Why airline alliances are good for fliers

The Star Alliance’s 15th birthday this month reminds me that a global airline alliance is one of the most fascinating concepts in the history of commercial aviation. It’s also an example of the airline industry’s creative thinking aimed at increasing revenues. However, unlike some of the questionable practices I described in “Decoding Air Travel,” this one has dramatically improved the customer experience.

It’s fascinating for me personally, because it combines my two passions and areas of expertise, international affairs and air travel. In fact, what alliance executive teams do every day is nothing short of diplomacy. International negotiations and dispute resolution are two of their specialties, and a big part of their duties is selecting new members, not unlike NATO and the European Union.

When Star was formed in 1997, the idea was not only to represent its members’ best interests — that’s primarily the job of trade associations — but to boost business by feeding passengers from one carrier to another in the smoothest possible way. Soon, airline diplomacy began in earnest — first among alliance members, which after all are rivals in a fiercely competitive industry, and then with airports, transportation authorities and governments around the world. The other two global alliances are Oneworld and SkyTeam…

American tries to entice top United fliers

American Airlines has finally decided to take advantage of the problems many United Airlines fliers have experienced since the merger with Continental Airlines was completed on March 3. In an extremely rare move, American is now offering conditions-free top-elite status match to United’s most loyal customers.

Having read and heard about many United customers’ troubles after the carrier adopted Continental’s reservations system — and having encountered some problems myself — I e-mailed American spokesman Tim Smith on March 16. Smith has been the best PR person to deal with at any airline since I started writing my column in the Washington Times in 2008. I asked him whether American had any intention of capitalizing on United customers’ dissatisfaction by stealing some of them away through a status-match offer…

India tries to blackmail Star Alliance

The Indian government is engaging in apparent blackmail of the Star Alliance, following the global airline group’s rejection of Air India’s membership application. New Delhi’s threat to take away traffic rights from Star members is about to test the diplomatic skills of both the affected carriers and the alliance leadership.

As I wrote in August, Star really, really wanted to add Air India to its network, because of the large and fast-growing Indian market. It spent more time, effort and money on helping Air India meet the membership requirements than it has with any other candidate. At the end, however, Air India’s entrenched corporate culture and internal Indian politics became unbearable, and the alliance gave up…

Air India had no chance with Star Alliance

Air India’s entrenched corporate culture and internal Indian politics cost the carrier membership in the global Star Alliance. Although Star’s leadership went out of its way to help the airline meet the group’s more than 200 requirements, it finally gave up the futile effort last week and suspended accession talks.

Not surprisingly, Air India has been trying to assign blame to anyone but itself, pointing a finger at Lufthansa and accusing it of sabotaging the Indian carrier’s potential membership. Regrettably, it appears the airline has learned little from the nearly four-year experience. It needs to do some serious soul-searching if it wants to survive…

9/23 is ‘mad as hell day’ over airline fees

Three major travel-industry organizations begin a campaign on Tuesday to compel the airlines to disclose all fees not included in the ticket price at the same time as the actual fare — and before the ticket is issued. But will such a campaign succeed?

The groups — the Business Travel Coalition (BTC), the American Society of Travel Agents and the Consumer Travel Alliance — want consumers to sign a petition to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. The text urges him “to require airlines to fully disclose their fees, whether airfares are purchased on an airline’s website or through an online or brick-and-mortar travel agency.” The organizations plan to deliver the petition to LaHood on Sept. 23, which they have designated as “Mad As Hell Day”..