What Is The SkyTeam Alliance?

SkyTeam is one of the world’s three major airline alliances, and the youngest in terms of its launch date. This grouping consists of 19 full members, whose fleets give the alliance a total of more than 3,000 aircraft at its disposal. These carriers serve an extensive range of destinations worldwide, with strong connectivity between their networks. Let’s take a look at the history of the SkyTeam alliance, and what makes this grouping tick.

Korean Air SkyTeam Boeing 777
Member airlines like Korean Air proudly display their involvement in the alliance with special SkyTeam-liveried aircraft. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

In the beginning

The SkyTeam alliance came into existence just after the turn of the century, on June 22nd, 2000, making it 21 years old as of last month. It is younger than its rival alliancesoneworld and Star Alliance, which were products of the 1990s. Indeed, Frankfurt-based Star Alliance launched in May 1997, with New York-based oneworld following in February 1999.

SkyTeam had four founding members, who met in New York in June 2000 to establish a third worldwide airline alliance. These were Aeroméxico, Air France, Delta Air Lines, and Korean Air. These four carriers boasted an impressive shared network. At this point, SkyTeam operated 6,402 flights a day to 98 countries (comprising 451 individual destinations).

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Delta Air Lines (SkyTeam Livery) Boeing 757-231 N705TW
Delta was one of SkyTeam’s four founding members. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

19 full member airlines today

Since its establishment 21 years ago, the SkyTeam alliance has grown to a 19-strong grouping of airlines from all around the world. The first non-founder to join the alliance was Czech Airlines, in March 2001. Alitalia followed in July that year. KLM came onboard in September 2004, just after partnering with Air France to form Air France-KLM.

KLM’s presence had a significant impact on SkyTeam’s operational makeup, as the alliance’s headquarters are now located at the Dutch flag carrier’s Amsterdam Schiphol hub. Continental Airlines and Northwest Airlines joined SkyTeam on the same day as KLM.

However, these carriers ceased to be members when they merged into United Airlines and Delta in October 2009 and January 2010 respectively. China Southern Airlines is the only other full member to have left SkyTeam, doing so in 2018 after 11 years of membership. Continental’s exit also prompted associate member Copa Airlines to depart in 2009.

China Southern is the most recent airline to have left SkyTeam. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

SkyTeam’s remaining full member airlines, and their joining years, are as follows:

  • Africa – Kenya Airways (2007).
  • Asia – China Airlines (2011), China Eastern Airlines (2011), Garuda Indonesia (2014), Middle East Airlines (2012), Saudia (2012), Vietnam Airlines (2010), XiamenAir (2012).
  • Europe – Aeroflot (2006), Air Europa (2007), TAROM (2010).
  • South America – Aerolíneas Argentinas (2012).

Two member airlines also have subsidiaries that are classed as affiliate members of SkyTeam. These are Alitalia CityLiner and China Eastern subsidiary Shanghai Airlines.

SkyTeam Cargo

SkyTeam also set about establishing a freight-based alliance shortly after its formation. Known as SkyTeam Cargo, this grouping came into existence in September 2000. Its initial members were the four cargo divisions of the original alliance’s founding members (Aeroméxico Cargo, Air France Cargo, Delta Air Logistics, and Korean Air Cargo). Much like SkyTeam itself, this freight-focused alliance also has its base in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Korean Air Cargo Boeing 747
Korean Air Cargo was a founding member of SkyTeam. Photo: Robert Stankiewicz via Flickr

SkyTeam Cargo now boasts 12 member airlines, all of which are the cargo divisions of existing passenger-carrying SkyTeam members. Some of these, such as Korean Air Cargo, have fleets of cargo-carrying aircraft. However, others merely carry cargo from place to place in the holds of passenger flights (as has become crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic).

Livery

Each of SkyTeam’s 19 full member airlines has its own uniquely recognizable livery. However, each of the world’s leading airline alliances also has its own special paint scheme, which you can find on certain member aircraft. SkyTeam is no different, and it launched its own corporate identity in the form of a silver and navy blue livery in 2009.

China Airlines SkyTeam Boeing 747
SkyTeam-liveried aircraft are painted with a striking silver fuselage. Photo: Tomás Del Coro via Flickr

According to SkyTeam, the first member airline to operate a flight in this livery was Delta. The US legacy carrier did so in 2009, using a Boeing 767 that flew from Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International to Milan Malpensa. By 2016, a total of 52 aircraft at SkyTeam member carriers had received the alliance’s distinctive corporate color scheme.

In this special livery, SkyTeam’s famous ribbon logo is located both on the aircraft’s tail and towards the rear of the fuselage. Closer to the front of the plane, the alliance’s name is printed in unmissable block capitals, with the blue writing strongly offset against the silver fuselage. The member airline’s name and logo are below the window line in smaller print.

Loyalty program

SkyTeam proudly markets itself as “the leading alliance for frequent flyers.” Its loyalty program has two levels: Elite, and Elite Plus. Frequent flyers at member airlines are automatically allocated one of these two tiers based on their status at the carrier in question.

US-AIRLINES-SKYTEAM
Executives from the four founders at Skyteam’s launch back in 2000. Photo: Getty Images

For example, entry-level and Silver Medallion members of Delta Air Lines’ SkyMiles program belong to SkyTeam Elite. Meanwhile, Gold, Platinum, and Diamond Medallion members qualify for SkyTeam Elite Plus status. SkyTeam’s website lists Elite perks as being:

  • Priority reservation waitlist (when fares permit this to be the case).
  • Preferential seating allocations.
  • The use of priority check-in counters at participating airports.
  • Priority boarding, or at the passenger’s leisure.
  • An increased baggage allowance.

Passengers with SkyTeam’s top-tier Elite Plus membership are also entitled to such benefits, as well as certain extras. These include the following aspects.

  • Guaranteed full-fare economy reservations on sold-out long-haul flights (at least 24 hours before departure.
  • Access to airport lounges worldwide for members in possession of a boarding pass, plus one guest. This applies regardless of the class of travel.
  • Priority baggage handling on arrival. Once again, Elite Plus members are entitled to this whatever their class of travel.
  • An even greater baggage allowance.
Air Europa Skyteam Boeing 737
SkyTeam’s ‘Elite’ loyalty program has two tiers. Photo: Oliver Holzbauer via Flickr

Conclusion

Overall, SkyTeam is a strongly connected airline alliance with an extensive collective network and a well-integrated loyalty program. In 2019, the last full year of pre-pandemic ‘normality,’ the group carried the second-most passengers of the three main airline alliances, flying 630 million passengers to 1,150 destinations in 175 countries. SkyTeam will be hoping to be able to reach these figures once again as soon as it possibly can.

What do you make of the SkyTeam alliance? Do you have a particular favorite carrier from this group of airlines? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

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