Air Dolomiti, an Italian regional airline owned by Lufthansa Group, will soon sign its first three codeshare agreements outside the close relationship it has with Lufthansa German Airlines.
In a briefing for reporters and travel agents in New York on the evening of April 7, Michael Kraus, Air Dolomiti’s CEO, said the airline was close to launching a codeshare agreement with Japanese carrier All Nippon Airways (ANA).
Like all the airlines in the Lufthansa Group, ANA is a member of the Star Alliance global alliance. Air Dolomiti isn’t officially a member of Star Alliance, but qualifies as a Lufthansa Regional partner airline.
Kraus said that Air Dolomiti – which is based at Verona Villafranca Airport (IATA code VRN) and operates a fleet of 10 Embraer 195 jets, each configured in a single-class configuration seating up to 116 passengers – is also nearing agreement on a codeshare deal with United Airlines.
Air Dolomiti is also in discussions over a codeshare with Air Canada, according to Kraus. Again, like Lufthansa, these two carriers are Star Alliance members. United Airlines and Air Canada are also members of the Atlantic Plus-Plus anti-trust immunized joint venture along with Lufthansa.
A likely major reason for these three major Star Alliance carriers’ interest in codesharing with Air Dolomiti is that from May 1 to October 31, 2015, Milan will host a major international expo called ‘Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life’.
More than 145 countries – including the United States – have already signed up to participate in the six-month exhibition, which will focus on growing food for the needs of the world’s population, as well as on healthy lifestyles, food safety and many other aspects of food preparation and food culture. Visitors to the expo will be able to sample foods and beverages from all over the world.
However, despite Milan’s likely global prominence as a tourism destination in 2015, any codeshare deals that Air Dolomiti concludes with the Star Alliance carriers inevitably will rely on connections between flights to and from Munich Airport.
Although Air Dolomiti is based in Italy and all its routes have an Italian destination at one end, the carrier’s only hub is at Munich’s Franz Josef Strauss International Airport, where Air Dolomiti operates from Terminal 2.
Nowadays Air Dolomiti does not operate any Italian domestic routes. At one time it did, but Kraus said fares on routes within Italy became too low – particularly on routes involving destinations in the southern parts of Italy – for the airline to be profitable in operating them.
Following its outright acquisition by Lufthansa Group in 2003 (the group had previously taken a 26 per cent stake in the regional carrier in 1999), Air Dolomiti’s main role has been to feed Lufthansa at the German flag carrier’s south-facing hub in Bavaria, Germany’s and Europe’s wealthiest region.
Air Dolomiti accomplishes this task in two ways, according to Kraus. One is to operate flights which bear a Lufthansa flight number, using Embraer 195 jets which Lufthansa effectively wet-leases from the Italian carrier.
For the summer 2014 schedule, Air Dolomiti will operate six such routes on behalf of Lufthansa. All these routes are to and from Munich and – because they are aimed primarily at serving connecting and point-to-point business travelers traveling within the Lufthansa network – will provide at least twice-daily service from the six Italian destinations which are the end points of the route spokes.
These Italian destinations are Bologna, Catania, Milan Malpensa, Palermo, Pisa and Turin. Air Dolomiti will operate seven daily round-trips on the Milan Malpensa-Munich route, the highest service frequency of any of its routes.
Additionally, under its own ‘EN’ flight code, Air Dolomiti will operate own-brand flights in the summer 2014 schedule from five Italian destinations. These are Bari, Bergamo (whose Orio al Serio Airport is often referred to on airline schedules as Milan Bergamo because of its relative proximity to Milan, a fact of which Ryanair was the first carrier to take marketing advantage), Florence, Venice and Verona.
Air Dolomiti will operate its own-brand flights from each of these destinations to Munich and will also operate own-brand flights to Frankfurt Airport from its Verona home base.
Kraus said Air Dolomiti would operate each of these six routes at much lower service frequencies than it will offer on its Lufthansa-branded routes: “a maximum of one [flight] a day,” according to the Air Dolomiti CEO.
Another difference between the two categories of routes is that while connecting itineraries on Air Dolomiti’s own-brand flights are bookable through Lufthansa under the Lufthansa fare structure, the Italian carrier also offers its own three-tier fare structure on its own-brand flights.
Passengers buying tickets using this fare structure – which is only available for purchase on Air Dolomiti’s own website – cannot interline with Lufthansa flights to or from Munich, since the tickets are priced purely on a point-to-point basis.
Air Dolomiti prices its own fares in line with a low-cost carrier business model rather than a network-airline model in order to meet leisure passengers’ fare expectations for short-haul intra-Europe flights.
The cheapest fare category in Air Dolomiti’s three-tier fare structure is its ‘Light’ fare. This fare category offers standard on-board service including snacks and Italian newspapers, but allows passengers only to fly with carry-on bags.
Air Dolomiti’s next fare category is ‘Plus’, which offers standard on-board service but allows each passenger to check one bag of up to 23 kilograms (51lb) and awards mileage points in Lufthansa Group’s ‘Miles & More’ loyalty program.
The highest fare category on Air Dolomiti’s own-brand fare structure is its ‘Emotion’ fare, which serves as a business class fare for seats at the front of the cabin. This fare provides each passenger with an empty seat beside his or her own seat to allow the passenger extra space and offers a higher stand of in-flight catering, as well as checked baggage and Miles & More points.
Even though Kraus confirms Air Dolomiti’s average sector length is just 1 hour 5 minutes, passengers buying ‘Emotion’ fares are offered cold meals of Italian meats, cheeses, breads and desserts, as well as specifically chosen, high-quality Italian wines.
Offering its own branded fares has been a successful exercise for Air Dolomiti to date. Kraus said that the airline began offering flights under its own brand two years ago and while the Italian economy has grown a little over 2 per cent annually during that time, Air Dolomiti’s own-brand ticket sales have grown more than 20 per cent a year in the same period.