The prevailing wisdom is that aviation has facilitated globalisation. And the changing business models of the world's leading carriers demonstrate where that sector believes the global economy is going.
This week British Airways announced that it had entered into a codeshare agreement with China Eastern Airways. The BA code will go on China Eastern flights to Kunming, Xian, Nanjing, Hangzhou and Chongqing, and BA flights to Aberdeen, Belfast City, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds Bradford, Manchester and Newcastle will also carry China Eastern's MU code.
However, before any readers of Business Travel iQ gets excited at the prospect of increased access to Chinese markets from European airports, a reality check is in order.
China's "Big Three" airlines — Air China, China Eastern and China Southern — are already connected to carriers round the globe through their memberships of Star (Air China) and SkyTeam (China Eastern and China Southern). China Eastern also already has codeshares with Oneworld members JAL and Qantas.
The Chinese airlines recognise the importance of aviation, and the access it enables to markets, to economic growth and prosperity. Does this affect European travel buyers and managers?
A codeshare is not as comprehensive an agreement as an alliance or joint venture. Seats are sold for the same service by both partners with some flights operated by one, some by the other but all carrying each other's code which means that it is considered a single flight in terms of checking through baggage, connections and liability.
For the buyer this means greater benefits for the traveller who perceives it as one flight and can enjoy advantages such as access to more frequent flyer points and lounges. For the buyer this has the potential of doing more business with a preferred partner and thus be able to demonstrate more volume and more market share on some routes.
However, that greater market share could be illusory and short-lived. Joining an air alliance or entering into a codeshare can both increase the frequency of services between any city pair involved at a stroke. It also means that frequency can be decreased to cut capacity and increase the number of "bums on seats" on the remaining services.
If the corporate is maintaining its booking volumes on a route with reduced capacity, its share of the market will automatically look higher but that is a very different matter from the ability to move market share. Consolidation inevitably means less competition which can mean less supplier choice.
It might also mean higher fares.