Non-aligned airlines maneuvered to form their own partnerships. Swissair and Sabena built a network around the Qualiflyer program and Air France and Delta Air Lines announced a partnership that would grow into the SkyTeam alliance. Northwest and KLM, which had begun cooperating with Continental in 1998, did not immediately reorganize their tripartite relationship into a third, competing alliance; however, industry analysts widely expected the move would come in 1999. Indeed, in the spring of that year, leaders of the labor unions representing the airlines' pilots met to coordinate negotiations. KLM had merged its cargo operations with those of Alitalia, and with Northwest extended its partnership to Alitalia effective November 1, 1999. In December, Continental received regulatory approval to partner with Alitalia, bringing membership of the nascent alliance to four.
Numerous disputes would prevent Wings from ever taking flight, however. As part of their partnership, Northwest had taken a stake in Continental, raising the hackles of antitrust regulators in the United States Department of Justice. Across the Atlantic KLM came to blows with Alitalia over access to the new Malpensa International Airport serving Milan. KLM had contributed some $95 million to the construction of the replacement for overcrowded Linate Airport, but the Italian government used the project to shore up Alitalia at foreign carriers' expense, by barring them from flying into the much more convenient Linate. Alitalia left to join SkyTeam, while KLM dallied with a potential merger with British Airways, a Oneworld carrier. Finally, the European Commission began its own antitrust investigation into the relationship between KLM and Northwest.
The EC investigation closed its investigation in late July 2002, but momentum for forming a true alliance had been lost. The members of would-be Wings focused on bilateral agreements with smaller carriers instead. In 2003 KLM began negotiations to merge with SkyTeam carrier Air France, which was concluded in early 2004, while Continental Airlines and Northwest began negotiating their own entry. KLM, Northwest, and Continental formally joined SkyTeam in September 2004, rendering the Wings alliance officially defunct.