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Will JetBlue Join an Airline Alliance?

Now that the surprise of JetBlue’s announcement of an interline agreement with American has worn off, the question becomes: Is something bigger in the works? American, after all, is a flagship member of the oneworld alliance. Is this initial partnership the first step toward JetBlue joining oneworld?

The answer is probably “no,” or at least “not for a while.” But the respective airlines’ CEOs seemed to fan the speculative flames a bit on a conference call today. Terry Maxon at the Airline Biz blog reports that when “asked if today’s deal could lead to JetBlue joining oneworld, [JetBlue CEO David Barger] said that ‘our teams are real open to the path forward.'” American CEO Gerald Arpey said, “We’ll see where things lead.”

The fly in the soup, however, is Lufthansa’s 17 percent stake in JetBlue. Lufthansa is a member of Star Alliance, a competing airline group, and would likely resist JetBlue joining oneworld. Interestingly, Arpey also noted that JetBlue and American continue to compete on a wide array of routes.

Nevertheless, JetBlue would fit into an airline alliance fairly well. Its route network covers all the main U.S. destinations foreign carriers would want to access, and its service and brand cache would attract attention to the alliance, both here and abroad. For JetBlue, alliance membership would open up the entire world to its customers, and catapult the carrier’s offerings well beyond that of its low-cost carrier peers.

More importantly, and despite Arpey’s claims to continued competition, interline cooperation is quickly becoming essential for airlines’ long-term health. JetBlue and American both signed this deal because it expands their potential customer base in a way neither airline could quickly or cheaply accomplish on its own. For JetBlue, this means access to the international market, and for American, it means feeding more passengers into its route network. In both cases, the individual investment wouldn’t be cost-effective. But shared, the deal makes sense

Readers, do you think JetBlue is destined to join a major airline alliance? Would alliance membership be a major draw for you? Leave a comment below with your thoughts. Thanks!

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