Windhoek-Star Alliance returned to Frankfurt, the place of its birth, to celebrate 20 years of ‘Connecting People and Cultures’. For the next decade, the Alliance announced a strategy of harnessing digital technology to further enhance the travel experience of Alliance customers.
The Alliance’s Chief Executive Board, comprising the CEOs of all 28 member airlines, held its summer board meeting in Frankfurt on May 14, during which the CEOs were briefed on the progress of the Alliance’s current business plan and future strategy. The meeting fell exactly 20 years to the day when its founder members – Air Canada, Lufthansa, Scandinavian Airlines, THAI and United – first stunned the aviation industry with the announcement that they would come together to form the world`s first global aviation alliance.
“Our founding fathers had a very forward thinking vision back in 1997,” said Jeffrey Goh, who took over as CEO of Star Alliance in January this year. “From that moment on Star Alliance was destined to drive innovation in the airline industry. We have done this successfully for the last 20 years, constantly striving to meet that original vision of a global network seamlessly integrated for international travel.” The Alliance enters its third decade with a strong and comprehensive network serving over 1300 destinations in 191 countries.
Connectivity continues to expand by member carriers launching new routes and increasing frequencies, while network reach will grow through the addition of local and regional airlines through the Connecting Partner concept.
Against this background, the Alliance’s clear strategic focus has shifted from network expansion, to providing a seamless experience especially to the over 14 million annual customers who connect between member carriers on their journeys. Going forward, digital technologies will lie at the heart of this strategy.
“Access to instant information updates online from more or less anywhere has irrevocably changed the expectations of customers as they travel,” said Pedro Heilbron, CEO of Copa Airlines and current chairman of the Star Alliance Chief Executive Board. “Passengers want to have control over their journey at their fingertips. That means having full access to a wealth of information, but also being able to personalise it to their own particular requirements. Providing such services to today’s ‘digital’ traveller on an alliance level is the central pillar of our new strategic focus.”
The IT hub infrastructure, which the Alliance has put in place in recent years, has allowed for the better integration of back-end services between the member airlines. With this now in place, we can start building and offering digital applications.
The new IT hub infrastructure has already enabled the Alliance to, for example, improve the reliability of such processes as through-check in for multi-carrier itineraries or ensuring fast crediting of accrued frequent flyer miles into the correct customer account.
In another Alliance first, in the unlikely case of missing miles, members in any Star Alliance frequent flyer programme (FFP) can now claim these online, through their own FFP website, even when the miles were collected on another Star Alliance member carrier flight.
The baggage hub, the most recent IT hub project, went live at the end of 2016, and facilitates baggage message transfer between the member airlines, their ground handlers and the baggage handling systems at the airports. Today it processes on average five million baggage messages a day. This allows the airlines to better steer baggage operations and to keep customers informed on the status of their bag. Once implemented across the entire network, it will become easier to give customers proactive updates on their baggage delivery status.
Using the existing IT Hub, Star Alliance has now introduced a new functionality which allows front line employees to better assist customers in case of irregularities. Should their feeder flight be delayed, the connecting boarding pass information can now be access by the airline operating the feeder flight, thus enabling a faster and simpler rebooking process. Up to now, such transactions at times still required calling the other airline involved.
“Our strategy is to develop digital capabilities centrally, which can then be used by our member carriers to enhance their own products, so that they can offer extended care to their regular customers even when they are travelling elsewhere on the network”, said Jeffrey Goh. “Over the next few years we will be launching many such enhancements. Individually, these will offer an incremental improvement. Taken together, they will offer customers a completely new level of information and control of their journey.”
To support the implementation of the new strategy, Star Alliance has restructured its Frankfurt-based headquarters operation and re-organised the Alliance’s management team, which now is made up of Janice Antonson, vice president commercial and communications, Christian Draeger, vice president customer experience, Dr Martin Mueller, director finance and strategy and Alska Scherer, general counsel & director human resources.