Op-Ed: Chicago is latest to receive Star connection service; will it help?

static

The Star Alliance recently announced that Chicago O’Hare International will be the latest airport to become part of the Star Alliance Connection Service. This service helps passengers on a tight connection to speed through customs and immigration. But will it really help in practice?

O’Hare will be the 12th Star Alliance airport to offer Connection Service to passengers. While it sounds like a great idea on paper – and it certainly might aid some passengers – I see this as a limited resource at passengers’ disposal, and I wonder if it will improve the passenger experience (#PaxEx) at O’Hare in a meaningful way.

Let’s break down some numbers. The Star Alliance says Chicago is the fourth biggest transfer hub for the airline group worldwide, with almost 750,000 passengers connecting from one Star Alliance carrier to another each year. A total 14 different Star Alliance airlines operate out of O’Hare – Air Canada, Air India, ANA, Asiana Airlines, Austrian, Avianca, Copa Airlines, EVA Air, Lufthansa, LOT Polish Airlines, SWISS, Scandinavian Airlines, Turkish Airlines and United. In 2016, O’Hare was United’s busiest hub with 16.5 million passengers. Now, this isn’t all connecting traffic on fellow Star Alliance airlines but the numbers don’t lie – this is a busy and large airport. O’Hare, commonly referred to as “O’Scare” can use all the help it can get to better the experience for passengers.

The new Connection Service has employees and software that monitor passenger itineraries and flag specific ones based on how tight is the connection window. Are you flying from Warsaw into Chicago on LOT Polish Airlines and connecting to another flight to Green Bay? If your inbound flight to Chicago is delayed, the Connection Service will look at that and determine if you can make the flight or not. If it will be a tight connection, a Connection Service employee will be waiting for you as you get off the plane and you’ll be assisted through the “Express Connection” customs and immigration lane. If you have to re-check your bags, those bags will be specially labeled to ensure they get onto the next flight.

But this is where the service stops short in your author’s opinion. You may get speedy service through the customs lane and your bag may make the flight due to that new bag tag, but you’re stuck in O’Hare Terminal 5 and have to get to Terminal 1 or 2 for your connecting flight. So begins the arduous journey aboard the famous O’Hare train. Then, once you reach the terminal, you have to re-clear the TSA checkpoint. Let’s say that, due to a TSA backup, you’re still going to miss your connecting flight. That’s OK because the Connection Service will assist with rebooking. But, the whole point of this service is to avoid that, so why don’t we re-think this.

Earlier this year American Airlines and the Oneworld alliance announced a new bus service between O’Hare Terminals 3 and 5. This operates on a daily basis and helps Oneworld passengers connect on flights from partner airlines like British Airways, Finnair, and Cathay Pacific. The best part about it? It’s an airside bus service meaning that passengers don’t have to go through security when transiting between terminals. The passenger experience is more fluid and takes less time. Passengers don’t like to go through security more than once, especially just to change terminals, and this bus helps achieve that.

United opted out of the bus service stating that the need was minimal, according to the Chicago Business Journal. While two larger partner airlines – Lufthansa and ANA – both depart from Terminal 1, this doesn’t help connecting passengers on the other 11 Star Alliance airlines that operate out of Terminal 5.

Rotation
Indeed, those passengers will still have to connect via the train system and re-clear security. Sure, you might get expedited to a faster lane but you still have to go through it and that is the exact problem which the new Connection Service fails to resolve.

I worked at O’Hare Airport for several years and one of the most common questions I received from passengers was how to get to and from Terminal 5. Not everyone is a frequent flyer and even those who are, the trek to and from Terminal 5 is not easy. It’s littered with poor signage, a slow and inconsistent train system, and the event of having to re-enter security.

United offers a bus service between Terminal 2 and Terminal 1 so why not offer a service to Terminal 5? The need in their eyes may be minimal but it would make the passenger experience for connecting passengers a better one.

Related Articles:

About the Author

Bruce Bere is a Chicago based derivatives analyst and has always been obsessed with aviation and the airline experience. He is no stranger to travel and won’t hesitate to hop on a long haul flight just to try it out a new seat or Wi-Fi. No trip is too far and no flight is too long. It’s not “when” he is traveling next but “where”. Follow Bruce on Twitter at @NonRevAdventure

4 Comments

  1. The lack of bus from T1 to T5 for *A passengers is mostly because the bulk of the JV connections are from United to Lufthansa or ANA which both operate from the main terminal area. So does Air Canada. Swiss does not but that’s significantly fewer passengers than what AA has to shuttle over to BA’s gates in T5.

    This product doesn’t really matter all that much; on that front you’re correct. The lack of priority/Fast Track security once you get to T1 sucks. But adding a *A bus to T5 is relatively low value compared to why OW does the same.

  2. Laura

    The connection between Term 5 and Term 1 can, indeed, be arduous. Especially after a long int’l flight.
    ORD is United’s ‘hometown.’ At least that’s what United likes to say.
    Why not make the welcome to Chicago a little ‘Friendlier.’

  3. Jeff Buhrer

    No matter whether you transfer by bus or train you must at somepoint go through TSA screening after arriving into the USA and before departing on a domestic leg. So whether it is possible to do this at Terminal 5 before the bus or after arriving at whichever domestic terminal from the train, what exactly is the timesaver? I can not imagine clearing TSA checkpoints in the busy Internatiinal terminal is any more time saving then at any of the others.

  4. The bus from T3 to T5 is open to all passengers, not just passengers flying AA partners. I took the bus with no issues on a UA-TK connection last month.

    It’s a long walk from T1 to T3, but it saves the hassle of going through (non-precheck) security at T5

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *