Inside SkyTeam – The Youngest Major Airline Alliance

The SkyTeam airline alliance is the youngest of the three commercial airline alliances. However, it has still managed to attain a nearly global reach through its airline members both small and large. Today, the airline boasts 19 member airlines that fly 630 million customers each year on more than 14,500 daily flights to 1,150 destinations in 175 countries. So what do you need to know about SkyTeam? What are its strengths and weaknesses in terms of global coverage? Let’s take a look.

KLM Skyteam Livery
Although not a founding member, KLM is now a major part of the alliance. Photo: Skyteam

History and background

In the summer of 1999, Air France and Delta Air Lines signed an “exclusive long-term strategic agreement” that would lay the foundations for a major global alliance. Exactly one year later in New York, the CEOs of Aeromexico, Air France, Delta Air Lines and Korean Air met to announce the formation of the SkyTeam airline alliance.

In the following five years, the alliance would see other major airlines join its ranks. More specifically, Alitalia and KLM. Since then SkyTeam has added member airlines from Africa, the Middle East, and East Asia.

Strengths of SkyTeam

The biggest strengths of the SkyTeam alliance are with its largest members: Delta Air Lines, Air France-KLM, and China Eastern. It’s with these large airlines that the alliance is able to cover most of the world and offer relatively easy connectivity through their respective hubs. The locations of these airlines also allow it to serve most of the world’s affluent population.

Delta Air Lines consistently ranks high for customer satisfaction in the United States. It has certainly garnered its fair share of positive media this year. In addition to serving cities all over the United States and Canada, it connects much of South America and Europe through its major hub at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

In the highly competitive European market, intra-European flights are well covered from east to west via KLM, Air France, Alitalia, and Aeroflot. Smaller carriers Czech Airlines and Romania’s Tarom fill in any remaining gaps in central Europe as well.

Africa is well-served with Air France and KLM operating services to numerous destinations in East, West, and South Africa. Cities served include Lomé (Togo), Accra (Ghana), Freetown (Sierra Leone) in the west.

In the east, Dar es Salaam, Kilimanjaro, and Nairobi are well connected to Europe through KLM. Within Africa, Kenya Airways connects travelers through its hub in Nairobi. While coverage in Africa is a huge step above anything the OneWorld alliance offers, the Star Alliance covers much more of Africa with EgyptAir, Ethiopian Airlines, and South African Airways.

Inside SkyTeam – The Youngest Major Airline Alliance
Air France-KLM Group covers much of Europe and serves several smaller destinations across Africa. Photo: KLM

Weak spots for the alliance

Currently, we see a few gaps for the SkyTeam alliance. This can be seen most clearly for flights within (and also between) South America and Oceania. This is because of Aerolíneas Argentinas’ fairly southern geographical location making it less than ideal as a hub connecting Latin American cities.

In Oceania, there is currently only room for two flag carriers – both of which belong to other alliances: Qantas in Australia (OneWorld) and Air New Zealand (Star Alliance). This means travel within the region is firmly out of reach for SkyTeam members for now.

Feature 1st 787-10 SAUDI
SAUDI’s first Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner arriving in Jeddah. Photo: SAUDIA

Travel between the Middle East and East Asia is also somewhat lacking as Saudia only serves one Chinese city (Guangzhou) and several Southeast Asian destinations. Of course, these weaknesses exist because there is a somewhat low demand for many of the services discussed above.

The last weakness we’ll mention is flight-uncertainty due to various factors including job action – especially amongst its European members. The French are well-known for constant job action and strikes while KLM has also seen its fair share recently with its ground staff. Of course, there is also the big question mark regarding the fate of Alitalia.

We should point out that no airline alliance in particular is immune to this as American Airlines has had issues with its mechanics’ union and British Airways’ with their pilots. Lufthansa had its own cabin crew walkout earlier this month.

What we would love to see

The commercial aviation world and the world of airline alliances will always continue to shift and evolve. Unfortunately, SkyTeam will soon lose one of its European members: AirEuropa. However, with Delta’s newly acquired stake in LATAM, we would love to see the Chile-based carrier become a SkyTeam member. This would hopefully offer more connectivity within South America and increased service to Oceania.

With the noticeable gap in regional services for Oceania, it seems that ‘alliance-less’ Virgin Australia should become a member to fill that void in coverage. This would make sense in order to compete more aggressively against Air New Zealand and Qantas.

Delta A350
Delta is one of the highest-rated airlines in the United States. Photo: Delta


Hopefully, SkyTeam can work towards covering some of its gaps and weak spots as it continues to grow. Ultimately, where you live and where you need to travel to are the biggest determinants of what airline alliance is best for you.

Are you loyal to an airline alliance? Let us know which one and the reasons for your choice by leaving a comment! Also, let us know if we missed any strengths and weaknesses.

We asked SkyTeam about some of these gaps and if they had plans to address them. At the time of publishing, we have not received a response.