Four major international air companies announced at the end of June they were merging in a new powerful alliance called SkyTeam. Now that they have joined forces, Air France (France), Delta (the US), AeroMexico (Mexico), and Korean Air (South Korea) are offering their passengers 6,402 daily flights to 451 destinations in 98 countries.
The joint statement of the leaders of the companies founding SkyTeam stresses that the emergence of this new alliance, aimed at offering passengers a wider choice of flights and connections, better service, and improved benefits, will alter the competitive landscape for airline alliances, for the first thing the SkyTeam founders were guided by was caring more about the passenger.
Nowadays, economic globalization and expanded world trade require specifically fast links. People meet one another on business wherever and whenever they want, which makes demand for air transportation services grow at an unprecedented rate. Many have already made their choice — either from their own experience or on the advice of acquaintances — of which airline to fly.
“Customer research indicated that many travelers believed there was something missing in previous airline alliances, namely, attention to the individual passenger,” says Eric Tong Cuong, chairman of the advertising firm which developed the logo and promotional materials for SkyTeam. SkyTeam’s branding campaign (see photo) was designed to convey that the four partner airlines acknowledge the missing piece of the passenger experience and intend to fill it.
“Our advertising theme is simple, yet strongly visual, immediately identifiable and comprehensible anywhere in the world,” Mr. Tong Cuong explains. “The missing puzzle piece symbolizes where SkyTeam intends to focus its efforts — on you, the passenger.”
In the five days of the SkyTeam’s branding campaign conducted in Europe, the United States, Latin America, and Asia, the tagline “Caring more about you” has swept all over the globe, heralding a new standard of service: wider choice, better catering, and more benefits.
“It is noteworthy that the very name SkyTeam was devised by travelers themselves,” Mr. Tong Cuong recalls. “We had to find a word that would reflect the alliance’s dedication to passengers and at the same time define its personality.” Two specialized firms worked in parallel to this end. This resulted in a dozen offers. There was nothing else to do but turn to travelers, for the new alliance was being created for them. The name SkyTeam is their choice. The name suggests a team of airlines sharing the same vision for providing the best service to its passengers on all their flights.
“A team is being formed today that will deliver its very best to travelers the world over,” Jean-Cyril Spinetta, Air France chairman, said in his speech during the official presentation of the new alliance in New York on June 22. “We have put in a vast amount of work to get here, and we will go on working just as hard in our tireless pursuit of excellence.”
No single airline is able to take passengers to all the destinations they want to go to. This was, incidentally, a long-time headache for the America’s Delta Air Lines. It might seem that of all companies, it has nothing to complain about: 5,500 daily flights take passengers to 57 countries of the world. But, as Leo Mullin, Delta chaiman, admitted, his company has long been looking for partners to broaden the geography of its flights. “Together we’ve formed SkyTeam. SkyTeam creates a highly efficient, multi-hub network that offers passengers integrated, easy, and enjoyable air service to almost any destination,” he pointed out at the New York ceremony, which, incidentally, was conducted simultaneously with the SkyTeam presentation in a different part of the word — in Paris — and was broadcast in a live digital video mode at a press conference arranged by the SkyTeam Paris office.
According to Yi-Taek Shim, president of Korean Air, no other airline grouping offers customers more non-stop destinations between the US and Europe than SkyTeam does. In addition, when Seoul’s new Inchon Airport opens next year, SkyTeam’s Asian connection will be even better.
Equally important are the benefits that SkyTeam frequent flyers will enjoy. From now on, all of them will accrue base miles on all SkyTeam flights. These advantages, extending to 34.9 million Sky Team’s passengers, are much superior to those hitherto offered by other existing alliances.
The Day has asked Mr. Didier Mortet, Air France general manager for Ukraine, to comment on what the emergence of SkyTeam means to passengers flying from Boryspil Airport
“Work in the new conditions apparently means more sense of concern and responsibility for you. Among other things, you must train special personnel to service not only passengers of your own airline but also those of all the four that take part in the alliance. Do any problems arise in Boryspil in this connection?”
“What we must do now is to make passengers understand that checking in for Air France or Delta or AeroMexico means the same procedure. All our Boryspil staff know absolutely for sure what SkyTeam is and what it means to our customers. As before, a passenger can buy an air ticket at our office on the corner of Velyka Zhytomyrska and Volodymyrska Streets or at the Delta ticket office on Shevchenko Boulevard, but as soon as he or she arrives at the airports and starts check-in, he becomes a SkyTeam customer. This is what we are constantly drawing to the attention of all our Boryspil staff. For most problems can emerge in the airport. For example, a flight is delayed or a passenger may be late for the flight but he is still to pass customs and immigration control, quite time-consuming procedures. In situations like this, we aim to take the customer’s troubles onto ourselves. Identifying them as early as in the check-in line (by baggage tags and tickets they are holding ready), we help them do all the required formalities as fast as possible.
“Boryspil is a small and well- adjusted airport. But, on the other hand, the painstaking procedure of customs and immigration control takes quite some time. Besides, by force of the specific situation in Ukraine, particularly the work of its transport, all Boryspil flights, in spite of being operated by competing airlines, leave almost at the same time, from 8 a.m. By noon, thousands of people gather in lines to check in for 4-5 flights at the same time. It is not in our power to change this, but we are doing our best for the passenger to feel comfortable. Naturally, we cannot avoid the control procedure, but we try to make the passenger pass it as fast as possible.
