The Star Alliance has approved the application of Thai Smile Airways to become its second connecting partner.

Star CEO Jeffrey Goh made the announcement June 2 during the IATA AGM in Seoul, saying the integration process would take about six to seven months and would add 11 unique destinations to the alliance’s network. About six member carriers will benefit from Thai Smile’s new connections through codeshare arrangements with parent company, Thai Airways.

Goh said connecting partners allow it to close network gaps that may exist on a regional basis. 

The Frankfurt-based alliance, whose members include major carriers such as Air China, All Nippon Airways, Air Canada, Asiana, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines and United Airlines, is revising its strategy to focus less on adding full members and more on attracting members’ subsidiary airlines as connecting partners, with Thai Smile the first carrier to do so.

Goh said the alliance was not closed to new membership, but its network is global. Its bigger focus is on further improving the customer experience within the group and using technology to make journeys across different airlines more seamless.

As part of that, Goh said, passengers are now able to make advance seat selections across some, but not all, airlines. Air New Zealand passengers can select seats on Singapore Airlines, while United customers can do so this on Air Canada and Singapore Airlines flights.

The next step will be to enable passengers to select preferred seats that require a fee, such as emergency row seats, across airlines. Goh said the hurdle were still architectural and technical issues to overcome to make this possible. While it is relatively easy to provide data that produce seat maps onto different systems, “consuming” that data into members’ multiple platforms is more challenging. Currently, 12 airlines are ready to provide seat maps into their systems.

Goh explained there were also some boundaries and limitations in sharing passenger data because of competitive and proprietary concerns. He noted that it might be possible to separate critical information, such as allergy information, although that would require additional steps to identify and segregate the data.

 Chen Chuanren,