Have you ever wondered what involvement the airline alliance has in the design language adopted by their airlines? With the rise the alliance-friendly terminal, such as Heathrow’s Terminal 2, we talk to Julie Murphy, Star Alliance’s Chair in the UK about design and customer experience.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, can you tell us a little bit about your past in the aviation industry?
I am currently Country Sales Manager, UK & Ireland for All Nippon Airways (ANA) and have recently taken on the role of Star Alliance Chair in the UK. Since joining ANA in 1997, I have worked with my team to aid the significant growth of the company, which today is rated as one of the top five airlines worldwide.
I have many years of global airline industry expertise and during my time at the airline we have helped ANA to successfully increase its customer loyalty whilst simultaneously expanding its consumer base. As an airline, we have also worked hard to foster a culture of excellent customer service within the company.
The world’s largest alliance, Star Alliance, has a vital role to play in serving airline customers across the UK. At London Heathrow we offer the most modern terminal facilities of any airport in Europe. And this year is special as it’s the 20th anniversary of Star Alliance – underpinning the depth and maturity of the service it brings to its 28 member carriers and 14 million annual customers worldwide.
What are your inspirations outside of the aviation industry?
People and the new things they can bring and teach you. I always like to draw inspiration from this and it helps keep me focused on what’s important. I have been the full-time carer for my adult sister with learning disabilities since our mother died in 2005 and I draw huge inspiration from the people and carers in her community, their hard work and support for each other helps me to (I hope) keep my feet firmly on the ground.
As most of our readers know, we are huge fans of Heathrow’s Terminal 2. But is it the first true Star Alliance hub?
Heathrow Terminal 2 – the Queen’s Terminal is the first purpose built terminal in which Star Alliance played an active role to ensure that the facility would meet the alliance requirements and deliver for our customers. Together with Heathrow Airport and our member airlines, we worked to plan the new terminal. Our customers love it – we are receiving so much positive feedback about the facilities we offer and the ease of use.
What benefits has it brought passengers asides from the obvious connection possibilities?
The result is a far superior travel experience for all travellers. Terminal 2 offers the best possible customer experience with cutting-edge technology, an efficient and excellent design, and faster routes through check-in and security on departure, and through border control on arrival.
Enhanced technology and automation means they have access to self-service kiosks and fast bag drop offering more control over their journey – or full service check-in desks if they prefer a more personal touch.
A hugely important factor is that the minimum connection time between flights (previously spread across multiple terminals) has been reduced, improving overall journey times.
Our Premium customers – those travelling in first class and business class or who have earned Star Alliance Gold status – can now choose between four superb lounges: Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge, Lufthansa Lounge, Singapore Airlines SilverKris Lounge and United Club Lounge – all are available to Premium passengers regardless of which Star Alliance airline they are travelling with.
It’s interesting you talk about these lounges, as any passenger on any Star Alliance flight can use any Star Alliance lounge. Would it have been more sensible to make one larger, more impressive lounge space, or is it important for Airlines to have their own branded space.
For Heathrow, Air Canada, Lufthansa, United and Singapore Airlines decided that they each wanted to operate their own lounge product. This is because in some cases airlines allow lounge access to customers beyond the Star Alliance lounge access rules. For example, Lufthansa Business Class lounge offers access to Miles&More Frequent Travellers.
These lounges offer access to all eligible Star Alliance customers and are also spread across Terminals 2A and 2B, offering customers shorter walking distances from lounge to gates.
We do currently offer Star Alliance branded lounges at six airports across the globe – Buenos Aires, Los Angeles (Tom Bradley International Terminal), Tokyo Nagoya, Paris (CDG T1), Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. At these airports/terminals, operating a joint Star Alliance lounge allows our member carriers to offer their customers a superior lounge compared to offering a single carrier lounge product.
We are starting to see airlines offer similar hard products on aircraft, especially in business class, and some of your airlines, such as TAP, THAI, Brussels, Austrian and Asiana all sporting the same hard product. Is there any input from Star Alliance when it comes to forming airline product, either in the air or on the ground?
Star Alliance focuses on improving the traveller’s experience on the ground. A good example of this is Terminal 2 at Heathrow. As for on-board, this is an area delivered by our member airlines.
What design language does Star Alliance employ? How do we see this as a passenger?
Star Alliance focusses on the high-value international traveller core audience.It’s design language is thus geared to this specific audience. The Star Alliance network brand idea is: “Recognised anywhere on Earth.”
Our member airlines are the brands of choice. We enable rewarding encounters, going above and beyond for our most loyal customers. Together, we collaborate to connect people physically, emotionally and socially anywhere on Earth.
At the core of any brand are its brand values; what it stands for, summed up in a few key words. As a brand evolves, these values may change. At present, the brand values that most embody the essence of the Star Alliance network are: a global network, an international group, trusted carriers, fast connections, excellent safety record and valuable rewards.
As a passenger this is most visible in the airport environment. Where our corporate visual identity – both look and feel – has to stand out in a very ‘Busy’ and varied design arena. The Star Alliance branded Lounges and our Gold Track signage are excellent examples of this such as the Star Alliance Lounge in LAX (Above) and Tokyo Narita (below).
What are the plans for the future at Star Alliance?
Our focus is to broaden the Alliance into new geographical areas, working with unaligned airlines to connect their existing capacity with our network. Russia is an obvious gap and, whilst we don’t have any current plans, it’s definitely a market we are watching closely.
Connectivity continues to expand by member carriers launching new routes and increasing frequencies, while network reach will grow by adding local and regional airlines through the Connecting Partner concept.
Against this background, the Alliance’s clear strategic focus has shifted from network expansion, to providing a seamless experience especially to the over 14 million annual customers who connect between member carriers on their journeys. Going forward, digital technologies will lie at the heart of this strategy.
“Having access to instant information updates online from more or less anywhere, has irrevocably changed the expectations of customers as they travel.”
They want to have control over their journey at their fingertips. That means having full access to a wealth of information, but also being able to personalise it to their own particular requirements.
Providing such services to today’s ‘digital’ traveller’ on an Alliance level is the central pillar of the new strategic focus. At the core of the Alliance strategy is the push to develop digital capabilities centrally, which can then be used by its member carriers to enhance their own products, so that they can offer extended care to their regular customers even when they are travelling elsewhere on the network. Many such enhancements of this type will be introduced over the next few years. Individually, these will offer an incremental improvement. Taken together, they will provide customers a completely new level of information and control of their journey.
What is the best benefit for becoming a Star Alliance Gold Member?
Our customers appreciate the many advantages that come with Gold frequent flyer status within our network including priority recognition at airports worldwide, dedicated check-in counters, Gold Track (priority security and immigration) priority on the stand-by list and access to our lounges (over 1,000 worldwide) It also means that they are first to board the aircraft and, very importantly, the first to get their bags after the flight! As well as the numerous loyalty partner benefits offered to our Gold members.
If you had to describe the Star Alliance in three words, what would you chose and why?
Global, Connected, Seamless. ‘Global’ due to our unparalleled network in 192 countries served by our 28 member airlines. ‘Connected’ via our 1,300 airports worldwide. ‘Seamless’ due to our investment in new terminals and cutting edge technology, automation and new product design, leading to a significant reduction in connection times and bag collection times, as well as significantly enhanced overall passenger experience.
What top tip would you give to those wanting to get involved in the airline industry?
The airline industry is ever changing and evolving so my top tip would be a calm, flexible and have an open approach that will see you through most things – and never be afraid to ask for help – I’m still learning new things all the time.