“It happened so often, that somebody came late for a flight and anxiously pleaded with us for help. We were always ready to help, above all, because we have good relations with the airport management and all its personnel. A passenger like this was accompanied by some of us from border to border and he was onboard the plane in a matter of five minutes. At last he has done everything and is happy to get to the plane on time. From now on, we are going to do the same to those traveling by Delta flights because they are now SkyTeam customers. Mind that now all passengers traveling on the flights of any of the four companies are our customers, and we treat them as our friends.”
“Can you say there has been a certain upward tendency in the number of Air France passengers since June 22, when SkyTeam was inaugurated?”
“We have just begun to carry out joint SkyTeam flights; so at first there were 2-5 customers more than usual in a week, then 2-3 more for a flight. So the tendency is on the rise.
“Here in Kyiv, we deal mostly with Americans. They’ve got a large community here. For many reasons, they must fly on their own airlines because they are Americans, they are proud of being Americans, and many of them work for their government.”
“But if a part of Americans has hitherto been flying to the US on another route, why should they prefer now the SkyTeam alliance and fly via Paris?”
“Anybody will answer this question. There is an alternative to fly via Frankfort. If asked where you would rather stay overnight, in Paris or in Frankfort, what would you answer? The Americans love Paris, and they like France. Charles de Gaulle Airport is very up-to- date, more spacious and cozy. It is Europe’s largest airport, larger than those in Frankfort or London. Besides, it still has large reserves for expansion. What does it mean? More flights, more destinations, and more passengers! No other airport in Europe has such prospects.
“Of course, it is not only foreigners but also Ukrainians who travel on our planes. Under our agreement, they can leave on SkyTeam flights for any destination in the world, for example, first to reach Paris on a nonstop flight and then, 1.5-2 hours later, head for New York or Los Angeles. Or, after spending a beautiful evening in Paris, they can go on traveling wherever they need by a Air France, Delta, AeroMexico, or Korean Air flight.”
“Does this mean SkyTeam is making flights to more destinations than other alliances are?”
“Yes, more or less so. I think even more than the Star Alliance. And, in terms of passenger handling, we are surely the first. Just imagine over 174 million passengers a year.”
“Who initiated the SkyTeam alliance?”
“Alliances like this do exist, this is normal practice. As to us, Air France is very strong on its domestic market. In Europe, too, we are among the most powerful. But most air traffic is between Europe and North America. Delta is the US’s No. 1 company in terms of passenger carriage. So it is only natural that Delta and Air France have joined forces to offer passengers more conveniences and services. We are also open to other companies. I think we will be able to announce the admission of other airlines to our alliance in a few weeks: it is no secret that serious negotiations have been held on this issue.”
“SkyTeam has included airlines from each part of the world except Africa. Does this mean the African direction will remain insufficiently covered?”
“We have a well-developed air network of our own in Africa. By force of historical preconditions, France has been represented well in Africa.”
“As soon as SkyTeam came about, there was so much talk about benefits and privileges for passengers. Are there many Ukrainians among your privileged travelers?”
“Ukraine is a large country with a population of fifty million. Whoever flies often enough is, of course, also entitled to our 10 benefits.”
“And have there ever been Ukrainians among passengers of the supersonic Concord?”
“Yes, a few persons fly to the United States.”
“Who are they? Politicians? Businessmen? I understand I am touching upon confidential information, but the very fact is interesting. For most Ukrainians only know about this wonderful plane, whose fare is many times higher than what they can earn a year, from films and books. Can the Concord fly from Boryspil?”
“A few years ago we had an idea to put the Concord through Boryspil and then the Mediterranean. But, although we were ready, there was not sufficient demand for this flight. Now the Concord makes its daily flights from Paris. Just imagine: 3 hours 20 minutes or so, and you are in America. This is a wonder! You leave Paris at 11 a.m. and arrive in New York at 8 a.m. on the same day: you literally overtake the time and get into yesterday. The flight leaves a lasting impression: the plane climbs at such an altitude that the sky is of a different color and you can see the curvature of our planet. The service is wonderful, as is food. I wish you would travel on a Concord one day.”
“With pleasure! As soon as the Ukrainian economy recovers, and many things, of which the now impoverished Ukrainians can only dream, will become accessible, including a few evenings in Paris. I wonder what was the reaction of your rivals to the emergence of SkyTeam.”
“Bitter, I suppose. We are now very powerful. Extremely! I think they have things to worry about.”
THE DAY’S REFERENCE
AeroMexico is the largest Mexico’s airline. It has occupied a leading place on the market of Mexico-US air travels and has been widely acclaimed for its on- time departure and arrival performance. It operates 300 daily flights to 98 worldwide destinations. The handling capacity of Benito Juarez Airport is 6,000 passengers an hour.
Air France makes 1200 daily flights to 198 destinations in 83 countries of the world. This one of today’s most technically advanced air companies which is constantly updating its fleet with the latest developments from the aeronautical industry, such as Boeing 777 and Airbus 319. This is the only airline operating daily flights of the supersonic flying prodigy, the Concord, between Paris and New York.
Delta is a mammoth US airline offering 5300 daily flights to 356 destinations in 57 countries. It was named the global Airline of the Year 1999. It has 584 planes at its disposal and 74,000 employees, including crews.
Korean Air last year carried 20 million passengers and one million tons of cargo on its 107 planes. It operates 400 daily flights to 78 destinations in 29 countries. It became the first company to introduce the Airbus outside Europe and to use the Boeing 747 for carrying passengers over the Pacific. It was the first to offer sleeper seats on its transpacific flights. It has more destinations to Asia from the US through Seoul than any other airline in the world.