Air India Back on Track to Join Star Alliance

Ben Mutzabaugh reports that Air India is again on track to join the Star Alliance.

Air India had been invited to become a member of Star at the end of 2007 (rumored as far back as 2006), in a process that generally takes 18 to 24 months.

After a series of delays, supposedly they were ready in May 2011.

But in July 2011, however, Star gave up on the project and walked away. Air India was too much of a basket case, taking too long to meet entrance standards, including in IT (at the time they hadn’t managed to successfully integrate with Indian Airlines, which they had acquired).

Star wanted to take a stab at having Jet Airways join, but the Indian government balked. Etihad has since taken an equity stake. (Kingfisher was supposed to become a member of oneworld before it imploded.)

Given the work that was done with previous attempts to integrate with Star, there is some hope that things could go faster this time.

India is a huge up and coming aviation market. There’s not yet an Indian carrier that’s a part of an international alliance (the Jet Airways equity deal with Etihad notwithstanding). So there’s a clear desire on the part of an alliance to get a foothold into the country.

Air India has daily service New York JFK – Delhi and Newark – Mumbai. It’s not at all obvious to me how the split operations in New York can make sense, and joining Star would seem to support increased Newark service.

They also service Chicago – Delhi daily. They also operate three-class aircraft, and while their reputation is far from stellar that could make them a highly desirable award redemption partner… not to mention the ability to include intra-Indian flights into awards, thus traveling beyond major gateway cities on a single ticket.

Connecting in India is far from seamless, however, as international and domestic terminals aren’t generally connected. Visas are also cumbersome to obtain (always request one for as long as possible, to avoid the headache of having to re-apply) although there are murmerings of attempts to make the process easier.

Now if only United MileagePlus awards on partners weren’t getting so darned expensive.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Re: split operations — AI has historically flown to JFK but they’ve had trouble getting the slots they wanted, ending with planes sitting for a while, hence the move to YYZ for a while before settling on EWR. There’s also a large Indian population in New Jersey that may warrant operations at EWR.

    AI used to fly JFK-LHR-India, which would have been interesting to keep if they join *A because it would be the only *A flight between JFK and LHR.

  2. @Amol – I guess I was suggesting – though not clearly – that joining Star could warrant a shift to Newark. They do have rights to JFK-London (and oddly, codeshare with Kuwaiti’s JFK-LHR flight), but I’m not sure whether that flight would make much sense to re-start given that it was a money loser before and Star won’t get them feed at JFK.

  3. They even had a JFK_IAD segment as the plane was sitting around in JFK, but that lost money too.
    Maybe they should join Skyteam?

  4. The split operations between JFK and EWR cater to sort of different markets. Lots of the ethnic Indian community in NJ and into PA are loathe to fly out of JFK instead of EWR. And the wealthier Indian community east of Manhattan didn’t like flying in and out of EWR although with the non-stops to India, that sort of changed.

    Flights on AI out of JFK and EWR were not heavily reliant upon feed from other airports, as connecting at NYC airports onto AI flights has been perceived as something of a mess over the many years before there was non-stop US-India service and the ethnic Indian community in the Tristate area was large enough to sort of justify both. High fuel prices have sort of changed that equation, especially for ultra-long-haul flights.

  5. Connecting international-to-domestic in DEL on my last dozens of flights has been pretty good compared to connecting international-to-domestic at JFK/ORD/EWR/IAD. It is just that you have to choose your carriers properly.

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