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A few days ago I clarified my mistaken characterization of what constitutes a fifth freedom flight (SEE: 5 fifth freedom routes I’m highly interested in flying), describing what a fifth freedom flight actually is (SEE: What is a fifth freedom flight?). In the process I also clarified the difference between the fifth freedom and the seventh freedom. But what are the other freedoms of the air?

There are actually a total of nine freedoms of the air. You can check them out in the manual. The first four constitute typical airline operations and really aren’t worth discussing. The one most commonly talked about is the fifth freedom, because it is more unique. But there are also sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth freedoms!

Whether these are actually “freedoms” in practice, however, is different. For example, most countries do not allow airlines to operate under the ninth freedom. The sixth through ninth freedoms are what I’m calling the “obscure freedoms of the air”, since I didn’t know they existed until a couple weeks ago. One by one, here they are:

Sixth freedom of the air

Sixth freedom flights are actually pretty basic, and really just a result of the third and fourth freedoms being in place. The sixth freedom lets airlines transport passengers between two foreign countries by stopping in their home country. It doesn’t even have to be the same service. Here’s an example:

freedoms of the air - sixth

If you want to fly from Los Angeles to Mali, you can route via Paris on Air France. It is a combination of a flight leaving a foreign country (USA) while headed to a different foreign country (Mali) but routed through the carriers home country (France). There are tons of sixth freedom routings. So…I guess it really isn’t one of the more obscure freedoms of the air.

Seventh freedom of the air

While the seventh freedom flight can be seen as a variation of the fifth freedom, it is really quite different. Unlike the fifth freedom where an airline operates an initial leg from its home country, a seventh freedom flight doesn’t touch the home country at all. It is like a fifth freedom flight that is missing its initial leg, leaving just the independent service between two foreign countries. Which makes it an entirely different animal in my mind.

These flights are pretty rare. A good example of a seventh freedom route is Norwegian’s service from Paris to Los Angeles.

freedoms of the air - seventh

You’ll see seventh freedom flights predominantly within Europe, especially among the low cost carriers. Norwegian is one of the few (maybe the only one?) that touches the U.S.

Eighth freedom of the air

The final two freedoms are exceedingly rare. The eighth freedom is the ability for planes to operate within a single country as a continuing leg of a service to or from a carrier’s home country. It’s like a fifth freedom flight, except the final leg of service is wholly within one foreign country. It’s like a carrier would be serving a final domestic leg. Qantas flight 15/11 would be an example:

freedoms of the air - eighth

Except…it actually isn’t. Passengers aren’t allowed to board the Qantas flight in NYC and fly to LAX (or vice versa) because of U.S. law. Again, this goes to show that the “freedoms of the air” aren’t really freedoms.

If you want to fly this route, you need to book a ticket from Australia through to New York City. I am 90% sure that the Brisbane equipment, a 747-400, picks up the Sydney flight number (11) and is what continues on to New York. I’m not sure how customs works, either.

I actually just flew this Qantas BNE-LAX flight, but I only vaguely remember the announcements regarding customs and something about flying to New York. Twelve and a half hours in economy will do that to you.

I cannot find a valid, real world example of an eighth freedom flight to share. If someone knows of one, please point me to it!

Ninth freedom of the air

The ninth freedom is wacky. It is essentially letting a foreign carrier provide domestic service within your country. Which seems really, really weird to me. But they do exist. Ninth freedom flights can be found within Europe, especially with budget carriers RyanAir and EasyJet. Here are a few examples:

freedoms of the air - ninth

All of these routes are intra-country, but served by either RyanAir or EasyJet, which are based in Ireland and the UK respectively.


So there they are, the last of the nine freedoms of the air. I’m excited to one day try a fifth freedom flight, and I will more than likely end up on a seventh freedom flight one of these days if Norwegian keeps up their killer fare sales. I could have ended up on a ninth freedom fight last summer in Europe…except that I flew Rome to Dublin, which is where RyanAir is based.

Flight path images courtesy of the great circle mapper

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