By Ray O’Hanlon
Aer Lingus and American Airlines will fly into the new millennium as partners.
The deal that will pave the way for Aer Lingus membership in the "Oneworld" alliance with American, British Airways and several other European carriers once the Irish government has given its final approval.
From the summer of 2000, Aer Lingus and American, one of the "big three" U.S. carriers, will share passengers and cooperate on a number of other levels.
American Chairman and Chief Executive Don Carty said in a statement that American was pleased to welcome Aer Lingus to the company’s AAadvantage frequent flier program and was looking forward to launching other elements of the alliance as soon as possible.
Aer Lingus and American have been operating a coordinated frequent flier program since Nov. 1.
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The Irish carrier and British Airways will adopt similar levels of cooperation on services linking Ireland and the UK as well as on a number of continental European routes.
The Aer Lingus/American partnership is subject to final regulatory approval from the U.S. government, and a formalized agreement between the Irish and U.S. governments, but no last-minute hiccups are expected.
Aer Lingus has spent several years seeking membership of what it feels is a suitable major airline alliance. For a time, the Irish carrier operated a passenger swapping "codesharing" agreement with Delta Airlines.
However, Aer Lingus and Delta are now competing head-to-head on the transAtlantic route while yet another major U.S. carrier, Continental, is also flying to Ireland.
Aer Lingus, which has considerably expanded its North Atlantic service in the past couple of years, has long viewed membership of a big alliance as the best way to maximize its potential in a market that is always prone to market turbulence.
Aer Lingus Group Chief Executive Garry Cullen said that the finalization of agreements with American and British was a fundamental strategic development for Aer Lingus.
"Our aim is to work with both carriers to provide our growing number of customers with a wider network of services, increased value and extra benefits," Cullen said.
Meanwhile, a warning has been issued to millennium holiday travelers to Ireland who might be tempted to overindulge before stepping aboard an Aer Lingus plane.
The warning came in the wake of a recent incident of "air rage" on Aer Lingus Flight EI104 from New York to Dublin.
Two male passengers on board the flight were arrested at Dublin Airport and barred from the return leg of their flight after becoming drunk and disorderly during the flight.
Both men, who work in the construction industry in New York, were also told that they will never be permitted to fly with Aer Lingus again.
"We take this kind of behavior very seriously. It’s a safety issue and safety is of paramount importance to us," an Aer Lingus spokesman in New York told the Echo.