To support the new focus and enhanced cooperation, SkyTeam is stepping-up its investment in IT and is upgrading its technology hub SkyLink to SkyLink Sprint. The alliance allows flexibility in the timing of the implementation as some members are restricted in their capital expenditure or restrained by airport capacity. “It is up to each airline to calculate the value of their transfer traffic, but with 25 million passengers interlining within SkyTeam members each year, and this number is growing rapidly to 30 million, it seems like an excellent investment.”
Other alliances have similar projects. Over the past year or so, Oneworld has rolled out what it calls Global Support centers at key alliance hubs—backroom units manned by staff from all the online carriers with the brief to iron out any snags for passengers making connections between member airline flights, often before the customer is even aware of them. Passengers with tight transfers are met at the aircraft doors to be fast-tracked to their departure gates. If an inbound flight is late, any passengers who would otherwise miss their next flight are booked onto the next available connection and met on arrival with their new boarding cards. So far, the centers have been opened at Chicago O'Hare International, Dallas/Fort Worth International, London Heathrow, Los Angeles International, Madrid-Barajas, Miami International, New York John F. Kennedy International, Sydney, Tokyo Narita International, and, most recently, at Hong Kong International. Oneworld says that besides rave reviews from customers, the centers are also saving member airlines substantial sums of money from disrupted journeys.
Star Alliance's single most important co-location project is the move into London Heathrow's Terminal 2. So far, Star Alliance carriers are spread out across much of the airport, making connections inconvenient to impossible. But the giant project will change its product offering fundamentally. Star will be able to cut the minimum connecting time in Heathrow from the current 90 min. to a much more competitive 45 min. That will lead to connecting flights via Heathrow being listed much higher in the computer reservation systems (CRS), making them more visible. “This will create huge value for us, every minute is worth a lot of money,” says Star CEO Mark Schwab. “We have very little connectivity now, because we are in three different terminals.”
With construction work to be completed in November, Schwab hopes that the first Star carriers will move to their new home in the second quarter of 2014 and all 23 will shift operations over a few months. Star is not using the terminal exclusively; unaligned Aer Lingus will also be operating out of the facility.
Virgin Atlantic also wanted to move into the rebuilt Terminal 2, but the airline is now staying in Terminal 3 and it possibly will move to Terminal 2 to join its new shareholder Delta Air Lines. Star Alliance airlines have a combined 21% share of Heathrow capacity in terms of available seat kilometers (ASK). The co-location creates 10,600 possible weakly connections and that is before schedules are optimized. If interlining with Aer Lingus is included, that number rises to 12,500.
While the Heathrow move is the biggest common infrastructure project, it is not the only one. Star is opening a new lounge at Los Angeles' Tom Bradley Terminal, which houses international departures.