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Lufthansa Regional Part 3: Why Is Air Dolomiti So Different?

A Lufthansa A319 coming in to land in London. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve detailed trips I took on two different Lufthansa Regional carriers. The Lufthansa CityLine brand is best integrated into the Lufthansa group, wearing Lufthansa’s colors and sharing a nearly-identical name. Air Dolomiti, while still a wholly-owned member of the Lufthansa Group, doesn’t match the group’s branding as closely.

After taking domestic flights within Germany on mainline Lufthansa, Lufthansa CityLine, and Air Dolomiti, a major split became clear. While CityLine’s branding and product is closely in line with Lufthansa’s, Air Dolomiti’s is more divergent. Air Dolomiti does not put Lufthansa’s name on their aircraft, does not have the same aircraft cabins, and does not offer the same onboard service that Lufthansa does; there was not even acknowledgment at the airport that Air Dolomiti was operating on Lufthansa’s behalf, instead using its own name and branding.

Neither Lufthansa CityLine nor Air Dolomiti began their lives as part of the Lufthansa Group; both were purchased by the airline years after launching due to increasingly-close partnerships. Why would it be important, then, for Lufthansa to keep Air Dolomiti’s branding so distinct and risk confusing passengers who may not be aware of the two carriers’ relationship?

Why Is Air Dolomiti Important to Lufthansa?

One possibility is that Lufthansa wants to use Air Dolomiti to connect passengers from Italy to Lufthansa’s route network. As Lufthansa and Air Dolomiti operate interline and codeshare agreements, Italian passengers can fly to a Lufthansa hub in Germany on a brand they’re already familiar with and board a Lufthansa journey onward to a far-flung destination. Thus, perhaps this relationship is nothing more than a way for Lufthansa to gain extra passengers without needing to spend as much money on advertising.

Said brand familiarity is critical to this plan as well. Air Dolomiti is a regional airline, meaning it doesn’t focus on the major destinations that ITA Airways, or its predecessor Alitalia, do. Instead of serving high-demand routes bringing passengers into major Italian airports from around the world for business or exotic destinations, Air Dolomiti serves a niche clientele in smaller locations to get them across Italy in a seamless fashion.

Investing in flights to small destinations is often complicated and expensive for national flag carriers. It would require an airline to do market research, invest in new aircraft, and conduct advertising to win over passengers. This can be a tricky task if there is already an established airline in said market that passengers trust and highly prefer. Lufthansa may have decided it was a safer bet for them to buy out Air Dolomiti and gain access to its aircraft, route network, and loyal customers than to try to enter the Italian market with CityLine.

Our Air Dolomiti Embraer E190 after arriving in Dresden.
(Photo: AirlineGeeks | John McDermott)

Lufthansa has shown interest in investing in ITA Airways, but the fact remains that ITA and Air Dolomiti serve largely different networks under different business strategies. They have different customer bases, different loyalties, and different route structures that serve Lufthansa differently. It’s equally, if arguably not more, important for Lufthansa to have more seamless regional connectivity into and out of its main hubs, thereby feeding more traffic towards Lufthansa itself than to try to compete in Italian markets that make more sense for a mainline carrier flying bigger aircraft.

Since ITA Airways is a relatively new company, and since Italy’s nationally-owned airlines don’t historically perform well, some passengers may continue to be more drawn to private airlines such as Air Dolomiti, offering Lufthansa an added boost of passengers’ comfort with the brand and product.

Why, then, doesn’t Air Dolomiti keep its legacy branding within Italy and conform to Lufthansa branding and products in Germany? Some of this may come down to the logistics of a uniform fleet and products. Without needing to worry about two sets of aircraft, training crews to fly in two different markets, and catering an aircraft two different ways based on where it is, Lufthansa can save costs by keeping the fleet more uniform, allowing it to continue to give passengers the same experience no matter where they area.

With these two different airlines, passengers also get to decide which experience they want when flying Lufthansa. Customers who are already familiar with Lufthansa and like its service can choose to fly with CityLine and have the product they know and love; passengers who prefer Air Dolomiti’s style can easily book flights on the carrier straight through an established, trusted brand.

All Airlines Are Not Created Equal

Lufthansa CityLine and Air Dolomiti are not, however, at a perfect 1:1 relationship in terms of aircraft flown or destinations served. CityLine is a much larger airline, with more than twice the aircraft and many more destinations. The Lufthansa brand, then, should be taken to be Lufthansa’s primary focus. Having a unified, professional image should be considered important to Lufthansa; the airline still needs to be recognizable, after all, and there is only so much complexity it can work into its system before becoming messy and risk losing its identity.

Air Dolomiti seems to serve a niche role within Lufthansa’s network. It serves to fill a gap that Lufthansa sees as critical to its operation. Lufthansa must think that it is better off with Air Dolomiti operating so independently, quite possibly just to provide Italian passengers with a familiar way to lead them onto other Lufthansa airlines.

We deplaned via air stairs, just as we had boarded in Munich.
(Photo: AirlineGeeks | John McDermott)

I doubt that the Air Dolomiti brand is going anywhere. After all, we’re approaching the 20-year anniversary of Air Dolomiti’s full integration into the Lufthansa Group. But it’s still a little odd to have a regional airline so (relatively) out of place next to its wholly-owned parent company.

That said, a 40-minute flight doesn’t give either CityLine or Air Dolomiti much chance to prove themselves. Perhaps my next report from Germany will involve longer flights on Lufthansa mainline, Lufthansa CityLine, and Air Dolomiti around Europe to see how each carrier does on a flight a couple of hours long.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to my next trip and sharing it with all of you. Leave comments on our YouTube channel if you agree or disagree with our conclusions.

John McDermott

Author

  • John McDermott

    John McDermott is a student at Northwestern University. He is also a student pilot with hopes of flying for the airlines. A self-proclaimed "avgeek," John will rave about aviation at length to whoever will listen, and he is keen to call out any airplane he sees, whether or not anyone around him cares about flying at all. John previously worked as a Journalist and Editor-In-Chief at Aeronautics Online Aviation News and Media. In his spare time, John enjoys running, photography, and watching planes approach Chicago O'Hare from over Lake Michigan.

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