In the midst of a pandemic that has almost paralyzed international air travel, Alaska Airlines on Wednesday joined the oneworld alliance of 13 other global airlines.
COVID-19 lockdowns have reduced international air travel to about 20% of what it was in 2019, so this move’s promised benefits to Alaska passengers in terms of increased connectivity will clearly be slow in materializing.
The full integration of Alaska’s online flight-booking system with the other airlines is months away.
New Alaska Air CEO Ben Minicucci said in a news briefing that he sees the move as helping the airline recover quickly from the downturn once the restrictions on air travel ease.
“International travel will be back and Alaska will be ready,” Minicucci said.
A perk for any of Alaska’s elite Mileage Plan members who are able to fly is that they automatically receive matching status on other oneworld carriers, providing priority check-in and boarding, extra baggage privileges and access to airport lounges.
In addition, members of Alaska’s frequent-flyer program can earn miles on all the other oneworld carriers.
However, some other benefits won’t be available for months.
Nat Pieper, Alaska’s senior vice president in charge of alliances, said by the summer the airline’s passengers will be able to use their Alaska frequent-flyer miles to book flights on the other airlines.
He said it will be three to six months before Alaska’s flight-booking website is integrated with oneworld so that a passenger can directly book a multistage international journey including Alaska and a oneworld partner.
For example, someone wanting to fly from Boise, Idaho, to London can book the journey on the British Airways website, because Alaska and British have a code-share agreement.
Once the oneworld flight booking integration is complete, that Boise passenger will be able to book on the Alaska website through to London — or Tokyo or Hong Kong or a host of other global cities.
Alaska already has bilateral partnerships with the largest airlines in the oneworld alliance including British Airways, American Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines and Qatar Airways.
Joining the alliance adds a tighter collaboration and will make connections more seamless from Alaska’s strong West Coast network to destinations across North America through American Airlines and worldwide through the other oneworld partners.
But first, the world has to open up again to air travel.
At Wednesday’s briefing, both Minicucci and oneworld CEO Rob Gurney urged governments to collaborate on setting up a secure, reliable system of internationally recognized “vaccination passports” to provide an assurance of safety that could speed the return of international travel.