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As I reported last week, Qatar Airways plans to join the Oneworld alliance, and it made the announcement official today at a Oneworld press conference.

Hat tip to Jaunted.com for this Instagram shot at the press conference.

The exact date hasn’t been announced yet, but it’s likely to take at least a year until the airline is fully integrated into the alliance. Though this move has been expected for a while, it’s bound to shake up the airline alliance status quo. Qatar is the first of the three major Middle East-based airlines, which also include Emirates and Etihad, to join one of the three major alliances.

According to this article today in the Wall Street Journal, though, Etihad has announced that it will partner with both Air France/KLM in SkyTeam and Air Berlin in Oneworld while not joining either alliance outright. This also comes on the heels of Qantas and Emirates’ joint announcement last month that the two airlines would be teaming up to open up routes through Asia, the Middle East and Europe for both carriers while Qantas left its traditional “Kangaroo Route” partnership with British Airways (Qantas’s Oneworld partner) behind.

All in all, it seems like we’ll be seeing these Middle East carriers playing much more significant roles both within and beyond the three traditional airline alliances thanks to ever-expanding routes, newer long-haul fleets and a central location that makes a lot of sense for routing of flights between the Americas and Asia; and Europe and Asia and the South Pacific.

More and more airline partnerships are taking place beyond the constraints of the traditional alliances, and we’re going to see a lot more of it as airlines continue to sign individual agreements with one another rather than pacting with a raft of other carriers all at once. As airlines become more nimble and take on more routes, there’s bound to be more competition both from outside alliances as well as between members of alliances, so it makes sense for airlines like Etihad and Emirates to take on partners individually (as with the Qantas deal). After all, airlines aren’t making a lot of money these days, so it’s a better business decision to partner with the strongest carriers out there possible rather than being weighed down by a dozen mid-performing partners in an alliance…especially when your bottom line is as good as some of these Middle East-based carriers’ are.

Stay tuned for further developments and official dates for Qatar’s entry into Oneworld and what it will mean for you and your miles.

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