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Airline Alliances, Airline Mergers, American Airlines, Avianca Airlines, Copa Airlines, European Airlines, Frequent Flyer Program, IRROPs, oneworld, Star Alliance, TACA Airines, United Airlines, US Airways

Welcome change to London Heathrow for Star Alliance Airlines Passengers

Unlike some other travel writers and air travel commentators, I’m still a big fan of airline alliances. Those are the large, multi-airline, varying degrees of cooperation, groupings of airlines, promising “seamless travel”, “earn and redeem across our network”, “global recognition”, and other buzzwordy come-ons that often fall short. But not always. Of the three big alliances, oneworld, Skyteam, and Star Alliance, the latter, Star, is my favorite. Not only nor even primarily because it is the biggest, not because it’s the oldest, but because it is by far the most integrated. They come closer to delivering more of those cloudy benefits than do the other two, in my experience as a traveler and in what I read as an analyst of the travel scene. They are definitely doing so with this move.

Artist rendition of the completed T2 LHR Star Alliance common checkin area

Artist Rendition of the completed LHR Terminal 2 Common Check-in area. Courtesy Future Travel Experience. Click the image for Ryan Ghee’s article.

Star’s “Move Under One Roof” initiative – something they all talk about, but *A (as it’s often abbreviated on sites such as Flyertalk) is doing so much more with it. This initiative in London, at London’s premier international airport, Heathrow, really outdoes everybody. Read the story from Future Travel Experience, watch the video in that link, and then read on here.

The 23 Star Alliance airlines participating in this endeavor, nearly the entire alliance, are really “walking the talk” here. This isn’t just going to be “everybody in one room”, according to the interview with *A head of customer experience Justin Erbacci, but actual common check-in, common bag-drop, common ground-handling. Your airline’s counter too crowded? You can go to another. In addition, as Erbacci points out in the video interview with FTE article author Ryan Ghee at the link, this co-location makes IRROPS (“irregular operations” AKA “you missed your flight, sucker!”) much easier to rebook, both for we the passengers and for the airlines. Everybody’s in one place. No running around the airport to another terminal to see if Air Canada actually did rebook you onto SWISS connecting in Zürich to Salzburg because your flight from Toronto in LHR got delayed and you missed your Austrian nonstop and there’s no space on the Lufthansa connection through Munich. They are on the same airport systems, and their people can actually talk to each other in person if the auto-rebooking or manual-in-computer reaccomodation didn’t work. Blew the eastbound connection to get to Singapore on Singapore? Maybe you can get on THAI via Bangkok. Much easier when the people are closer together. Also actually making that connection, you physically, and for that matter your bags, also much easier when the flights are all arriving and departing via the same terminal.

Star Alliance has their own article and set of photos at the Star Alliance website on this Terminal 2 initiative. They list the airlines who’ll be together in that same common terminal. I’ll just list the 4, out of the 26 total members, who won’t be: Adria Airways, Croatia Airlines, Shenzen Airlines, and Copa Airlines. Adria and Croatia are small carriers in Eastern Europe. Shenzen is mostly intra-China and Asia. Most don’t even fly to London directly, you would always be connecting on other *A airlines on tickets sold by them. Slovenia’s Adria says they fly to London, but only to secondary (though closer-in) airport Gatwick (LGW).  Copa currently doesn’t fly to Europe themselves, but is a very close partner with United, sharing the Mileage Plus program itself, and codesharing many flights, as I mentioned in a post about Copa and United earlier this week. So Copa passengers have their “almost home airline” there in T2 too.

Man in hardhat in the under-construction terminal pointing at diagram of the project

Courtesy Future Travel Experience Feb 13 2014 “Heathrow Airport Terminal 2 to offer unique passenger experience…” – click image for that article.

I’m not sure how they are doing the maths (plural because UK!) given the article for my main link to FTE says that 23 are in the new T2, an earlier article linked within FTE says 22, there are definitely those 4 I name that are not listed on the *A site for the T2 project, and the *A site says that there are 26 airlines in the alliance. It’s possible that “23” counts “Avianca” and “Taca” as separate airlines, although all the airlines of the AviancaTaca group now fly and sell only under the Avianca brand – despite not yet being fully merged operationally. Or, the “23” might be counting US Airways, which left *A on March 30 of this year to join oneworld the following day, as part of its merger with takeover of oneworld founding member American Airlines.

Heathrow is a perfectly fine airport for Origin/Departure. I’ve flown into it, with London as my destination, or returning to the Americas from London, several times – mostly on Star Alliance airlines. United from Washington Dulles International, from Chicago O’Hare, and back when they offered it, nonstop from Denver. Air Canada from Toronto (which is a snap for US folks to connect through internationally, and better service than USA’s United, and the slightly calmer Canada TSA and protection of your rights while undergoing US-run Customs, Immigration, and TSA procedures in Canada for your US return). Lufthansa via Frankfurt. Heathrow is great for O/D, as long as you don’t OD on the mandatory-pass-through Duty Free shopping areas. But it is the 3rd circle of Hell for connections – at least it was a few years ago, when I was making an all-Star-Alliance connection from United arriving from USA onto another *A airline to elsewhere in Europe. This new terminal fixes a lot of that.

It doesn’t fix the UK’s crazy-high airport departure taxes, especially in premium cabins (including charged for free upgrades using FF program benefits). But connecting, those aren’t charged on normal-length, don’t leave the airport, connecting flights to/from Not-the-UK.

For those who have earned “elite status” such as United Mileage Plus Premier levels; Miles & More premium levels in the Lufthansa-owned program shared by them with Austrian, SWISS, Brussels Airways, Croatia Airlines, and others; Aeroplan status from Air Canada; or status from any of the other *A programs, this makes the lounge access issue better and simpler too. They can use shared Star Alliance lounges. LHR has had a shared *A lounge a few years already; I used it back when I had top-earned-level United 1K status (ah, the good old days) and was flying in or through it on any of the Star carriers. But they weren’t all in one place. Air Canada, whom I mentioned I prefer for USA-UK, was not in that same terminal. I think I was able to use the Singapore Lounge, but you get dirty looks from them if not flying Singapore, even though *A rules say that Star Gold (usually the middle or higher level in your home airline program) members get free lounge access on departing international flights. Lufthansa isn’t always other-airline-friendly either, so having common lounges works best. The older shared Star Alliance Lounge at LHR, and the one in the TBIT (Tom Bradley International Terminal) at Los Angeles International are nice, have good food and drink selections, and are even fun in the more cosmopolitan guest mix, rather than “Mostly Canadians over in the Maple Leaf Lounge, Mostly USAians over in the United Lounge”.

Not that I’m dissing the Maple Leaf Lounges. The one at Toronto Pearson International YYZ is awesome. More than one reason why I like Air Canada rather than United on USA-to-Europe flights! Though until I regain some Star Alliance status via my new preferred *A program, Avianca LifeMiles, I won’t be using any of those lounges.


About Mark Mercer

Expat aging sometime-ski-bum former corporate tool. Currently living in the beachside aging resort town of Atlántida in Uruguay. Sometimes skiing and teaching in Breckenridge, Colorado, USA. Location and velocity cannot be simultaneously observed.


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