Way back in 1944 when commercial flight was beginning to open up on an international scale, there needed to be some standardized rules put in place regarding the “Freedoms of the Air.”
A meeting known as the Chicago Convention was called to coordinate international air travel and a numbered list of Freedoms, which now tallies nine, was created. These freedoms outline basic rights like airspace and operating regulations, and one, in particular, seems to garner the most controversy and attention.
Fifth Freedom Flights Explained
The fifth airline freedom allows a carrier to fly between two separate foreign countries as long as the flight originates or terminates in the carrier’s home country. These routes often called add-on or tag flights, permit an airline to sell tickets on standalone city-to-city routes in countries that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to operate in.
As an example, Singapore Airlines operates a flight from Houston (IAH) to Singapore (SIN) that heads eastward with a brief stop in Manchester, UK (MAN). With fifth freedom rights, a passenger can fly only the Houston to Manchester segment of that flight with no need to travel onward to Singapore.
Why You Should Care About Fifth Freedom Flights
As in the Singapore Airlines example above, fifth freedom flights enable you to try a new carrier and also give customers more flight options to choose from. In many cases, these carriers offer better products, departure times, and overall service than their U.S. based competitors on these routes. Especially in instances, where you can choose an airline like Singapore or Cathay Pacific who regularly top the best airline awards over a local carrier's offering.
When all prices are equal, I know I’d much rather fly from Los Angeles (LAX) to London (LHR) on an Air Zealand’s 777 with Skycouches and free-checked baggage than an American Airlines aircraft on the same route with less leg room and a $60 one-way fee for a piece of checked luggage.
Fifth freedom routes can also connect underserved markets, like the previously mentioned Houston to Manchester flight. Before Singapore introduced the service there was no other option to fly between the two cities without a connection.
Similarly, Emirates began offering a year-round nonstop option from Newark (EWR) to Athens (ATH) last year, before continuing to its base in Dubai (DXB). Home to a large Greek population, Emirates saw an opportunity in the New York/New Jersey market and exercised its fifth freedom rights to start service on the route, much to United Airline's chagrin. While the Emirates move drew the ire from some U.S. based airline higher-ups, it also provided customers with a new connectionless option and has brought healthy competition into the market where United routinely calls the shots. Now, flights to Athens are hundreds of dollars less on average than what was being listed several years ago.
For frequent flyers and travelers with stacks of airline miles in their accounts, fifth freedom flights can also serve as an attractive redemption option. In some instances, flying on these routes will you not only get better service, but you'll be able to find "sweet spots" and availability when redeeming miles with partner airlines of the fifth freedom carrier; costing fewer miles for a better award value and an in-flight experience.
A favorite redemption being Cathay Pacific's daily nonstop flight from New York (JFK) to Vancouver (YVR), where travelers can experience the Hong Kong-based airline’s award-winning Business and First Class products without even having to leave North America. Since Cathay Pacific and Alaska Airlines run an interline partnership, flyers only need to redeem 25,000 Mileage Plan miles for Business one-way or 35,000 miles to live the luxurious life in Cathay's top-notch First Class.
Full List of Fifth-Freedom Flights Departing the U.S.
Here’s a current list of all the fifth freedom flights served by international carriers on U.S. routes that customers should take note of. Most of these routes depart/arrive in major airports, as they offer the best options for the fifth freedom operating airline to pick up and offload more customers before continuing onward to the next destination.
Honolulu (HNL) to Tokyo (NRT) - Operated by: Korean Air
Honolulu (HNL) to Apia (APW) - Operated by: Fiji Airways
Honolulu (HNL) to Kiribati (CXI) - Operated by: Fiji Airways
Honolulu (HNL) to Osaka (KIX) - Operated by: Scoot
Honolulu (HNL) to Osaka (KIX) - Operated by: Air Asia X
Houston (IAH) to Panama City (PTY) - Operated by: Air China
Houston (IAH) to Manchester (MAN) - Operated by: Singapore Airlines
Los Angeles (LAX) to London (LHR) - Operated by: Air New Zealand
Los Angeles (LAX) to Rarotonga (RAR) - Operated by Air New Zealand
Los Angeles (LAX) to Dublin (DUB) - Operated by: Ethiopian
Los Angeles (LAX) to Tokyo (NRT) - Operated by: Singapore Airlines
Miami (MIA) to Port-au-Prince (PAP) - Operated by: Air France
Miami (MIA) to Punta Cana (PUJ) - Operated by: LATAM
Miami (MIA) to Aruba (AUA) - Operated by: Surinam Airways
Miami (MIA) to Georgetown (GEO) - Operated by: Surinam Airways
Newark (EWR) to Athens (ATH) - Operated by: Emirates
Newark (EWR) to London (LHR) - Operated by: Air India (Discontinued on November 16, 2018)
Newark (EWR) to Lome (LFW) - Operated by: Ethiopian
New York (JFK) to Milan (MXP) - Operated by: Emirates
New York (JFK) to Vancouver (YVR) - Operated by: Cathay Pacific
New York (JFK) to Frankfurt (FRA) - Operated by: Singapore Airlines
San Francisco (SFO) to Hong Kong (HKG) - Operated by: Singapore Airlines
Washington DC (IAD) to Accra (ACC) - Operated by: South African Airways
Washington DC (IAD) to Dakar (DSS) - Operated by: South African Airways
Sort of Fifth-Freedom Flights Departing the U.S.
There are a few loopholes and country classifications that make these routes not quite fifth freedom flights. As an example, since Tahiti, Martinique, and Guadeloupe are considered overseas regions/collectives of France, they follow the same European Union guidelines on fifth-freedom classification. Meaning, Air France or any another EU member based airline like Norwegian can fly to them freely.
Similarly with LOT, despite being Polish Airline, there has been a lack of nonstop options to North America from neighboring Hungary. So the airline set up shop in Budapest to offer service on these new transatlantic routes, which is completely allowed under the Open Skies agreement.
For all intents and purposes, these routes offer all the same benefits and options as fifth freedom flights, but sticklers like to single them out. Imagine if you told a friend that you were flying from Los Angeles to “somewhere” in France, and then sent them a picture of you in scuba gear on the beach in Papeete. Technically you kind of did since Tahiti is considered French soil and governed by EU flight regulations. Which is similar logic with these sort of fifth freedom operated flights below:
Chicago (ORD) to Budapest (BUD) - Operated by: LOT Polish Airlines
Los Angeles (LAX) to Paris (CDG) - Operated by: Air Tahiti Nui
Los Angeles (LAX) to Papeete (PPT) - Operated by: Air France
New York (JFK) to Budapest (BUD) - Operated by: LOT Polish Airlines
New York (JFK) to Guadeloupe (PTP) - Operated by: Norwegian (Seasonal)(discontinued)
New York (JFK) to Martinique (FDF) - Operated by: Norwegian (Seasonal) (discontinued)