Icelandair is moving to nicer Heathrow digs so why is Star so irked?


To understand why Icelandair’s Michael Raucheisen finds his airline’s move to Heathrow’s new Terminal 2 so exciting, you have to experience its present home at Terminal 1. Shabby, drafty, overcrowded and scheduled to close entirely this year, it is not a welcoming place to arrive or a favorable place to spend ones final minutes in England’s capital city.

“The new terminal is really beautiful and should indeed be less crowded, due to the open space and layout,” Raucheisen told RGN. “There is even free Wi-Fi!”

But while Icelandair is celebrating the news which becomes effective in March, Terminal 2’s largest tenant, the airlines comprising the Star Alliance is not so happy. It fears accommodating Icelandair’s two to three daily flights will further delay Air India’s move into the gleaming high-tech, six-month old “Queens Terminal”.

The main departure area from mezzanine (panorama) Credit: Stefan Paetow

Putting all of Star’s airlines serving Heathrow under one roof was a first-of-its kind plan to reduce connection times and give a marketing advantage to all Star members with London service.  The new terminal provides common check in and consolidated bag drops; Star airlines use the A, B and D zones, other airlines like Icelandair are in the C zone.

Compare that for example to oneworld, the airline alliance that includes London-based British Airways. Members operate out of Terminals 3 and 5 at the sprawling Heathrow with Qatar and Malaysia located in Terminal 4 and TAM in Terminal 1. Malaysia and TAM are scheduled to move to Terminal 3.

Michael Blunt, the spokesman for oneworld, tells RGN that the combined operation of oneworld is just too big in London to keep all the members together but the group of 15 airlines does cluster in a single terminal at Madrid’s Barajas and Narita in Tokyo. Everyone, it seems, recognizes the benefits, including Heathrow airport. “We fully understand the reasoning behind this,” a spokeswoman said of Star Alliance’s still-unfulfilled desire to get Air India into their terminal.

To be fair, Air India was not a member of Star Alliance when the group hatched the co-habitation plan or when the terminal was ceremonially opened by Queen Elizabeth in July. Still, as Star Alliance spokesman Markus Ruediger says the alliance made it clear to Heathrow officials, “It is our wish to accommodate Air India in Terminal 2 whenever that becomes possible.”

Icelandair’s two to three flights a day (depending on the season) will consume available space in the new terminal and perhaps extend the amount of time it will take for Air India to get out of Terminal 4 where it operates three daily flights.  As far as Heathrow is concerned, the movement of Icelandair will not affect its decision on when or whether Air India will move to Terminal 2, according to an email from airport spokeswoman Nadia Vere.

United and Air Canada would benefit if Air India moves into the shared terminal by helping them capture more India-bound traffic from North America. United and Air Canada already face stiff competition from the three Gulf airlines Etihad, Emirates and Qatar, all of which have fancy new airports.

Air India gets “quite a good feed off the North Atlantic,” Ruediger said explaining why Star members “want to be under the same roof”.

With Air India in Terminal 2 the 90-minute connection would be reduced to one hour. Passengers would be able to walk from one plane to another rather than taking an airport bus.

While acknowledging support of Air India’s move as a way to “improve operational efficiencies”, Air Canada’s spokesman John Reber said another option for Canadians is to skip London and fly to India via Frankfurt or Munich.

Should Star’s worst fears about the Icelandair move be realized and Air India does not join the other carriers in Terminal 2, Air Canada has another option for North American travelers. At the end of 2015, the airline will begin non-stop Toronto-Delhi service four times a week on a Boeing 787-9 series expected to arrive later this year.