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Air India – good for Star Alliance?

an airplane parked at an airportAs Air India progresses on its ‘final approach’ to become a member of the Star Alliance, it brings to an end (if they do actually make this July-end deadline) of the longest any airline has ever taken to join an Alliance. This long drawn out path to Allianceship, if I may, has further tarnished Air India’s already not-so-great image. I personally have mixed feelings about Air India. In full disclosure, I have only flown Air India on an international trip on one round trip between the US and India AND it was a pleasant experience. Domestic flying experience within India, in what was known as Indian Airlines, has been hit and miss, but still more hit than miss. However, what I hear of other people’s unpleasant experiences dealing with Air India makes be believe that they are not a world class organization and have much growing to do before they become one. On the other hand Air India does bring a lot to Star Alliance in terms of routes. Some of these were highlighted in The Nomad’s earlier post on Air India. This post will discuss a few others.

Domestic Routes within the Indian Subcontinent:

Air India has the largest network of routes within India and between India and the neighboring countries in and around the Sub-continent – especially Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Mauritius, etc. Once Air India joins Star Alliance, one will finally be able to earn EQM on domestic flights within India.

More non-stops to the US and Canada:

Air India recently switched all its flights to US and Canada to non-stop flights. This brings non-stop flights to India to three Star Alliance hubs in the US – Chicago (ORD), Newark (EWR) and Toronto (YYZ) – hubs for United/Continental and Air Canada. One would hope that down the road Air India will add flights to other Star Alliance hubs (IAD-DEL, one hopes). This adds to the non-stops to India already operated by United/Continental (EWR – DEL/BOM), another Star Alliance carrier.

Routes between India and Europe:

A couple of years ago I needed to fly to London (LHR) from Mumbai. The only way I could do it via Star Alliance was to fly Lufthansa (BOM-FRA-LHR), Swiss Air (BOM-ZHR-LHR) or Austrian (BOM-VIE-LHR). No direct flight. The same is true for many other major cities in Europe – Paris (CDG), Rome (FCO), Amsterdam (AMS), etc. Air India will fix that as it has non-stop flights from India to most major cities in Europe. Air India is also proposing a European hub in Milan (MXP). This will add another Star Alliance hub in South Western Europe.

Transit hub:

India has built a massive new terminal in New Delhi (DEL) and Air India has transitioned its major International routes to New Delhi. This makes New Delhi an excellent transition hub for travelers going between North American, Europe or Africa and Far East or South East Asia or even Australia. Dubai (DXB), Hong Kong (HKG) and Singapore (SIN) are currently the most popular hubs for such transits, with Emirates, Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines respectively having hubs in these cities. New Delhi with Air India will offer a great alternative with a more central location than Hong Kong or Singapore and a larger base the Emirates. Of course, of these airlines, only Singapore Airlines is in the Star Alliance, so New Delhi will be the second such Star Alliance hub.

Award Inventory:

From the perspective of someone looking to redeem miles, Air India will bring award inventory on these existing and new routes that were unavailable before, including routes that will be combination of Air India and another existing . While it will bring more customers wanting to redeem too, but for all of us already with Star Alliance miles redemption options is what we want. You will now be able to redeem on new routes such as IAD – CDG – DEL using United and Air India. ORD – DEL – BKK on Air India.

Hopefully, Star Alliance and all the world class customers it will bring to Air India will also force Air India to become a better airline. One can always hope.

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  1. Assuming Air India joins Star alliance end of July, when do you think we’ll be able to start redeeming awards on it?

  2. Ketan,

    If they become a ‘full’ Star Alliance member, then redeeming can start the day they join the Alliance. There is talk that they will miss the deadline again and come in as an ‘associate member’. Such an arrangement will certainly not include redemption. It will more likely be earning only. We can hope that they and Sita (their IT provider) get their act together and make the July-end date.


  3. Air India is not technically ready to join the Star Alliance, their financial and other systems are not yet up to scratch. Lufthansa who is the sponsor of Air India is pushing to gain access to a lucrative market (more than 1 billion people) to fill their flights going to the USA and Canada and of course Europe.
    The only problem Lufthansa’s and Air Canada’s capacity out of Frankfurt which both carriers are trying to protect is not sufficient to make a difference.

  4. Since when is Toronto in the US?? (“three Star Alliance hubs in the US – Chicago (ORD), Newark (EWR) and Toronto (YYZ)”)

    Otherwise a good analysis – I’d agree that Air India is not very mature as an organisation, but equally will provide some good earning and redemption options for Star passengers.

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