Wendy Perrin interviews Sir Richard Branson, who answers Steve Belkin’s question and says he would consider starting his own alliance.
Steve imagines a world where Virgin hooks up with “Etihad Airways, Malaysia Airlines, Alaska Airlines, El Al…”
I usually leave the industry commentary to Cranky Flier except where it touches on those things I’m uniquely positioned to speak on. But Wendy Tweeted this interview to me, and I couldn’t help but add my two pence.
Virgin really is ‘left out’ of the current alliance game. They’re not joining oneworld, anchored in Europe by British Airways. Though they are 49% owned by Singapore, Star Alliance is pretty well anchored in Europe with Lufthansa and Miles & More partners Swiss, Brussels, Austrian, and soon-to-be British Midland.. in addition to LOT and Scandinavian, Croatian, Aegean, et al.
That leaves only Skyteam as a possibility for them among the existing alliances, but Virgin doesn’t really seem like the best fit for an alliance anchored in Europe by Air France-KLM already, and they’re a cut above most Skyteam carriers (though Virgin’s frequent flyer program isn’t the most rewarding, which would help them fit into Skyteam!).
What cerainly would be nice would be an alliance of Virgin-branded carriers. In addition to Virgin Atlantic, there’s Air Nigeria, V Australia, Virgin America, Virgin Blue and subsidiaries… They own a stake in Air Asia X. If there was reciprocal earning and burning just across the Virgin brands that would be a start.
And Steve Belkin suggested ‘cherry picking’ out of existing alliances, Singapore hasn’t seen their 49% stake in Virgin as having performed well, they’ve publicly talked of divesting their stake. But Singapore always seems as though they’re a reluctant member of Star Alliance at best, they don’t like releasing premium cabin award seats to their partners for sure. If Singapore were the anchor of their own alliance, it could be fun to imagine.
And with Singapore, one could imagine bringing in an unaligned Middle East carrier.
But that’s probably as far as they could get, there just aren’t that many quality airlines left outside fo the Middle East. (And contra Steve, I’m not sure an alliance could successfully integrate El Al with a Gulf carrier.)
And while Alaska plays with anyone, they’re currently closest to Delta they also partner with American. It would be hard to imagine them joining an alliance and foresaking most others.
That would leave their only North American entry as Virgin America. And going after Frontier, Airtran, or Westjet would hardly seem to work. The pickings are jus slim, and other alliances have failed or failed to get off the ground (Wings, Qualiflyer). So I have a hard time imagining this, but I never really count out Sir Richard. It’s hard to know when he’s blowing smoke in the clouds or when he’s serious, and he just muses here, so it’s clearly far from serious at this point.