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ETN Speaks With Geert Sciot

Exclusive Brussels Airlines Interview

Wolfgang H. Thome, eTN  Dec 23, 2009

While in Brussels recently on the day SN joined the global Star Alliance, opportunity arose to pose a couple of questions to Mr. Geert Sciot, vice president of communications and external communications of Brussels Airlines.

eTN: What benefits does Star Alliance membership bring to participating airlines, and what does membership cost you?

Geert Sciot: The benefits are more important than the costs. We cannot disclose the exact cost.

- We give our passengers access to a worldwide network of 19,700 daily flights to 1,077 airports in 175 countries.
- We can offer our passengers less complicated, simplified travel solutions thanks to smooth transits, coordinated schedules, and short connection times between flights of the Star Alliance partners.
- Excellent new frequent flyer benefits and status recognition. Our frequent flyers can now earn and burn miles whenever they fly with a Star Alliance member and their status (Gold, Silver...) is recognized, including the benefits related to his status.
- Worldwide lounge access
- Attractive new products (Conventions Plus fares, Round the World Fares, Africa Pass...)
- We can now offer big [companies] more attractive price proposals to more destinations

Star Alliance is working on many other advantages for the customer and has also initiated joint purchasing projects (fuel, materials, and goods...) that will allow member airlines to reduce their costs.

On top [of that], there is the Star Alliance branding. Star is worldwide recognized as the best alliance (Business Traveler Award, Skytrax Award...), and as a member, we will benefit from this status.

eTN: How are present codeshares, which Brussels Airlines has with other airlines not presently in Star Alliance, going to be affected from her on, i.e., Jet Airways between Brussels and New York, especially in view of Air India seemingly becoming a Star Alliance applicant?

Geert: When Brussels Airlines joined the Star Alliance, [the] decision was taken to stop some existing codeshares with airlines who are members of another alliance. This is logic. For example: the codeshares with Alitalia and British Airways were finished. In the meantime, Brussels Airlines signed codeshare partnership agreements with several Star Alliance members (Lufthansa, Spanair, TAP Portugal, Austrian...). Existing codeshares with Star Alliance members or future Star Alliance members remained in place (Swiss, LOT, Aegean). Over the next months, Brussels Airlines will launch additional codeshares with Star Alliance members. For the time being, Brussels Airlines continues its codeshare relationship with Jet Airways. There is no reason to stop it as Jet Airways is so far not [a] member of any (other) alliance. As long as Jet is neutral, there is no issue. Please note that Brussels Airlines never had a codeshare with Jet Airways on the transatlantic routes. The codeshare has always been limited to the services between Belgium and India and flights in Europe. [Adds this column: Jet Airways transatlantic service between Brussels and Toronto has been mentioned in SN’s own publications as a code share.]

eTN: My past experience with other airline alliances is mixed. When a problem arises, say over an onward flight with an alliance partner, even if codeshared, I have on several occasions been referred to the counters and staff of the ticketing airline to resolve the issue, while the staff of the operating airline should have been able to resolve the matter without causing me to wander around the terminal, getting aggravated, and losing time I could have spent in the lounge working. How does STAR approach this? (My latest such experience was coming off a KLM flight and transferring on to an Alitalia flight, both on Sky Team.)

Geert: Seamless or smooth travel is very important for Star Alliance. It is top priority for the airlines. Within the Star Alliance there are special procedures regarding transfers and connections. As part of our membership conditions, Brussels Airlines has committed to comply with these procedures. The Star Alliance has also an “under one roof” principle. As a consequence, in an increasing number of airports, the Star Alliance members share the same terminal. Examples: Heathrow, Munich, Barcelona, CDG, Cairo. Thanks to this “under one roof” approach, we can further increase connectivity and reduce walking times at airports. There are specific procedures in place regarding connection problems, and as Brussels Airlines, we will comply with them so that there is no hassle for the passenger.

eTN: Does Brussels Airlines expect Lufthansa to buy the balance of SN’s share in 2011?

Geert: Lufthansa owns “call options,” which allows the group to buy the remaining 55 percent of the shares from 2011 onwards during 4 consecutive years, so it can happen between 2011 and 2015. It is [a] call option - this means Lufthansa has the right but not the obligation to buy these shares and become 100 percent owner of Brussels Airlines. We cannot speculate about what will happen, but the fact that this call option was negotiated and agreed says a lot of course.

eTN: Besides synergy effects in training, insurance, spares, maintenance, general procurement, where else will the Lufthansa group membership bring financial and other benefits for SN?

- Our sales teams will work together or join the same office buildings.
- In some markets, we will jointly offer travel agents and corporate sales contract.s
- We introduced the Miles & More frequent flyer program. Miles & More is recognized as Europe's best FFP.
- Network optimization: We have started codeshares on several routes (Germany, UK, Switzerland, and soon Austria). Lufthansa has also put its code on several AFR routes of Brussels Airlines, vice versa Brussels Airlines can now offer via Lufthansa easy connections to Libreville, Khartoum, Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Accra.
- We can benefit from Lufthansa's strong IT knowhow.
- Economies of scales.
- Dozens of others areas.

eTN: What experience has there been so far, if any, with LH First Class passengers connecting into an SN codeshared flight with only a C product?

Geert: We have no feedback related to this.

eTN: What experience and/or added load factors have there been so far from the LH code share on the Entebbe route?

Geert: The codeshare started recently. It is too early to make an analysis. But we are very happy that Lufthansa has put its code on this route. Lufthansa has a very strong brand name. It clearly underlines the importance our aviation group gives to Uganda. [Adds this column: The codeshare from BRU to EBB has been in place for several months, and I would have thought that its impact on sales would be very closely monitored by both SN and LH.]

eTN: What marketing and/or sales support have you received so far from LH for SN in eastern Africa?

Geert: This will be developed. [See previous answer.] [Adds this column: It appears from feedback received from the SN east African country offices that this area needs some special attention, i.e., as has been suggested to this correspondent through for instance the presence of an LH regional sales support position.]

eTN: Is there any cooperation planned with SWISS vis-a-vis their Nairobi flights?

Geert: Never say never. We always see how we can, from a group perspective, increase the benefits to our passengers.

Exclusive Brussels Airlines Interview
Geert Sciot, VP communications & external communications, Brussels Airlines/Image via

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