With state-owned airline Air India joining the largest operatingnetwork of global carriers, Star Alliance, Mint takes a closer look at the changes passengers can expect.
What are the early key changes travellers can expect?
In the next 12-18 months, by which time Air India will be fully integrated into the Star Alliance network, passengers from and into India will see the power of increased connectivity, frequent-flyer air mile swaps, and better service levels.
For instance, if you are travelling to Washington, DC, and fly Air India to London and then take another carrier to the US capital, travel could get easier once Air India gets integrated with Star Alliance, whose members connect 160 countries and operate at least 17,000 flights daily. Not only could you buy one ticket to fly both sectors, you can even swap your Air India frequent-flyer miles on the second leg of the journey on, say, Lufthansa or United Airlines. Also, you can earn miles while flying other carriers.
Air India passengers will get priority at Star Alliance member counters as well. An alliance passenger anywhere in the world will be recognized by member airlines (this will be possible when the back-end information technology systems talk to each other) and accorded priority over other passengers.
Baggage can be checked through from the port of embarkation to the last point of the journey even if it is over multiple sectors.
By when will these changes kick in?
That should be around February-March 2009.
How does an Air India passenger benefit from the bigger network of Star Alliance?
If you want to fly to Santiago in Chile on Air India, you would normally have to book a ticket to Europe and make another booking through a travel agent for a connecting flight to Santiago. But, after the alliance, the member airlines that Air India chooses to strike a code-sharing deal with will be able to offer a single booking across sectors till the last destination. This will include baggage transfers.
Can passengers transfer frequent-flyer miles earned before the integration process (with Star Alliance) is completed?
Yes. There will be no restrictions on air miles earned earlier. If you are a member of Air India’s Flying Returns programme, you will be eligible to redeem miles which have been accumulated over a certain period of time. These benefits are applicable to all international passengers travelling to India along with any other frequent-flyer programme that they may be enrolled in.
How are the miles valued when it comes to trading them on international carriers?
It’s rather complicated; those details are still to be worked out. Redemption of miles varies on various carriers. For example, if you are a member of Singapore Airlines travel mileage programme and want to fly New Delhi-Vienna and back on the Star Alliance-member Austrian, you will need to shell out 55,000 Singapore Airlines’ miles. A member of the Austrian frequent-flyer programme may need to encash 60,000 miles.
Also, every time you fly a partner airline, your miles will accumulate for that distance based on your own airline. So an Air India Flying Returns member flying to Singapore will earn the same miles as he would have on Air India.
In case of missed connections on international flights, what kind of facilities can the member carriers offer to an Air India passenger? Will there be extra charges?
Passengers may have to suffer less in such a scenario as Air India will be able to transfer them on to member airlines. In case of a missed connection, passengers will be able to use facilities provided by the member airlines such as lounge access.
Take the case of an Air India passenger between Mumbai-Frankfurt who has a connecting flight on another airline from Frankfurt. In case the Air India flight is aborted for some reason from Mumbai with the possibility of the passenger missing the connecting flight to New York, Air India will issue an endorsement on the next available flight out of Mumbai.
However, once the Star Alliance network integration is complete, Air India will have a wider choice to enable endorsement on a member carrier so you don’t miss out on the miles for that journey.
There will be no extra charges.
What about lounge access?
Lounge access will continue to be for business and first-class passengers and that will get extended further. For instance, if an Air India business or first-class passenger flies to an airport that does not have a Maharaja lounge or one that Air India does not have a partnership with, the passenger will be able to use a partner airline’s lounge—for instance, the Singapore Airlines lounge at the Changi Airport in Singapore.
Air India will also not need to operate lounges at points where it has less connectivity.
How else does an Air India passenger benefit from the bigger network of Star Alliance?
Apart from lounge access, if you are one of the top-tier frequent flyers on Air India, you can become a member of the Star Gold class, which allows exclusive access to lounges operated by Star worldwide. There are about 740 exclusive lounges for the Star Gold card members.
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