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Qatar Airways has left the door open for a rapprochement with fellow Oneworld members on the day the alliance announced a “radical transformation” of the brand.
Qatar’s CEO Akbar Al Baker has repeatedly made his unhappiness about the state of the alliance known in recent months and when asked about his commitment to the alliance, he said it would depend on further talks.
“I’m here today, so you can see we are all together… and we will be here as long as we can speak together and see if we can resolve any issues and differences we have and only after that will we decide what happens,” he said at a media event in London on Friday.
Al Baker was appearing on stage with representatives from its partners including Doug Parker, CEO of American Airlines, and Willie Walsh, CEO of IAG.
A member of Oneworld’s public affairs team had warned those present that some people on stage would have to leave before the end, and midway through the question and answer session with journalists Al Baker got up and left leaving an empty chair.
Al Baker’s previous comments point to the problem stemming from fellow Oneworld members American Airlines and Qantas. The former has irked Qatar with its comments about Gulf airlines benefiting from unfair subsidies, while the latter of cosying up to Emirates.
For the moment Qatar is still a member of Oneworld but it is also pursuing a strategy of buying up stakes in other airlines. It owns 20 percent of British Airways owner IAG, 10 percent of South American carrier Latam Airlines and almost to 10 percent of Cathay Pacific.
Al Baker’s comments somewhat punctured the attempt at camaraderie on the day Oneworld unveiled a series of updates to mark its anniversary year.
Beyond the shiny new marketing campaign, perhaps the most eye-catching improvement was a new digital platform that it is gradually rolling out. One of the big promises is ability for customers to use one airline’s mobile app to check in across multiple airlines.
The organization created its own in-house digital team in spring last year and in around six months developed the technology required to process the information in a standardized format between the different airlines.
It went live in December and a couple of days ago it enabled the first airline paring: between Cathay Pacific and Qatar Airways.
“That is genuinely breakthrough technology. We’re the only alliance offering that,” said Oneworld CEO Rob Gurney.
Oneworld will also open a number of branded airport lounges across the world with the first one planned for later in 2019.
The alliance currently has 13 full members. Royal Air Maroc will join in 2020 and in the next few months Fiji Airways will become the first airline to join as a Oneworld Connect member, a platformed designed for smaller airlines.
IAG’s Walsh said that Aer Lingus, which is part of IAG, might look to rejoin Oneworld again in the future, especially after it has finalized its membership of the transatlantic joint venture with American Airlines, British Airways and others. It left the alliance in 2006.
“Aer Lingus would certainly like to look at the Oneworld alliance again and I think given the way Oneworld has evolved I think that’s a very realistic prospect,” Walsh said.