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star alliance: Win win for flyers: ‘Started talks with Tatas to make the most of Air India’s Star Alliance membership’

NEW DELHI: A change of ownership from government to the Tatas may finally see Air India — and its passengers — reap the benefits of joining the world’s largest airline grouping, Star Alliance. While the Maharaja was accepted for membership in 2007, it could join after completing the required system integration with other members in 2014. But a poor onboard experience and punctuality meant the state-owned airline could not make the most in terms of getting more passengers — and increased revenues — on routes served by it as an alliance member. The Tatas clearly want to change that.
“We have spoken (with the Tatas) about the change of ownership. We are in conversation on how Star Alliance can bring back the value to AI. As new owners, they want to understand how they can be better players within the alliance. We are sharing with them experiences from the alliance,” Star Alliance chief executive Jeffrey Goh told TOI from Singapore.
Star Alliance had worked closely with AI on a customer service improvement plan in 2015. “There is a still lot that can still be learned from that. This is where we are having conversations to revisit some of the work at every touchpoint — from online/airport check-in, baggage check-in, lounge, boarding, onboard experience that includes food & beverage and inflight entertainment, disembarkation, connections — we did in 2015,” he said. Many of these improvements required investment in people and products — case in point, dysfunctional back-of-the-seat IFE screens — that state-owned AI did not have.
Star Alliance is keen that AI enhances its partnership with member airlines. For instance, there is huge traffic between India and the US, Canada and Australia via Singapore. United, Air Canada and Singapore Airlines are member airlines. “AI can do a lot more in terms of capitalising on opportunities here,” he said. Asked what incremental revenue can AI expect through greater synergy with member airlines of countries with a lot of passenger movement to and from India, Goh did not give a number but said “we are not talking of a small change.”
Star Alliance says it is not restricted to just one airline member in India and can explore having other airline/s on board. “We have not done that so far as we feel the opportunity with AI is substantial that needs to be executed. Also, the industry is recovering from the pandemic and it is rediscovering itself.”
Star member airlines are also hoping that an improved AI will be a win-win for all. A senior official of a leading member airline said: “Geographically speaking, India is very strategically placed. We can bring passengers to India and from here they can take connecting AI flights to, say, Australia. Like Star Alliance, we are also very keen to begin a dialogue with the Tatas for increased cooperation and commercial engagement.”
“AI is a very valuable member of Star Alliance, providing great connectivity for our members within India and beyond. There is lot of optimism about AI getting privatised as we will see more investment in the airline by the new owners, the Tatas. This will allow AI to upgrade and enhance its products and services. They will also be able to explore more commercial partnerships (with other members),” Jeffrey Goh said.
Star Alliance was founded in 1997 and will be completing 25 years. “We have come a long way. We started with five members and today have 26 members (peaked at 28 but two went bankrupt). Star is the largest airline alliance in the world. Going into the next 25 years, we are very focused on the customer experience. Our focus has been on ensuring a seamless experience for customers. Now we are aiming a transactional digital experience like the ability to select a seat on the second airline by staying on the same app or website. We want passengers to have control of their experience through digital technology. That’s the narrative for us for the next 25 years,” Goh said.

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