying. Still subjective, but generally respected, we looked at their airline star ratings to compare alliance performance.

SkyTrax Rating by Alliance

Of the three, SkyTeam has the worst performance, with 70% of their members listed as three-star airlines and none of their members falling into the five-star category. This puts oneworld in the lead again, with a respectable 47% share of their members at a 4-star rating or above.

When we look at the percentage of new programs underway for each of the three alliances, though, it’s clear that all of them recognize there’s work to be done.

How effectively these alliances carry out change and maintain those new cabins will decide which of them will be the winning alliance in future. We’ll be watching.

With sixty percent of the alliance member fleets across the board being overhauled, the game just got interesting. Who comes out ahead, after the cabin dust clears, is still very much up in the air.

Airlines by Alliance

Star Alliance SkyTeam oneworld
Adria Airways Aeroflot airberlin
Aegean Airlines Aerolíneas Argentinas American Airlines
Air Canada Aeromexico British Airways
Air China Air Europa Cathay Pacific
Air New Zealand Air France Finnair
ANA Alitalia Iberia
Asiana Airlines China Airlines Japan Airlines
Austrian China Eastern LAN
Avianca China Southern Malaysia Airlines
Brussels Airlines Czech Airlines Qantas
Copa Airlines Delta Air Lines Qatar Airways
Croatia Airlines Garuda Indonesia Royal Jordanian
EGYPTAIR Kenya Airways S7 Airlines
Ethiopian Airlines KLM US Airways
EVA Air Korean Air
LOT Polish Airlines Middle East Airlines
Lufthansa Saudia
Scandinavian Airlines TAROM
Shenzhen Airlines Vietnam Airlines
Singapore Airlines Xiamen Airlines
South African Airways
TAM Airlines
TAP Portugal
Turkish Airlines

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Tags: amenities, in-flight, loyalty, oneworld, skyteam, star alliance

Photo credit: Oneworld's lineup of member airlines. oneworld

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