Fifth-freedom flights are “tag flights” that neither start nor end in the home country of the airline operating the flight. For example, UAE-based Emirates flies from Melbourne to Dubai via Singapore. The Melbourne-Singapore sector of this route is a fifth-freedom flight.
Fifth-freedom flights can truly be a great way to travel for several reasons. Not only are fares typically well-priced, but you’ll often travel in greater comfort as well.
Why do fifth-freedom flights exist?
The 1944 Chicago Convention defined nine “freedoms of the air”. These freedoms set out airlines’ rights to overfly, land in and pick up passengers in other countries. The fifth of these freedoms of the air states that airlines may fly between two foreign airports as a “tag flight” added on to a service that originates or ends in the airline’s own country. Crucially, fifth-freedom traffic rights allow airlines to carry passengers and cargo between the two foreign countries.
In an aviation industry full of regulation, many airlines use fifth-freedom rights to fly routes they would not otherwise be able to. For example, Qantas flies daily from Sydney to London via Singapore. There is currently no commercial aircraft capable of flying this route non-stop (although Qantas does fly from Perth to London). The Sydney-London route would not be commercially viable for Qantas if it was not allowed to carry passengers purely between Singapore and London.
Foreign airlines are not generally allowed to carry domestic passengers outside of their home country. For example, Qantas flies daily between Los Angeles and New York in the United States. But this is not a fifth-freedom route because Qantas may only sell tickets to passengers starting or ending their journey with Qantas in Australia. There are also several foreign airlines that operate domestic tag flights within Australia; they too are not allowed to sell tickets to passengers just travelling within Australia.
Why fifth-freedom flights can be great value
Fares on fifth-freedom flights are typically low, as airlines find it more difficult to fill seats on the onward tag leg. This also means that award availability on fifth-freedom flights is often excellent. For example, Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific flies daily between Vancouver, Canada and New York, USA. Award seats in all four classes of travel are available on Cathay Pacific’s Vancouver-New York flight most days.
Often you’ll also get to enjoy a better product. Many fifth-freedom flights are an extenstion of a long-haul flight, so the international aircraft used are typically configured with comfort in mind. Why fly a narrow-body Boeing 737 between Sydney and Christchurch when Emirates flies an A380 every day with lie-flat Business beds and First class Suites?
Fifth-freedom routes also provide a great opportunity to fly with airlines from all over the world that you may not otherwise have a chance to try. Even if you never visit South America, you can still fly with Chile’s LATAM Airlines between Sydney and Auckland.
Fifth-freedom routes from Australia
There are many airlines operating fifth-freedom flights out of Australia. Most of these flights are to New Zealand or Asia. Here’s a complete list:
- Emirates: Melbourne-Singapore, Brisbane-Singapore, Sydney-Christchurch & Sydney-Bangkok (ends 31 May 2019)
- Singapore Airlines: Melbourne-Wellington
- British Airways: Sydney-Singapore
- LATAM Airlines: Sydney-Auckland
- Air Asia X: Gold Coast-Auckland (ends 11 February 2019)
- China Airlines: Brisbane-Auckland
- Malindo Air: Brisbane-Denpasar & Melbourne-Denpasar
- Nauru Airlines: Brisbane-Honiara
- Air New Zealand: Sydney-Rarotonga
Other notable fifth-freedom flights
Other fifth-freedom routes include:
- LATAM Airlines flies a Boeing 787 between Madrid, Spain and Frankfurt, Germany. Business class fares are typically low, and you’ll get a lie-flat bed with a full meal service (something rare for intra-Europe Business class)… plus 60 Qantas status credits
- Ethiopian Airlines has many fifth-freedom routes including Singapore-Kuala Lumpur, Stockholm-Oslo and Lome-Los Angeles
- Dutch airline KLM flies from Santiago, Chile to Buenos Aires, Argentina
- Singapore Airlines operates a range of fifth-freedom flights to the USA including Manchester-Houston, Frankfurt-New York and Hong Kong-San Francisco
- Emirates operates many fifth-freedom flights all over the world. Below is an overview of fifth-freedom Emirates routes that operate as an extension of a service to/from Dubai:
See a complete list of fifth-freedom routes and join the discussion on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: A Complete, Updated List of Fifth-Freedom Routes