The 3 Major Airline Alliances: Star Alliance, oneworld and SkyTeam – Why Are They Good?

Airline alliances have grown over the years to form an integral part of the passenger aviation industry. Altogether, there are currently three big players in the market. These groups are oneworld, Star Alliance, and SkyTeam. What makes these powerhouses so great? Let’s take a look.

Getty American Airlines oneworld
American Airlines is one of the 13 members of the oneworld Alliance. Photo: Getty Images

What is an alliance?

An alliance is an agreement between several airlines to pool resources. This move, in turn, gives them a greater ability to compete against other airlines. The first benefit this brings is codeshare flights. While codeshare agreements do exist outside of alliances, the highest density will be found within alliance members.

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The next significant benefit is arguably how the airlines share their frequent flyer rewards. With my British Airways Avios, I am able to book reward flights all over the world, as every member of the alliance will accept my points. Likewise, the benefits of frequent flyer status are shared. When I was traveling in the United States, I was able to use the American Airlines lounges with my British Airways Silver status.

While this is seen as a benefit for passengers, it is also a massive plus for the airlines. For instance, in the example given, American Airlines won my business because of the advantages I would receive. Had it not been for the alliance, I would’ve looked at other options too.

British Airways, China, Medical Supplies
The flag carrier of the United Kingdom, British Airways, is another proud member of oneworld. Photo: Getty Images

Star Alliance

Star Alliance was the first of the big three alliances to be established. Based in Frankfurt, Germany, the alliance was founded in 1997 by the following carriers:

  • Lufthansa
  • Air Canada
  • Scandinavian Airlines
  • THAI Airways
  • United Airlines

The alliance promotes itself with the slogan:

“The Way The Earth Connects.”

Under usual circumstances, it operates over 18,500 departures per day. This feat is achieved with a combined fleet of over 4,500 aircraft. As such, the alliance had a total passenger count of 728 million a year as of April this year. The group has grown in the past two decades to include a total of 26 member airlines.

These carriers are:

  • Aegean Airlines
  • Air Canada
  • Air China
  • Air India
  • Air New Zealand
  • ANA
  • Asiana Airlines
  • Austrian Airlines
  • Avianca
  • Brussels Airlines
  • Copa Airlines
  • Croatia Airlines
  • EgyptAir
  • Ethiopian Airlines
  • Eva Air
  • Lot Polish Airlines
  • Lufthansa
  • Scandinavian Airlines
  • Shenzhen Airlines
  • Singapore Airlines
  • South African Airways
  • Tap Air Portugal
  • THAI Airways
  • Turkish Airlines
  • United Airlines
Star Alliance Plane
Star Alliance is the veteran of the big three airline alliances. Photo: Star Alliance

Star Alliance says that its members include many of the world’s most significant airlines and smaller regional airlines. It highlights that these combinations offer easy connections to almost any destination across the globe.

The group says the following on its website:

“Each airline maintains its own individual style and cultural identity, bringing the richness of diversity and multiculturalism to the alliance. At the same time each airline shares a common dedication to the highest standards of safety and customer service.”

Lufthansa new livery
Lufthansa is one of the founding members of Star Alliance and is still a significant part of the group. Photo: Getty Images


The next airline alliance to join the aviation scene was oneworld. The association was set up in 1999 and is headquartered in New York. As of October 2017, it was carrying 527.9 million passengers per year. This number is due to the slightly smaller combined fleet. oneworld’s combined fleet comes in at just under 3,500 units and sees up to approximately 13,000 daily departures.

The alliance was founded by:

  • British Airways
  • American Airlines
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Qantas

In the past 19 years, it has grown to a size of 13 member airlines.

oneworld’s slogan is:

“An alliance of the world’s leading airlines working as one.”

Moreover, oneworld describes itself as the following on its website:

“We like to say two planes are better than one. But it is really more like 3,500 planes, 1,000 airports, and 650 airport lounges are better than one, because that is what is at your disposal when you fly with us.”

The institution highlights that passengers can enjoy the benefits of 13 different, world-class carriers’ collective efforts.

