China Southern Airlines will maintain deep cooperation with Skyteam members after leaving the alliance at the end of last year, preserving ties to a degree that almost amounts to de facto membership of the alliance.
The carrier, Asia’s largest, said that through bilateral agreements it will keep its current codesharing arrangements with Skyteam members. It will also continue cooperating in frequent-fly arrangements with all but five of the 19 remaining members of the alliance. Among the five exceptions, only China Eastern Airlines is a first-rank member.
The arrangements therefore greatly diminish Skyteam’s loss of business opportunities with the departure of China Southern, at least for as long as the agreements are maintained.
An industry source close to China Southern said the airline is still negotiating with some Skyteam members with the aim of maintaining current benefits.
China Southern said in November 2018 it would leave Skyteam at the end of 2019. This would allow it to forge closer ties with other carriers, including Oneworld member American Airlines, which partly owns the Chinese airline.
In its Dec. 24 statement of future arrangements, China Southern said it would offer a service package called CZ Priority to replace Skyteam Priority. China Southern’s IATA airline code is CZ.
“This new program will ensure that the privileges of all the gold and silver card holders of the company as well as those of the Elite [and] Elite Plus members of the SkyTeam Partners will remain unaffected when they fly with the company, including priority check-in, priority luggage drop-off, priority boarding and access to VIP lounges, etc.,” China Southern told the Hong Kong stock exchange.
The depth of the continuing relationship suggests that China Southern has so far lost little from leaving Skyteam except for participation in its decision-making. It has notably severed relations with local rival China Eastern, apart from keeping a small number of codesharing deals.
In leaving the alliance, China Southern has presumably gained considerable latitude in cooperating with airlines that are not in Skyteam—though its new bilateral arrangements with Skyteam members could conceivably restrict it in doing so. Details were not disclosed.
Before saying it would leave Skyteam, China Southern repeatedly showed an eagerness for cooperation with Oneworld members.
The Skyteam members with which the airline will maintain frequent-fly cooperation are Aeroflot, Aerolineas Argentinas, Air Europa, Air France, Alitalia, China Airlines, Czech Airlines, Delta Air Lines, KLM, Korean Air, Middle East Airlines, Saudia, Vietnam Airlines and Xiamen Airlines, the latter partly owned by China Southern. Those with which it has announced no ongoing cooperation in this area are Aero Mexico, China Eastern Airlines, Garuda Indonesia, Kenya Airways and Tarom.
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