There’s a digital outlook as Star Alliance brings a new smile to its connecting partner model, Oneworld closes in on new connect members, but SkyTeam keeps a focus on technology

There are always some key developments revealed at the International Air Transport Association (IATA) AGM from the global airline alliances that are particularly relevant to corporate travellers and this year’s event in Seoul, South Korea was no different.

The big news from Star Alliance was approval during the chief executive board meeting on the sidelines of the AGM for Thai Smile Airways, a subsidiary of existing member Thai Airways International, to become part of the alliance’s Connecting Partner model. It is only the second member of the platform that allows the alliance to close network gaps that may exist on a regional basis.

The Connecting Partner model was established by Star Alliance in Jun-2016 to complement its main partnership model. Since Juneyao Airlines entered the alliance in 2017, its CEO Jeffrey Goh explains that Star has been working to understand the model and how it best works for the grouping and its airline partners.

The alliance has been “focusing on subsidiaries of partners” to grow its Connecting Partner model, according to Mr Goh. He explains that an industry trend of airlines launching new production platforms had seen former customers that used to be part of the Star Alliance network now operating with non-aligned subsidiaries. “We are looking to recapture and bring back customers into the Star network and allow them the enjoy the benefits”, he says.

He anticipates Thai Smile to fulfil all entry requirements to become a Connecting Partner member over the next six to seven months and “by the end of the year that process should complete”. He adds: “We are convinced in dollar value and customer experience there is value to have them as a Star connecting partner.” The airline will add 11 new destinations to the Star Alliance network.

The alliance is making progress with its ongoing digital transformation. “We have been making steady progress. There is always a wish to have things move a little more quickly. In this industry we want everything yesterday,” says Mr Goh.

Star is currently on a journey to digitalise its connection service after the successful roll out of a proof of the concept. “We think this is going to be important as we look to enhance the customer journey and continue our efforts to digitalisation,” says Mr Goh. Following the successful expansion of the concept in 2018, the Star Alliance board approved adding passenger assistance to the existing baggage expedite at London Heathrow Airport and New York Newark Liberty International Airport, as well as the introduction to this service at Brussels in 2019.

The alliance is also progressing with work to bring its members closer via unified digital platforms. Air New Zealand customers can now select seats on Singapore Airlines, adding to United Airlines’ customers options on Singapore Airlines and Air Canada. “Progressively we are rolling out the option for customers on non-carrier journeys to have advanced seat selection”, explains Mr Goh. Star is also working on extending this option allowing for passengers to pay for preferred seats.

Meanwhile, oneworld revealed it is close to finalising the location for the first oneworld developed, branded and managed lounge, with talks said to be progressing with several candidate airports around the world. The grouping will see Royal Air Maroc become its first full member recruit for six years in 1H2020 and discussions are at an advanced stage with a number of airlines from several global regions interested in signing as oneworld connect partners. This comes less than six months after Fiji Airways became the debut airline to operate via the new membership platform.

Like Star, the alliance is “rapidly moving ahead with its digital revolution”, with more member airlines linking up its new digital platform and more capabilities being added. It says more than eight million passengers p/a make journeys that involve connections between different oneworld member airlines, generating interline revenues of more than USD5.5 billion “in the past year alone”.

The platform is intended to make it more efficient for travellers to access it 1,100 destination global network with a promise of seamless connectivity for passengers flying on multi-sector, multi-airline journeys, simply by using their preferred member airline’s mobile app or website. Cathay Pacific and Qatar Airways were the first oneworld members to connect up in this way in Jan-2019.

Other developments sees oneworld now offering the capability of delivering information and updates on passengers’ connecting flights, with Qantas the first oneworld member to deliver flight status information to its oneworld partners this way. Meanwhile, Finnair will very soon enable the other connected airlines to provide customers with connections to or from its own flights to receive e-boarding passes via the Cathay Pacific, Qatar Airways or Iberia app or website;

Another will see Iberia will offer its customers the capability to check in and receive boarding passes for connecting flights on the other airlines already linked to the platform, Cathay Pacific or Qatar Airways. The latter will now both also allow their customers to check in and receive boarding passes for connecting flights on Iberia.

At SkyTeam, now a year into her tenure as CEO and managing director, Kristin Colvile confirmed that the alliance is not recruiting for new members and is focusing on technology enhancements. Ms Colvile says she has worked on restructuring the alliance over the past year and the new structure includes sourcing a chairman from member airlines on a two year rotation. As such SkyTeam says it has appointed Korean Air CEO Walter Cho as chairman of its alliance board on 01-Jun-2019 for the initial two year period.