What Are Fifth Freedom Flights?

by Anthony Losanno
Airplane Window

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You’ll often hear bloggers talk about fifth-freedom flights. But, what are they? Quite simply, fifth-freedom flights carry passengers between two foreign countries. The airline’s home country is neither the origin nor the destination.

This concept is one of the freedoms of the air that are governed by international agreements between countries. The first, second, third, and fourth freedoms refer to an airline’s rights to fly over a foreign country, to land in a foreign country, to transport passengers from its home country to a foreign country and vice versa, and to fly passengers between two foreign countries via its home country, respectively.

Singapore Airlines

Fifth-freedom flights provide an opportunity for airlines to expand their network and revenue stream by serving new markets. For passengers, fifth-freedom routes often offer more convenient and direct routing options. In some cases, they may also offer a chance for travelers to experience a new airline or aircraft type. Here are some examples:

  • Emirates operates flights between New York’s John F Kennedy International Airport (JFK) to Milan Malpensa Airport (MXP), Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) to Athens International Airport (ATH), Christchurch International Airport (CHC) to Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport (SYD), Larnaca International Airport (LCA) to Malta International Airport (MLA), Singapore Changi Airport (SIN) to Melbourne Airport (MEL), Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) to Hong Kong International Airport (HKG), Rio de Janeiro/Galeão – Antonio Carlos Jobim International Airport (GIG) and Buenos Aires’ Ezeiza International Airport (EZE), and Josep Tarradellas Barcelona-El Prat Airport (BCN) to Mexico City International Airport (MEX)
  • Singapore Airlines flies between Frankfurt Airport (FRA) and New York’s John F Kennedy International Airport (JFK) , Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) and Manchester Airport (MAN), and Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and Tokyo’s Narita International Airport (NRT)
  • Air Canada offers service between São Paulo/Guarulhos International Airport (GRU) and Buenos Aires’ Ezeiza International Airport (EZE)
  • South African Airways flies the same route as Air Canada (São Paulo/Guarulhos International Airport (GRU) and Buenos Aires’ Ezeiza International Airport (EZE))
  • Ethiopian Airlines offers several routes including: Singapore Changi Airport (SIN) to Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KUL), Seoul’s Incheon International Airport (ICN) to Tokyo’s Narita International Airport (NRT), São Paulo/Guarulhos International Airport (GRU) to Buenos Aires’ Ezeiza International Airport (EZE), Stockholm Arlanda Airport (ARN) to Oslo Airport (OSL), Geneva Airport (GVA) to Manchester Airport (MAN), and Milan Malpensa Airport (MXP) to Zurich Airport (ZRH), plus many routes between countries in Africa
  • EVA Air has three fifth-freedom routes to/from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) and Vienna International Airport (VIE), Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS), and London Heathrow Airport (LHR)

Fifth-freedom flights can be controversial, particularly in cases where they compete with the national carriers of the countries they are serving (for years, US airlines took issue with Gulf carriers competing with them). Some countries limit or prohibit fifth freedom flights to protect their own airlines, while others welcome them as a way to stimulate competition and tourism.

Anthony’s Take: Fifth-freedom flights provide a way for airlines to expand their operations and offer more options for travelers. As air travel continues to evolve and global competition increases, fifth-freedom flights are likely to remain an important feature and a way to bring choice to some popular routes.

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