Op-Ed: Don’t take standardization too far in airline alliances

A healthy debate is underway on RGN following publication of what I would categorize as a modest, non-controversial article about how the 28 airline members of the Star Alliance embrace unity in diversity of the passenger experience (#PaxEx) on board their flights.

The message imparted was that despite an assortment of cultures from all continents, the airline grouping brings together seamless access to networks, lounges, ticketing, check-in and frequent flyer programs. Airlines – not for nothing – pay membership fees for this. In addition, joint purchasing contracts have brought a definite respite to bottom-lines.

Critics say this is not enough. Fellow RGN contributor John Walton argues that diversity of hard product on the ground, for instance, is actually a hindrance when passengers connect.

It’s also true that some observers believe airlines should go a step further, and standardize seat sizes and configurations. While there’s hardly any disagreement on the need to integrate diverse IT systems to provide a seamless #PaxEx, one cannot practically expect all partners in an alliance to offer a completely standardized interior.

A cabin is configured based on numerous factors, including but not limited to an airline’s budget, whether it flies short- or long-haul, its mix of business versus tourist travelers, its rate structure and what competitors are offering. Can one really compare, for instance, the business class cabin on a Singapore Airlines Airbus A380 with that of say, the interiors selected by LOT Polish Airlines or another carrier of its stature?

We can take some cues from the hotel industry. How often has the weary, jet lagged traveler wished that all switches and systems were standardized on entering a luxury hotel room in some corner of the world? But will it ever happen? I doubt it. The Ritz in Barcelona might want to go hi-tech with a battery of remote buttons while the Claridge’s in London might want to show off its old world charm. Each chain wants to retain its own identity. So we live with the pain and sometimes surprises on offer.

Besides, can culture be standardized? When is service too much and for whom? Asians expect a different standard of inflight service, and Europeans and Americans might find this excessive. So why not embrace the cultural flavor of the experience of flying instead of seeking a standardized product?

There is also an opinion that Etihad Partners and Emirates are more efficient in dealing with connections. But transiting crowded Dubai or Abu Dhabi isn’t everyone’s cuppa.

We might not like something, but nobody can like everything. The world is a colorful place. Why not extend beyond one’s comfort zone and enjoy what it has to offer? Isn’t that what the romance of travel is all about?

Some might suggest that this writer’s views are contrary to their own. It doesn’t make them wrong or right. Just different. And, thank God for that!