Continental joins Star Alliance, but Air India waits on tarmac

By Mahesh Daga, IANS,

Newark (New Jersey) : US carrier Continental Airline has become the 25th member of Star Alliance even as Air India continues its struggle to put its systems in order to join the world’s oldest, largest and most comprehensive interline pact.

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The formal induction of the US carrier was announced at a ceremony at the swanky Newark Liberty International Airport here Tuesday, attended by the top brass of all the member 25 carriers, besides Air India.

With the formal induction of the new member, the Star Alliance network will operate more than 19,500 flights every day from as many as 1,071 airports in 171 countries.

The main rivals of Star Alliance are OneWorld, led by American Airlines and British Airways, and the SkyTeam, led by Air France-KLM and Delta Air Lines. Prior to joining the Star Alliance, Continental was a member carrier of the Sky Team.

Air India has been wanting to join Star Alliance as it entails numerous benefits such as improved product offering, better service standards, access to new markets and premium customers, and partnership with leading global carriers, resulting in enhanced revenues.

This apart, the Flying Returns scheme of Air India would also be integrated with the frequent flier programmes of other members, where miles earned on one carrier can be redeemed with any of the other member airlines.

The pact will entail the sharing of airport lounges and synchronisation of flight schedules, which will permit seamless travel on a single air ticket, even if it requires flying several carriers on a single journey, the officials added.

One of the main reasons for the delay in Air India’s induction is the reservation and other systems of the erstwhile domestic carrier Indian Airlines are yet be integrated with those of Air India, following their merger few years ago.

“We have taken longer than others in joining the Star network but there are good reasons for the delay,” said Shirin Lalwani, executive director of Air India, who represented the carrier at the ceremony.

“But we are working very hard to meet the minimum requirements and hope to complete the process by the second half of next year,” Lalwani told IANS. Air India was invited to join the Star Alliance as far back as December 2007.

Lalwani described information technology as the biggest stumbling block in the formal induction. “While we will have completed the non-IT requirements by the end of this year, the technological integration could take at least another nine months.”

Star Alliance chief executive Jaan Albrecht emphasised on the strategic importance of global partnerships in an industry where balance sheets have been under pressures and profit margins eroding.

“No individual company will alone be able to serve the global traveller in the desired way. This alliance brings together the cultures and flavours of the world in a unique way,” he said.

Continental’s transition to Star Alliance will offer its customers the “broadest global access and greatest choice of service”, said Glenn Tilton, chairman and chief executive United Airlines, the world’s 3rd largest carrier and a key member of the alliance with German carrier Lufthansa.

The outgoing chief executive of Continental Airlines Larry Kellner described the formal induction as “one of the most strategic moves” of his career at the airline.