Star Alliance will open a new office in Singapore later this year, a pivot away from its Frankfurt base which has been a source of both progress and frustration for two decades.
Star Alliance Looks Beyond Frankfurt
Star Alliance, founded in 1997 as the first global airline alliance, operates on behalf of 26 member airlines around the world. Its goal is to provide a seamless travel experience across carriers for passengers, and to work behind the scenes to encourage cohesion and collaboration amongst the diverse group of carriers that make up the Alliance.
Frankfurt was established as one of three regional “Business Centers” in 2000 (along with Los Angeles and Bangkok), with consolidation in Europe decided after the 9/11 aviation crisis. Frankfurt, the financial capital of the European Union, was selected based on an adjacency to founding member Lufthansa who was able to offer expanded office space at Frankfurt Airport, which was rapidly developing as the largest transfer hub for the Alliance and a natural location from which to grow membership.
But as Aviation Week noted:
“There has been increasing unhappiness among member airlines about what they perceive as the organization’s slow-footed approach when it comes to innovating and pursuing new projects. Germany’s tough labor laws have also been seen as a hindrance.”
Speaking as an insider who spent a year working for the company in Frankfurt, I’d call that characterization a bit unfair. Yes, some projects did move slowly. Like all global alliances, Star Alliance operates at direction of its member airlines. The projects I worked on were controlled not by Star Alliance staff, but by the airline stakeholders. One carrier could essentially filibuster (to borrow a term from U.S. parlance) a project that involved many carriers.
And, despite challenges, Star Alliance still maintains its global lead and has been voted by best airline alliance the past four years consecutively by Skytrax.
Why Star Alliance Ruled Out Returning to Los Angeles Or Moving to London
Late last year, the Star Alliance Chief Executive Board (CEB), comprised of the CEOs of the 26 member carriers, approved a relocation of Star Alliance HQ to “future-proof” the Alliance, with London an early favorite. Star Alliance CEO Jeffrey Goh was tasked with reviewing that option, along with other suitable global cities where a member airline of the Alliance was based.
I understand that Los Angeles was carefully considered, as were Brussels, Zurich, and of course London. Over the next three months, various options were considered, with final consensus on a two-center approach – a brand-new location in Singapore, testament to its rapidly-developing Asian global innovation hub status and within the region with highest growth in aviation – and the maintenance of the existing Frankfurt center, though downscaled as the Singapore office grows.
New Star Alliance Singapore Office Will Focus on Innovation
Since 2017, Star Alliance’s strategy shifted away from one of network growth to one of digital innovation to improve the customer experience, and I outlined several projects Star Alliance launched in that sector, including:
- Seamless partner seat assignments
- Paperless, efficient crediting of miles
- Baggage tracking within your chosen carrier app.
- Online redemption for all 26 Star Alliance partners when using any Star Alliance loyalty program
Adoption across all 26 member airlines remains incomplete for some, though the loyalty projects are thankfully now seamless. Over the last 12 months, Star Alliance has pivoted its focus to a post-pandemic world, embracing a new diplomatic role in order to foster the restoration of air travel between nations, and to instill confidence amongst travelers that Star Alliance carriers are taking a serious approach to health and hygiene safety. It also implemented new initiatives, such as digitizing its hub connection service to be hands-free and launching its biometrics service that is not only a touchless application, but whose facial recognition even works with masks.
As the world emerges from the pandemic, these sorts of customer innovations will take center stage once again in proving the value of alliances, and their continuing relevance in a world of joint ventures and non-alliance partnerships. And, with airlines having shrunk their fleets and international networks, the need for close alliance cooperation on connections and codeshare will take on new relevance.
Perhaps the easiest move would simply have to been to close up all offices and work remotely. Connecting Singapore to Frankfurt to Chicago to Lisbon to Addis Ababa is now as easy as pushing a button. But Star Alliance knows business does not work that way. The pandemic has been an exile and a return to face-to-face collaboration will be an essential ingredient in Star Alliance’s new home in the city state of Singapore.
For now, the Frankfurt office will remain open, with certain competencies shifting to Singapore and others remaining in Frankfurt. A location for the new office in Singapore is still under evaluation, as is the structure of the new organization. This is certainly a new chapter and a new beginning for Star Alliance as it enters its 25th anniversary year.