Chinese carriers join Star Alliance

13 Dec 2007 by Tom Otley

Two of mainland China’s main carriers, Air China and Shanghai Airlines, have officially joined Star Alliance.

Business Traveller attended the ceremony in T3 at Beijing airport and later the official signing ceremony at the Hall of the People. This latest expansion increases the number of members in Star Alliance to 19 airlines serving 160 countries and 897 destinations. At both Beijing and Shanghai, all Star carriers will be accommodated under one roof. In Beijing the airlines will be consolidated in Terminal 3 in the first quarter of 2008, while in Shanghai the amalgamation will be completed later in the year at Terminal 2.

Jaan Albrecht, CEO of Star Alliance, stressed that both Shanghai Airlines and Air China had achieved the 57 joining criteria for membership of Star Alliance. These criteria are never published but are known to include areas such as safety, frequent-flyer programmes, service standards and data links. One benefit much quoted is the ability to through-check baggage when travelling with a combination of carriers belonging to the Star Alliance. But this facility isn’t available when transiting London Heathrow with UK member Bmi if you are travelling with separate tickets (which travellers often buy to save on the cost of a through ticket).

Speaking to Business Traveller, Albrecht said this was a new model for Star where passengers could choose whether to pay more to through-check baggage or less for a “low cost” ticket without this option. This is certainly a new development, and Albrecht would not be drawn on to whether it was a happy one, although he did say that it is not a unique phenomenon and may be seen elsewhere such as the US and Asia, where Star members face cost pressures.

Future growth of Star Alliance is expected in 2008 with Albrecht confirming that Turkish Airlines is on track to join in the first quarter of that year followed by Egypt Air in the summer to coincide with the opening of T3 in Cairo. Future expansion will focus on India, Russia and South America. Following the reorganisation at Varig, Albrecht said that discussions were ongoing with TAM in Brazil.

In other news from the event:

* It was announced that Air India will become a future member. Vasudevan Thulasidas, chairman and managing director of Air India, said: “Air India is delighted in being invited to join Star Alliance. This invitation comes in the wake of Air India’s merger with India’s leading domestic carrier Indian Airlines, thus making Air India the prime player in the Indian subcontinent. In addition, the recently announced fleet expansion of over 100 aircraft will help Air India serve the travelling public better in terms of global reach and services.”

Given the airline’s size and complexity, it could be at least two years before Air India becomes a fully-fledged member. And this will explain Air India’s decision (reported in The Times of India) to establish a European hub in Munich, which is a major airport patronised by fellow Star member Lufthansa.

* Sir Michael Bishop of Bmi told Business Traveller that he wanted to focus on medium-haul operations following the acquisition of Bmed, with new routes to Tel Aviv and Saudi Arabia starting in March. He also indicated that an announcement on new planes to support this medium-haul expansion would be made shortly after Christmas.

* Chew Choon Seng, CEO of Singapore Airlines, was asked by Business Traveller about the carrier’s plans to fly to the US from London. He said that while SIA had traffic rights, and he was keen to exercise them, the current price tag of £30m for a pair of slots was too high.

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Report by Julian Gregory

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