CAPE TOWN: It’s hard to keep a secret when airline executives get together, and during lunch on the first day of IATA’s annual general meeting here, the word was out; 23 Star Alliance airlines now know what day they will be moving in together at the new Terminal 2 at London’s Heathrow International Airport. In preparation for an announcement by airport officials in London tomorrow (Tuesday), top Star airline bosses started a countdown to move-in day, which will occur exactly one year from today.
Granted, Star’s chief executive Mark Schwab has been talking about this since the LHR Airports Limited agreed in December that the Star carriers had met the airport’s terms and could have the space many other airlines coveted.
This is of a piece with oft touted priorities of Schwab who talks often of pooling airlines’ purchasing power through programmes like joint fuel and seat purchasing and providing a mechanism for airlines to find airplane parts in stock in other airlines’ inventory. In an interview several months ago, Schwab said, the alliance was also concentrating on the passenger experience. “How do we make sure that across this huge worldwide network it feels seamless to the customer?”
Toward that end it has opened a shared premium lounge at Tom Bradley International Terminal in Los Angeles. Star Alliance passengers on Air New Zealand, Thai Airways, Turkish and other member airlines have access to food and drinks, showers and seating for 300 first and business class passengers in a 15,000 square foot waiting area on the fifth floor of the terminal.
The Star Alliance terminal at Heathrow is the same idea on a larger scale. Some 760,000 people change from one Star airline to another at Heathrow though those airlines from Aegean to Thai and US Airways are presently spread out in Terminals 1, 3 and 4. (Aer Lingus and Virgin Atlantic neither of which are Star members will also operate out of the new terminal)
Once they re-group under one soaring roof at Terminal 2 their new proximity should substantially reduce flight transfer times from the 90 minutes required at present to 45 minutes according to Christian Klick, vice president corporate office at Star. If this makes transfer flights more appealing at what is now largely an origin and destination airport, says Klick, there could be a 30 percent increase in transfer flights.
“There is tremendous potential, if you make the distance between the airlines shorter,” says Klick.
Construction of the 2.5 billion pound terminal building began in July 2010 and it is supposed to be ready for passengers in June 2014. It was designed by Luis Vidal, the company behind Hong Kong and Beijing’s airports. If some of the estimated 30 million travellers expected to use the new terminal are relieved that the old fifties-era terminal is no more and looking forward to the new building, they should know that the executives whose airlines will be operating there are just as eager for opening day.