Etihad CEO: Never Say Never To Joining An Airline Alliance

Etihad has long stayed away from joining the big three airline alliances, opting to chart its own path of partnerships. Given the airline’s failed strategy of creating a quasi-alliance with investments, is it time to considering joining one of the big three? In an exclusive interview with Simple Flying, Etihad CEO Tony Douglas gave us an answer: never say never.

Etihad Airways Boeing 777-300ER
As Etihad scales back its extensive plans, could an alliance benefit the airline in the future? Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying


UAE carriers have never been too fond of airline alliances. Emirates has opted not to join any of the three major alliances, Star Allianceoneworld, and SkyTeam, instead of focusing on its own growth as a hub. Etihad, which established itself almost two decades later, made the same decision but had big plans instead.

Etihad made a series of investments in airlines globally, from Jet Airways to Air Serbia to Air Seychelles, in the hopes of forming a “quasi-alliance strategy.” However, with that now a failure due to most airlines going bankrupt or exiting the deal, is there room for an alliance now?

When asked by Simple Flying in an exclusive interview last week, CEO Tony Douglas said,

“I think it’s one that you know, you never say never. It’s the kind of thing that we would always keep under review.”

Etihad Boeing 787-9
While Etihad won’t rule out an alliance membership, it’s focusing on its transformation for now. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

However, don’t start picking out which alliance livery best suits the airline (let us know in the comments though!). Douglas added,

“Having said that, given the transformation programme that we had undertaken, what we didn’t want to get engaged in is anything other than delivering the plan that we set…That’s not to say, by the way, being engaged in any of the three major alliances would [do so]. But what we also saw that it was far easier, given our focus and our bandwidth, to concentrate on specific relationships where we could establish codeshare or interline [agreements].”

Not yet

As Etihad sorts through its ambitious transformation plan to return to profitability, the airline also wants to see the future of airline alliances. The pandemic has undoubtedly reshaped the market, and their future status remains in question for now.

CEO Tony Douglas gave a possible timeline for the decision to join an alliance while discussing their post-pandemic presence. He said,

“It’ll be good one to see maybe in the next two to five years post-pandemic, what kind of configuration changes happen with the big alliances as well. Whether they are as relevant post-pandemic as they were pre-pandemic, or whether they’re actually more relevant post-pandemic. I think that’s going to be one for all of us to watch with great interest, us [Etihad] included.”

Etihad Airways Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner landing
Etihad could join an alliance depending on how its turnaround plan is going and the state of alliances in the post-pandemic world. Photo: Getty Images

For now, Etihad is just fine working on its turnaround plan and hopefully returning to profitability. While the pandemic certainly slowed things, the airline has quickly turned things around, with a 50% cut in losses for the first half of 2021. But never say never to anything for Etihad (including the A380’s return), and an alliance could certainly be on the cards in the future.

What do you think about Etihad’s decision on alliances? Let us know in the comments!