Star Alliance – Silver Star
We revisit Star Alliance on its silver anniversary and look at the organisation’s trials and triumphs.
It has been just over a year since we spoke with Star Alliance, the world’s first global aviation alliance. Founded by five airlines in 1997, today the organisation consists of 26 member airlines, working together to improve passenger experiences and make seamless global travel possible.
It has not been an easy year, as Alliance CEO Jeffrey Goh points out, but it has been a year that provides many reasons for optimism.
“If we use 2020 as a reference, 2021 was equally tough in many respects,” Goh says. “But for the industry and us as the Alliance, there was greater optimism.”
With widespread vaccination and shifting restrictions around the world, estimates for how long it will take the air travel sector to recover have been revised.
“At the beginning of the pandemic there were parts of the industry talking about the recovery continuing as far as 2025, but now we believe full recovery by the end of 2023 is achievable,” says Goh.
But while conditions are improving, Goh points out that any airline company that has survived the pandemic can still consider itself fortunate.
“We survived the deepest and darkest aspects of the crisis, so it may sound flippant but that we’ve all made it through this crisis relatively intact is an achievement in itself,” Goh says.
Continuing Digital Revolution
Aside from simply surviving, Star Alliance has also continued to be at the forefront of digital improvements to passenger experiences.
“While we had greater optimism in 2021 it was still a very cautious year and capital expenditure and production capacity were realigned with that recovery, but we continued to push on with our digital program,” Goh says. “One thing we talked about last time was delivering this new normal for customers who are always connected, mobile-first, and expect information on demand. It means introducing features such as the ability to select seats through a service called Seat Selection, which we now offer through as many as 50 member carrier pairings. The ‘Digital Connections’ product, meanwhile, assists passengers with short connection timing.”
Star Alliance ensures that not only can passengers make their connections but also offers baggage tracing throughout the journey, keeping pax informed of any bag disruptions.
“We manage disruptions through our Star Connection Centres around the world,” Goh says. “We have also begun to digitalise these connection centres to put the control of the experience in the hands of customers.”
When we last talked with Star Alliance it had established Digital Connection for Singapore Airlines at London Heathrow, using innovative technology including a navigational map in the customers’ smart devices. When we speak to them today Goh is preparing to roll out the digital connection service in Frankfurt.
“It will be one of our biggest hubs, so the digital connection service will add significant value,” Goh says.
Star Alliance has rolled out its Star Alliance Biometrics technology across Frankfurt, Munich, and Vienna. Customers can enrol once and use that identity multiple times across these airports. This technology was recently introduced at Hamburg aswell.
As well as digitalisation, Star Alliance is also focusing on decarbonisation, working with its member carriers to reduce greenhouse emissions and their environmental impact.
“One of the most important initiatives under decarbonization is the use of SAF and Star Alliance is working closely with the leading manufacturers to strike synergies,” says Goh. “We call it our ‘flight path for the future’.”
That said, that flight has had some challenges to overcome.
“We set up our digital vision in 2017 on a five-year program to deliver what we planned to deliver by 2022. We are in earshot of the end of 2022 now and we won’t achieve those targets because we’ve been set back two years by Covid,” Goh admits. “We have pushed back some timelines in completing our digitalisation program. We’re optimistic that by the end of 2024 we will offer the complete raft of services on the same app no matter who you fly with.”
25 Years of Lessons
While Star Alliance has big ambitions for the future, on its 25th anniversary nobody can blame the company for reflecting on its past.
“By all industry measures we continue to be the largest such Alliance in the world, but that’s not necessarily the achievement to shout about,” Goh says. “It’s that we continue to offer a comprehensive global network that lets us take people from one end of the globe to the other. We continue to be resilient to changes in the industry.”
Over the last 25 years, the company’s strategy has evolved to reflect the needs of the industry. For the first 20 years, Star Alliance focused on membership growth, adding two or three-member airlines each year as the Alliance developed its global network.
“But in 2017 we made a decisive shift to emphasise less membership growth, focusing instead on how to make the customer journey better,” Goh recalls. “In the new digital customer era, we must present a relevant proposition to the customer and our members. We have shifted focus from membership growth as we have a strong carrier coalition. While the membership of the Alliance remains open, we have become more selective of the members that we’re bringing in, but we’re conscious we have a significant asset.”
Goh’s goal is more than just a seamless customer experience in terms of the physical act of getting on the plane.
“While delivering an experience for the customer so they don’t have to run half a mile to connect from one flight to another, we also make sure bags connect seamlessly,” Goh says. “We’ve been making sure that the transaction experience is also simple. In the digital era, we ask how we can make that experience seamless, so customers can avoid downloading 26 apps just to book a seat on a second or third flight. You should conduct the whole transaction through your app of choice.”
Star Alliance’s next 25 years will be about continuing that global network proposition, not only on the digital front but also in terms of a loyalty proposition.
“One of our key pillars is the loyalty experience for our customers. We want to provide an industry-first product,” Goh says. “We are preparing to launch an industry-leading product on the loyalty front. We feel confident we will be the first alliance to launch such an experience.”
A few years ago there were doubts about the future and relevance of alliances like Star Alliance, but the organisation has outlived those doubts and continues to be relevant to customers and members alike.
Now Star Alliance has launched a new tagline to reflect its customer experience focussed strategy, “Together. Better. Connected.”
“It encapsulates everything that Star Alliance will stand for in the years to come,” Goh says. “Not only will it cement our position as the leader, but also motivate us to innovate and deliver a better customer experience.”