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A series of rights enshrined in international treaties, the freedoms of the air constitute the foundation of international air transport. These laws and agreements allow airlines to operate outside the borders of their home country. Without the freedoms of the air, it would be impossible for an airline to operate international flights.
The first four freedoms
According to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO, a United Nations agency), there are five official and four unofficial freedoms. The first four freedoms are quite simple:
1. The ability to traverse the airspace of another country en route to a third country, such as an Air Canada flight through the United States to Mexico.
2. The possibility of making a technical stopover in another country en route to a third country – a China Airlines flight stopping for fuel in Alaska en route to Montreal would make a technical stopover.
3. The ability to transport passengers and cargo from one country of origin to another country — an American Airlines flight from New York to London.
4. The ability to carry passengers and cargo from another country to a home country – a British Airways flight from New York to London.
These four freedoms are important and relatively uncontroversial – international travel simply wouldn’t be possible without them. Fifth freedom is where things start to get interesting.
The fifth freedom
5. The ability to transport passengers and cargo from one foreign country to another en route to / from a country of origin.
Fifth freedom of the air is a clearance that allows, for example, Emirates to carry passengers between New York (JFK) and Milan (MXP) on the way back to Dubai (DXB). Historically, this has made long-haul travel viable: for example, in the 1980s, Alitalia made stops in Athens, Delhi, Bangkok and Hong Kong on the route from Rome to Tokyo, picking up and dropping off passengers en route. road.
The ways of the fifth freedom are much less common than before. The endurance, capacity and fuel efficiency of modern aircraft have made it viable to operate non-stop flights that were previously physically impossible or economically unsustainable. In addition, some airlines have abandoned fifth freedom routes in favor of partnerships or codeshare agreements with other carriers: for example, Delta operated flights from Tokyo Narita Airport to several other Asian countries. (inherited from its merger with Northwest Airlines in 2010), but now relies on its partner Korean Air to connect passengers departing from Seoul.
Some fifth freedom routes continue and have many benefits for travelers. As well as offering the opportunity to experience air service that might not otherwise be available, passengers also often find larger planes (with much more impressive business class cabins), cheaper fares and better availability for frequent flyer miles on Fifth Freedom routes.
Here are some of our favorite routes from the United States:
- For those traveling from New York to Europe, instead of traveling on a US or European carrier, try flying Emirates to Milan or Athens or Singapore Airlines to Frankfurt.
- Based in Houston? Fly to Manchester, United Kingdom with Singapore Airlines or to Panama City with Air China.
- In California, fly Singapore Airlines from Los Angeles to Tokyo or from San Francisco to Hong Kong.
- Miami offers flights to Port-au-Prince, Haiti on Air France and Punta Cana, Dominican Republic on LATAM.
- Flights Honolulu to Tokyo on Air China and Korean Air and flights to Samoa on Fiji Airways are excellent options. United’s famous Island Hopper makes several stops in the Marshall Islands and Federated States of Micronesia en route to Guam (making this an Eighth Route for Freedom as well – more on that in a moment).
Other fifth freedom options exist elsewhere in the world:
- Go to Buenos Aires, Argentina and Qatar, Ethiopian and Turkish passengers fly to São Paulo, Brazil, while Air Canada and KLM operate flights to Santiago, Chile.
- Taipei, Taiwan has a number of routes on Cathay Pacific based in Hong Kong including Seoul, South Korea and Osaka, Tokyo and Nagoya, Japan. (Pro tip: These routes can be a great use of British Airways Avios.) Thai Airways also flies to Seoul.
- From Auckland, New Zealand passengers can fly to Bali on Emirates, Brisbane on China Airlines, and Sydney on LATAM.
- Singapore has several fifth freedom flights, likely in response to Singapore Airlines’ own fifth freedom routes. British
- Airways flights to Sydney exist; Qantas flights to London; Emirates to Melbourne, Brisbane and Penang; Ethiopian in Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta; and KLM in Bali.
- Bangkok, Thailand favors Fifth Freedom routes, so it’s easy to find a lot of them. Fly Bhutan Airlines in Kolkata, India; Cathay Pacific in Singapore; EgyptAir, Emirates, Ethiopian or Royal Jordanian to Hong Kong; Kenya Airways to Guangzhou and the Taiwanese airline EVA Air to Amsterdam, London or Vienna.
Creating a fifth freedom route is complicated – it requires approval from at least three countries, and depending on the route, there may be strong opposition from local carriers. For example, some American airlines have vigorously opposed Emirates flights between the United States and Europe, saying Emirates does not need to stop in Europe to get to the United States and takes advantage government subsidies to harm the United States and the United States. European airlines. While U.S. airlines have failed to get the government to revoke Emirates’ authority to operate these flights, it is unlikely that we will see any new fifth freedom routes via the United States anytime soon. Emirates. That said, they have a new one from Mexico City that stops in Barcelona on the way to Dubai.
One thing to note is that since Fifth Freedom routes are added to a long-haul international service, they will generally not operate with the same frequency as local carriers. It is not uncommon for some of these routes to only operate once or twice a week, while you may see multiple flights per day on other airlines. But for those with flexible hours and who know what to look for, great deals and great experiences can be found.
While many of these routes are currently on hold due to Covid-19, we hope to see them return as international borders continue to open again.
The four “unofficial freedoms”
While the fifth freedom of the air is the most fun for passengers, there are four other freedoms on the list. Technically, these are considered “unofficial” by the ICAO, because unlike the first five, there is no international treaty that specifically calls them freedoms.
6. The ability to transport passengers and cargo from one foreign country to another with a stopover in a country of origin
This is what allows American airlines to carry traffic from Europe to South America and is why passengers can fly from the United States to Asia with Air Canada or Aeroméxico. Although this is sometimes unpopular on one side or the other, as it means that an airline from a third country takes passengers away from domestic carriers on either end, it is a common practice and therefore widely recognized as perfectly legitimate.
7. The ability to transport passengers and cargo between two foreign countries independently, rather than as an extension of a flight to / from a country of origin
8. The ability to operate a domestic flight in a foreign country, en route to / from a country of origin
9. The ability to operate a domestic flight in a foreign country without continuing to / from a country of origin
You will mainly find the latter three in places that have special agreements in place creating a single aviation market that ignores national borders: the Single Trans-Tasman Aviation Market between Australia and New Zealand. and the European Common Aviation Area which covers the European Union and a handful of neighboring countries. This is why Ryanair, an Irish airline, can operate flights within and between other EU countries. (Easyjet, a UK-based airline, was also a major player in this space before the UK left the EU. In response to Brexit, Easyjet established a subsidiary in Austria to preserve its ability to operate intra-European flights.)
Outside of these special zones, foreign airlines sometimes operate flights within a country, but generally will not be able to sell tickets or accept cargo shipments on the domestic side. For example, Qantas had a New York-Sydney flight that stopped in Los Angeles to refuel, but because it was a domestic flight in the United States, the company was not authorized to sell tickets. New York-Los Angeles. (The company tried to get around this problem by letting passengers departing from New York to connect on a partner flight in Los Angeles, such as an American Airlines flight to New Zealand, but the US government did not like this and slapped with a fine in response.)
The freedoms of the air are the cornerstones of international air transport. While most may seem obscure and of particular interest to aviation connoisseurs and international lawyers, Fifth Freedom in particular creates unique opportunities for travelers around the world. As we continue to work towards a post-pandemic world, look for new fifth freedom routes that appear as airlines seek to maximize aircraft return while waiting for passenger numbers to return to pre-pandemic levels.