National carrier Air India is gearing up to join the inter-line pact Star Alliance by early next year to capture the ever increasing outbound traffic from India.
The largest inter-line pact of 28 airlines agreed Friday to restart Air India's induction process into Star Alliance more than two-years after it was suspended for various reasons like financial, labour and safety issues.
"Our priority now is to provide better connectivity and on-time service to our passengers on domestic and international routes," a senior Air India official told IANS.
"Our focus is to provide seamless travel experience to our passengers from our hub airport of New Delhi. Joining Start Alliance will add value to our services."
The airline's eagerness in joining the alliance can be seen in the light of expanding foreign passenger carrier's foothold in the Indian market.
"We are facing competition especially from the Gulf-based carriers. In this scenario providing direct flights with easy connectivity on other (Star Alliance) member's flights adds value to our products," the official, who wished to remain unidentified said.
Currently, most of the passengers on Air India's flights to US and Europe do not get connecting flights to other destinations which are farther apart.
This will change as other Star Alliance members will be able to provide single ticket travel to these destinations on their flights.
"Currently, there are no further connections to Air India passengers from Chicago or for further travel in Europe. This will change immediately after the airline joins the alliance."
Air India will thus become the only airline from India to have joined a global inter-line pact. The other two inter-line pacts being of oneworld and SkyTeam.
Industry insiders say that the exit of Jet Airways which was one of the contenders to enter the alliance ahead of Air India seems to have had a bearing on the Alliance.
Recently, Jet Airways sold a 24-percent stake to Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways. Etihad and Jet plan to code-share on each others' flights between Abu Dhabi, India and other markets in the Middle East, North America and Europe.
Etihad has also commenced major expansion of its Indian operations through its investment in Jet Airways and is exploring synergies ranging from integration of loyalty programmes, shared airport facilities, common training and deployment of joint sales forces.
Etihad plans to use Abu Dhabi as a global hub connecting international passengers and freight with flights to and from India. Apart from Etihad, the national passenger carrier has to also face tough competition from other Gulf-based carriers.
The official added that though at a very early stage, Air India is looking at joining the Alliance within early next year.
"We had earlier completed all the mandatory requirements of joining the alliance like a single-operations code. So the process should not take much longer now," the official said.
The airline had earlier completed all the pre-procedural steps like certain minimum joining requirements, which involved development and testing of information technology (IT) systems, and procedures to harmonise the products with other member airlines. Apart from operating under a single-operations code of AI.
Air India has wanted to join Star Alliance ever since it was invited in 2007 as it entails benefits such as improved product offering, better service standards, access to new markets and premium customers and partnership with leading global carriers.
The pact also entails sharing of airport lounges and synchronisation of flight schedules, which will permit seamless travel for a passenger on a single air ticket, even if it requires flying several carriers on a single journey.
It also provides a wider access of travel options, lounge access and integrated frequent flyer programmes for the travellers on the inter-line network.
Formed in 1997, Star Alliance is a consortium of 28 airlines, including Lufthansa, Air Canada, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways and Swiss, among other major airlines of the world.
Its members handle more than 21,900 daily flights to 1,328 airports in 195 countries.
Currently, Air India operates flights to 59 domestic destinations and has a network of 31 international routes with a fleet of 111, which includes Airbus A-319, A-320, A-321, A-330, Boeing 737, B-777, B-747 and B-787 Dreamliners apart from ATR-42 and CRJ aircraft.