Air India Star Alliance Membership Possible

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Like the storyline of any great Bollywood romance, the flirtation between Air India and Star Alliance has been a rocky road beset with obstacles and high drama. Back in December 2007, Star Alliance and Air India discussed the subcontinent’s largest airline joining, but the process was put on hold in July 2011 because Air India just couldn’t seem to get its act together.

Could we be seeing Air India's tail joining the Star Alliance roster soon?
Could we be seeing Air India’s tail joining the Star Alliance roster soon?

However, on Friday, Star Alliance issued a release stating that the integration process of the airline into the alliance was restarting. In the statement, Star Alliance CEO Mark Schwab said, “Star Alliance has long held the opinion that India is such an important aviation market that it should be fully represented in the Alliance. However the level of change in the domestic market in recent years did not make it easy for an airline to become an alliance member.”

That’s quite a diplomatic way of framing Air India’s struggles with service levels – both on the regional/domestic scale as well as widespread reports of spotty service on its long-haul international routes. However, according to Schwab, “The market in India is now showing signs of stabilisation. Today we see an Air India which has successfully completed its merger with Indian Airlines and is building up a new fleet that forms the basis for a much improved level of service. This is why we believe the time is now right to recommence the integration process.”

The release was scant on details and there’s no mention of a timetable, but it seems like we should see some progress in the new year if they’re really serious about it.

Star Alliance has had a pretty dynamic year what with the official entrance of EVA Airways out of Taiwan (which I flew on my trip to the Maldives) and now the impending exit of US Airways as it prepares to merge with American Airlines. But this could be a bigger deal than both since India is such a potentially huge market and this would open up a lot of new routes not only there but across Air India’s global network to Star Alliance flyers, a real coup since neither Air India or the country’s other major carrier Jet Airways, is currently part of an alliance.

Boarding my Air India flight in Male.
Boarding my Air India flight in Male.

I recently flew the airline myself from the Maldives to Goa via Bangalore and had an unexpectedly good experience. Though the planes I was on were old, the in-flight product was decent. Where the experience broke down a bit was in the airports. First, my original flight was canceled well in advance of departure and I received an email from the company’s Maldives manager that I had automatically been rebooked.

It was strange I had to walk to the administrative office to pay for my upgrade.
It was strange I had to walk to the administrative office to pay for my upgrade.

Then when my friend and I got to the airport, I found I could upgrade from coach to business class for $150, so I decided to do it – only they tried to get me to pay cash at the counter and claimed the credit card machine there didn’t work, so instead I had to walk all the way back through the airport to Air India’s administrative office to pay there, which made it all a bit strange.

The ground experience in Bangalore was also a complete mess, but I did eventually get to Goa safely and the flights themselves were good so stay tuned for my full report.

Business class was old-school but decent.
Business class was old-school but decent.

While it’s clear Air India still has quite a ways to go, I’d be interested to fly one of the airline’s long-hauls once it joins Star Alliance and when I do go back to India (since I really just scratched the surface on this past trip) it’ll be nice to know that I can earn Star Alliance miles while flying around the country.

Hat tip: Today in the Sky.

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