Star Alliance Turns 20, Puts Focus On Digital Tech

Open Jaw

Star Alliance returned to Frankfurt, the place of its birth, to celebrate 20 years of "Connecting People and Cultures." The first-ever global airline alliance – of which Air Canada was a founding member – also announced a go-forward strategy of harnessing digital technology to enhance the passenger experience.

The Alliance's Chief Executive Board, comprising the CEOs of all 28 member airlines, held its summer board meeting in FRA on 14MAY. The meeting fell exactly 20 years to the day when founder members – AC, LH, SK, TG and UA – first stunned the aviation industry with the announcement that they would come together as a group. 

"Our founding fathers had a very forward-thinking vision back in 1997," said Jeffrey Goh, who took over as CEO of Star Alliance in JAN. "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 network serving over 1,300 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 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. The alliance says 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 personalize 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." 

Star Alliance says the IT hub infrastructure it has put in place in recent years has allowed for better integration of back-end services between 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."

The baggage hub, Star Alliance's most recent IT hub project, went live at the end of 2016, and facilitates baggage message transfer between member airlines, their ground handlers and the baggage handling systems at the airports.

Today it processes five million baggage messages on average per 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 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 accessed by the airline operating the feeder flight, thus enabling a faster and simpler rebooking process. Up to now, such transactions often 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 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."

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