Japan Airlines is in no hurry to join the oneworld alliance, despite its growing array of codeshare and reciprocal frequent flier agreements with its members British Airways, American Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Qantas and Canadian Airlines. For now, JAL says it wants to keep these only as bilateral pacts. "Membership of a global alliance - such as oneworld - is a longer term objective," says JAL chief executive Isao Kaneko.

Kaneko cites several reasons for going slow. First, he is concerned that Japanese passengers, which make up 70% of JAL's traffic, have certain expectations. He knows it is important to increase non-Japanese traffic, "but at the same time, we feel it is very important to provide services which suit Japanese customers. We have to watch multilateral alliances carefully to see if they can offer service which meets Japanese travellers' needs," he says.

Kaneko is also concerned about alliance exclusivity rules. At the last count, JAL had alliances with 21 airlines. Many are for specific reasons in specific markets and include airlines that are not likely to be oneworld members. Some belong to the Star Alliance.

"If we enter oneworld we might have to terminate present bilateral relationships with non-oneworld members. If we have to refocus or reduce our relationships with other valued airline partners it might mean a demerit to our alliance strategy," says Kaneko.

Kaneko is also concerned an airline may forfeit some identity when it joins a global group. With multilateral affiliations, he says, "we may lose something in the process".

JAL's position contrasts with All Nippon, which is to join Star in October, and Japan Air System, which says it is in talks with Northwest and KLM about a multilateral alliance.

Source: Airline Business