Air India’s (AI) official mascot is ‘Maharaja’ which translates to the great king/prince in English. Probably that is why Star Alliance has treated AI in a princely fashion. AI has been trying to join Star Alliance since 2007. Since then, the joining deadlines have been postponed time and again to accommodate the sluggish ‘king’. Finally, tired of the ‘lazy’ king, Star has announced a final deadline of 31July 2011.
On its website, Air India recently announced that they have met the Minimum Joining Requirements (MJR) for joining the alliance. This was mostly based on the fact that after a major delay, AI finally completed migration of their domestic (Indian Airlines (IC)) and international (Air India (AI)) operation to a single code AI. There is even a video purportedly showing that AI has started putting the Star logo on their aircraft.
However, they are pretty far from meeting all the requirements for joining. Firstly, their Frequent Flyer Program (FFP) has to be aligned with Star. Knowing AI’s knack for delay, this would take a looooong time. Secondly, AI has to implement a system to recognize Star elites. (Otherwise, AI agents may be baffled by how a gentleman can be ‘SAS’ elite :D; ‘SAS’ in India’s national language Hindi translates to mother-in-law). Thirdly, AI has to implement a system of miles redemption for Star partners. Currently, one has to go to their office to even redeem AI miles on AI flights. Though their availability is pretty good, going to their office is a major pain in the a**.
These seem petty problems; but I would be amazed if Air India actually meets the 31July deadline. Nevertheless, I hope they join Star alliance at least as an associate member and starts codeshare and reciprocal reward redemption with other Star carriers. Their non-stop flights from Chicago (ORD), New York (NYC) to India are pretty good and they have a good coverage in Indian subcontinent and SE Asia. They even have direct flights to Male (Maldives), Mauritius and Sydney, opening up a plethora of options to redeem rewards to these highly sought after award tickets.