First question: what is a fifth freedom flight? I mean, right? Fortunately, it’s quite simple.
Airlines are allowed a select number of flights which fly between two places which are not their home. Imagine a US based carrier flying a route from one European city to the next; or Emirates creating a flight between one city in Asia and another and that’s basically all you need to know.
You care, because they were an amazing opportunity to try out cool seats for a mere fraction of the cost in points or miles, and often on routes where all the other seats sucked!
You could use a tiny amount of miles, compared to going on a longer journey, to book Cathay Pacific First Class or business class, and have that real gateway drug into award travel experience, and it was also just a really comfy way to fly if you paid cash, since the plane was configured for 15 hour journeys, rather than five.
The LATAM Madrid-Frankfurt flight has been one of the cheapest ways to try out an international business class cabin, however you wanted to pay, and gave aviation enthusiasts fantastic novelty. Obviously, everyone on the plane was happy too, because the plane featured superior leg room to short haul equipped planes.
So, why are these flights disappearing? There are still plenty of fifth freedom flights throughout the world, from trans Tasmanian hops to Southeast Asian jaunts, but they may be endangered.
Airlines are placing extreme focus on point to point “direct flights”, and anything which requires a brief stop really no longer cuts it. With more flexible aircraft, it’s easier for airlines to focus on putting smaller planes on new routes to reduce sales pressure than to navigate all the extra hassles of picking up extra passengers en route. I