Featured image: Michal Mendyk/Airways

5/14/1997: Five Airlines Establish the Star Alliance

DALLAS – Today, in 1997, five leading airlines founded the Star Alliance, the world’s first and largest airline alliance. The alliance is headquartered in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, near Frankfurt Airport (FRA).

While some of the first airline cooperation came in the 1930s and 1940s, between Panair do Brasil and its parent company Pan American World Airways, and then, in 1989, when Northwest Airlines (NW) and KLM (KL) began code-sharing on transatlantic flights, the first true airline alliance did not come until Star was born.

The five founders of Star Alliance were then the world’s leading airlines Air Canada (AC), Lufthansa (LH), Scandinavian Airlines (SK), Thai Airways International (TG), and United Airlines (UA).

The Star Alliance is Born” – airliners of the five founding members (United Airlines, Scandinavian Airlines, Thai Airways, Air Canada and Lufthansa) of the alliance gathered together, May 1997. Photo: Star Alliance

Star Alliance History

The Star Alliance network was established on May 14, 1997, as the first truly global airline alliance, based on a customer value proposition of global reach, worldwide recognition, and seamless service. Since its inception, it has offered the largest and most comprehensive airline network. The establishment of the alliance is considered a milestone for the industry and for international travel.

The alliance chose Young & Rubicam for ads, with a budget of US$25m (€18m). From the start, all of the airlines used the same star logo, which had five points to reflect the founding airlines. The alliance’s first slogan was “The Airline Network for Earth,” with the intention of creating an alliance that can transport passengers to any major city on the planet. Its current slogan is “The Way the Earth Connects.”

On October 22, 1997, the now-defunct Brazilian airline VARIG joined the Star Alliance network, bringing the alliance into South America. Star Alliance then expanded to Australia and the Pacific with the addition of Ansett Australia (AN) and Air New Zealand (NZ). With the latter two carriers, the alliance now served 720 destinations in 110 countries with a combined fleet of 1,650 aircraft.

On October 15, 1999, All Nippon Airways (NH), the group’s second Asian airline, became the group’s third member. In the coming years, more airlines would join the alliance, taking the membership number to 26.

Five-year celebration. Photo: Star Alliance

Star Alliance Members, Network

Current member airlines are Aegean Airlines (A3), AC, Air China (CA), Air India (AI), Air New Zealand (NZ), ANA (NH), Asiana Airlines (OZ), Austrian (OS), Avianca (AV), Brussels Airlines (SN), COPA Airlines (CM), Croatia Airlines (OU), Egyptair (MS), Ethiopian Airlines (ET), EVA Air (BR), LOT Polish Airlines (LO), LH, SK, Shenzhen Airlines (ZH), Singapore Airlines (SQ), South African Airways (SA), SWISS (LX), TAP Air Portugal (TP), TG, Turkish Airlines (TK), and UA.

Back in November 2020, OZ considered plans to exit the alliance after the Korean government confirmed that the airline would be acquired by Korean Air (KE), a SkyTeam member, for US$1.6bn.

Overall, the Star Alliance network currently offers more than 12,000 daily flights to almost 1,300 airports in 197 countries, according to the alliance website. Further connecting flights are offered by Star Alliance Connecting Partners Juneyao Airlines (HO) and THAI Smile Airways (WE).

With 762.27 million passengers as of April 2018, Star Alliance is the biggest of the three global alliances, surpassing both SkyTeam (630 million) and oneworld (600 million) (528 million). Pre-pandemic, the 26 members operated a combined fleet of approximately 5,033 aircraft that serve over 1,290 airports in 195 countries on over 19,000 daily departures.

United Airlines N78017 Boeing 777-200(ER) (Star Alliance Livery). Photo: Yifei Yu/Airways

Star Alliance Benefits, Organization

The Star Alliance has a Silver and Gold rewards scheme, with benefits such as priority boarding and upgrades. Other benefits of Star Alliance include:

  • Priority Airport Check-in.
  • Priority Baggage Handling.
  • Airport Lounge Access.
  • Priority Boarding.
  • Extra Baggage Allowance.
  • Gold Track.
  • Priority Reservations Waitlist.
  • Priority Airport Stand-by.

Jeffrey Goh is the current CEO of the Star Alliance, whose headquarters are in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. Scott Kirby, CEO of UA, was elected as the new Chairman of the Star Alliance Chief Executive Board (CEB) last December. He succeeded Pedro Heilbron, CEO of Copa Holdings and of Copa Airlines (CM), who held the post for four years.

Featured Image shows a Lufthansa Boeing 747.

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