These airlines are as follows:

  • American Airlines
  • British Airways
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Finnair
  • Iberia
  • Japan Airlines
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Qantas
  • Qatar Airways
  • Royal Air Maroc
  • Royal Jordanian
  • S7 Airlines
  • Sri Lankan Airlines

Additionally, Fiji Airways is a oneworld connect partner. Meanwhile, Alaska Airlines is a future feature. The US-based carrier will formally become a member of the from the end of March next year. Therefore, there is a well-rounded membership of top quality airlines with strong connections at the alliance.

Qatar Airways A350 Getty
With its operations focusing on flights across the continents, Qatar Airways tries to make the most out of its airline partnerships. Photo: Getty Images


The last group of the big three alliances is SkyTeam. This association is the youngest of the bunch, having been founded in June 2000. Altogether, the group has 19 members. However, it actually carries the most passengers per annum. SkyTeam members transport up to approximately 730 million people each year.

It was founded by the following four airlines:

  • Aeromexico
  • Air France
  • Delta Air Lines
  • Korean Air

The Netherlands-headquartered company now has a combined fleet of just over 4,000 aircraft. This factor allows it to operate up to over 15,000 daily departures.

SkyTeam has the slogan of:

“Caring more about you.”

The company’s current members are:

  • Aeroflot
  • Aerolíneas Argentinas
  • Aeroméxico
  • Air Europa
  • Air France
  • Alitalia
  • China Airlines
  • China Eastern Airlines
  • Czech Airlines
  • Delta Air Lines
  • Garuda Indonesia
  • Kenya Airways
  • KLM Royal Dutch Airlines
  • Korean Air
  • Middle East Airlines
  • Saudia
  • Vietnam Airlines
  • XiamenAir

SkyTeam expresses its dedication to powering the most seamless customer journey possible. It emphasizes that its members are working together to connect millions of passengers across an extensive global network.

Additionally, the group states that it offers the most comprehensive priority services of any alliance. It prides itself on easy and efficient transfers, along with the opportunity to earn and redeem miles across all member operators.

SkyTeam Plane
SkyTeam is the youngest of the big three alliances, but it already has a sizeable crop of reputed airlines under its belt. Photo: SkyTeam

As shared on its website, SkyTeam states the following:

“Travel the world the best possible way with our 19 member airlines. The SkyTeam network operates nearly 15,445+ daily flights to 1,036+ destinations in 170+ countries. Whether you’re flying for business or pleasure, we make your travels smooth and enjoyable.”

Delta Air Lines
Delta Air Lines helped to establish SkyTeam back in the summer of 2000. Photo: Getty Images

Helpful initiatives

Airline alliances have proved to be considerably useful in the global health crisis. Amid mass flight suspensions, travel restrictions, and fleet groundings, carriers have found it challenging to operate specific routes. Therefore, they have been relying on partners to help get passengers to their destinations.

For instance, Qatar Airways operated flights to the US during the time that some of its gateways were down. However, the airline knew that it could count on its partnership with American Airlines to connect passengers to many other destinations across the nation.

The world is still trying to adapt to the new reality, and as a result, there are continued uncertainties when it comes to passenger operations. So, these partnerships, such as those formed under alliances, will prove to be vital in the current circumstances.

Along with the perks of loyalty programs, point accumulation, and airport lounge offerings, passengers can benefit from re-ticketing across member airlines. For instance, if a traveler’s flight was delayed with a particular carrier, they could see which options with other airlines under the same alliance could get them to their destination quicker. Subsequently, the initial operator could swap the booking with the alternative flight.

Aircraft Silhouette Storm
Just like with several other forms of partnerships within the aviation industry, these airline alliances prove to be helpful for both carriers and their customers. Photo: Getty Images

Here to stay

Altogether, these mainstream airline alliances are now a commercial aviation mainstay. Many travelers have become used to the benefits and the processes that come with these initiatives. Passenger activity is facing a severe downturn, and it could take between three to five years for figures to return to 2019 levels again. Therefore, these partnerships will continue to be essential over the next decade.

Executive Traveller recently reported that oneworld CEO Rob Gurney suggests that there could be airport lounge consolidation following the global health crisis. At the moment, alliance members have several of their own lounges across airport terminals. However, the executive feels that the desire to become more efficient in the current era could shake things up.

So, customers looking at their options when booking a ticket may soon have a lot more to think about. Ultimately, there could be even more at stake over the next few years.

Out of these airline alliances, which one is your favorite? Would you like to see any other carriers join one of these groups? Let us know what your thoughts are about these initiatives in the comment section.