Emirates and China Southern plan to enter a historic reciprocal codeshare deal that will expand the Gulf carrier’s footprint in China and make life easier for Chinese passengers heading to the Middle East and Africa.
The airlines have signed a memorandum of understanding to move towards the codeshare, which is the first between Emirates and a mainland Chinese carrier.
The Gulf carrier flies twice daily to both Beijing and Shanghai and operates a daily flight to Guangzhou. All three routes are operated by its flagship Airbus A380 superjumbos.
Guangzhou-based China Southern is China’s biggest airline by passenger numbers and Emirates is its first bidirectional partner in the Middle East.
The Emirates MOU comes after rival Qatar announced in January it had taken a 5 percent stake in China Southern and chief executive Akbar Al Baker said he saw a “massive potential” for cooperation between the carriers.
China Southern left the SkyTeam alliance on January 1 after announcing steps to strengthen its partnership with American Airlines, which also is an investor.
The latest deal, which is subject to government approval, will allow Emirates’s passengers to connect initially to eight Chinese destinations: Fuzhou, Chongqing, Kunming, Qingdao, Xiamen, Chengdu, Nanjing and Xi ‘an.
Passengers traveling from China will enjoy connections to Emirates’ Middle Eastern destinations such as Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam, Muscat, Kuwait and Cairo as well as to African ports such as Seychelles and Lagos.
The UAE has a visa-free policy for Chinese visitors and authorities are also hoping to encourage stopovers in Dubai.
Emirates divisional senior vice president Adnan Kazim said the airline was excited by the prospect the agreement brings and described it as an important milestone in the airline’s efforts to deepen its presence in China.
“The addition of the eight domestic routes in the initial stage expands our reach in China, beyond the three Chinese hub cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou,” he said.
“In addition to enhancing our global network, China Southern’s customers will be able to seamlessly travel to destinations within the Middle East and Africa and beyond on a single ticket.”
China Southern chief operating officer Hans Wensheng said strengthening cooperation with other carriers was part of China Southern’s long-term strategy.
“While codesharing is only the start of our cooperation, cooperative opportunities in a wider range of fields such as freight, frequent flyer benefits, lounge access, and airport collaboration will be explored in the future,” he said.
Emirates currently has codeshare agreements with 23 partners and the deal with China Southern will see it connect to more than 160 destinations.