Air India was invited to join Star Alliance in 2007. Joining an alliance generally takes about 2 years. Air India couldn’t get their service and IT systems in order to meet base level standards of the alliance, and their invitation was suspended in 2011.
Alliances have wide-ranging requirements to ensure that the reputation of its members reflects well across the rest of airlines that are a part of the alliance. There are safety rules, minimum service standards, and a huge need for integrating IT systems. And these are extensively audited as a part of the joining process.
There’s huge potential gain, but joining an alliance entails a cost to meet these standards — and though readers will no doubt offer counterexamples it requires building a culture that matches first world expectations (insert United Airlines joke here).
Air India is back, and expected to join Star Alliance July 11. Star was backed into Air India as their only choice in this huge market.
As Air India’s original application to join Star crumbled, the alliance began talks with Jet Airways to become India’s Star Alliance member. At the time the Indian government made clear that they wouldn’t permit Jet to join an alliance until Air India did. (Kingfisher was slated to join oneworld, which is led by American Airlines and British Airways, but went bankrupt before they could do so.)
The Indian domestic market is brutally competitive and loss-making. The government requires an airline to fly domestic only for 5 years before being permitted any international routes. So they burn cash trying to make it to 5 years, where they can get on the other side of that rule and become relatively protected from competition.
Flying international is one thing. Being international is something else. The Times of India carries one big change on the horizon for Air India:
Will Air India’s entry into Star Alliance from July 11 finally achieve the impossible: Clamp the brakes on free upgrades that netas, babus, other influential people and their kin have enjoyed for years by buying the cheapest economy tickets but getting ‘bumped’ up to business or first class? Or check the age-old practice of AI employees filling up these seats?
…Now who actually enjoys these benefits — premium full-paying passengers of Star and AI or the used-to-freebies politicians, bureaucrats, the well-connected and their kin or maids — has become a million-dollar question. Almost every day, the aviation ministry gets dozens of letters from everyone who is a someone to get upgraded on AI flights. “All aviation ministers have routinely obliged fellow politicos and the ministry’s bureaucrats have similarly helped fellow babus and their families. Our own staff feels belittled if not accommodated in the premium classes — a section of pilots went on strike on this issue! This needs to be checked now,” said a well-meaning official who has long frowned at these practices but was so far helpless due to reckless ministry interference in all governments till UPA-II. Whether NDA-II proves to be different remains to be seen.
Ultimately an interesting story developing here about the effect of international institutions on local culture. Of oourse it isn’t as simple as one or the other winning out, Thai Airways for instance is far more professionalized for being a member of Star but is run very politically and vcaters to the whims of the political and military classes.