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Recently, I wrote about 5 fifth freedom routes I’m highly interested in flying. While I described the routes that were at the top of my personal list, readers commented with some other great fifth freedom flights.
At the end of the post I tried to answer the question, “what is a fifth freedom flight?” by translating the definition from the Manual on the Regulation of International Air Transport into plain English. Except I failed, which was politely pointed out by a reader.
My definition of a fifth freedom flight was wrong
“In less confusing language, it is simply the privilege to provide air service between two countries of which neither is the airline’s home country.”
But that actually isn’t the correct definition of a fifth freedom flight. A reader responded:
“Ah but that’s not the same as fifth freedom. Fifth freedom rights are the privilege to operate service between two countries of which neither is the airline’s home country **on a flight originating or ending in the airline’s home country**. The fifth freedom leg must be a continuation of a flight from the home country and it must use the same flight number as the flight from/to home.”
“The privilege to operate between two foreign countries without the flight originating/ending in the home country is the Seventh Freedom. That’s exceedingly rare and to my knowledge only exists within EU Open Skies and open skies agreements with the EU. The most well known seventh freedom flights are probably Norwegian’s services from London Gatwick and Paris CDG to the US.”
As you can see, my answer was off. I missed one critical piece in the definition of a fifth freedom flight.
What is a fifth freedom flight?
The critical distinction of a fifth freedom flight is that it is a flight between two countries that are *not* the carrier’s home county, but it is also a continuation of a flight to or from the carriers home country. I missed that final piece when I defined it before. As an example, here is one of my top 5 fifth freedom routes, Los Angeles to Dublin on Ethiopian:
This flight is the first leg of an overall LAX-ADD service, with a stop in Dublin. It is fifth freedom because it operates between two countries that are NOT Ethiopia, but it’s ultimate origin/destination is Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Both are sold as Ethiopian flight 505. Customers are free to book just the LAX-DUB leg, but they can also book the full LAX-ADD service if they wish.
What I described (without the clarification) is actually a seventh freedom flight. Consider the example given by the reader, Norwegian’s service from London Gatwick to Oakland, California (or anywhere else in the U.S. that Norwegian flies from London):
This route operates as an independent service. There is no continuation segment, so it can’t be a 5th freedom route. The planes never head back Olso as part of the flight. Technically, it might not be considered a true 7th freedom flight because it operates under a British subsidiary of Norwegian Air Shuttle. But in my book it is.
Are there any more obscure freedoms of the air?
Yes, yes there are. While I’ve now clarified the difference between a seventh and fifth freedom flight, there are also 6th, 8th, and 9th freedom flights. More on these later. They are at least as uncommon as fifth freedom flights, but they are nearly as interesting.