NEW YORK -- Qatar Airways is joining an alliance of airlines including American Airlines, British Airways and nine other carriers that coordinate routes and allow passengers to earn frequent flier miles on each other's flights.
The inclusion in the oneworld alliance _ aimed at allowing passengers to hop around the globe easier _ signals the growing importance of Persian Gulf carriers such as Doha-based Qatar.
"Alliances are playing an increasingly important role in the airline industry today _ and that will continue long into the future," Qatar's CEO Akbar Al Baker said in a statement.
It will take 12 to 18 months for Qatar to join the alliance. The oneworld alliance competes with SkyTeam, a group of airlines including Delta Air Line, and the Star Alliance, which includes United Airlines and US Airways.
Frequent business travelers like alliances because they are able to earn and redeem frequent flier miles with the partners, use alliance airport lounges and book complicated trips on one itinerary. A flier could travel on a Cathay Pacific, British Airways or Iberia flight and earn American Airlines miles for those flights.
Another rapidly expanding Gulf carrier, Etihad Airways, announced earlier Monday that it will start jointly marketing some of its flights with Air France-KLM, part of SkyTeam.
The deals, known as codeshares, allow passengers to buy a single ticket to fly on multiple airlines and are common in the airline industry. Carriers can expand their reach without having to launch or acquire the right to operate additional routes. For example, American Airlines and Iberia can sell tickets on a flight operated by British Airways as if the flight was their own.
The third big Gulf carrier, Dubai-based Emirates, recently signed a 10-year deal with Australia's Qantas Airways. That spelled the end of a long-term relationship between the Australian carrier and British Airways.
Eithad and Emirates have yet to join one of the big three alliances. The inclusion of Qatar in oneworld helps put the airline _ which isn't well known in North America _ on the map on the continent.
American's pilots, however, aren't happy about the deal. They are in a nasty contract dispute with the company as it restructures in federal bankruptcy court. They picketed Monday's event saying partnerships like the new one with Qatar are costing them jobs.
"It's cutting in on our flying and our jobs," said Capt. John Diacsuk. "How do you maintain morale at a company where everybody is getting pink slips."
Scott Mayerowitz can be reached at http://twitter.com/GlobeTrotScott.