New technologies which make it easier for passengers to book connecting flights have the potential to change the competitive landscape of aviation by giving low-cost carriers greater reach and airports more power.
Last week, easyJet announced the extension of its ‘Worldwide by easyJet’ program, supported by Dohop, to include Singapore Airlines, which gives passengers new options connecting through Gatwick to onward destinations in the UK and Europe. The agreement also gives customers access to low-fare connections to Asia through Singapore Airlines’ low-cost carrier brand Scoot.
Johan Lundgren, easyJet CEO, said there is "a strong appetite from partner airports and airlines to expand Worldwide across our network, allowing us to access a greater range of passengers flying across Europe."
"Worldwide by easyJet has grown rapidly since launching almost 12 months ago. Over half of easyJet’s flights and 53 million easyJet customers will soon be able to connect to airline partner services and other easyJet flights in a single booking through our online portal."
The easyJet Worldwide airline partnerships extend to Thomas Cook, Norwegian, WestJet, Loganair, La Compagnie, Corsair, Neos and Aurigny as well as Scoot and Singapore Airlines.
The airline also has Worldwide connect partnerships in place at airports around Europe including Gatwick, Milan Malpensa, Berlin Tegel and Venice Marco Polo. It expects to add Paris Charles de Gaulle, Paris Orly, Amsterdam Schiphol, Manchester and Edinburgh to this list in the near term.
Airports Take the Lead
Elsewhere, during the China Aviation Summit held at Aviation Festival in London, Stansted Airport announced plans to launch its own virtual interlining services, expected to go live by summer of 2019, through a program facilitated by Kiwi.com
With the new platform, Stansted will support not only transfer services for passengers connecting on participating airlines who have no formal code-sharing or interline agreements but also assist with re-accommodation and bookings.
As Aboudy Nasser, CCO of London Stansted Airport explained:
“We will take that connection risk, so if there are delays it’s not down [to the airlines] it’s down to us to re-accommodate and look after the passenger. Also, really importantly, it comes with full distribution capability—not like a self-connect where you have to go through airport.com, we can embed this on your airline website and sell it as a true origin and destination.”
This booking feature also allows airlines to get creative with how they sell virtual interline tickets, Nasser said.
“The fare structure is not the sum of sectors. It can be, but with the airlines we’re working with you can put in private fares. If you have some distressed inventory in off-season that you are trying to offload, you can put that together. Because it is a private hidden fare, it goes in purely as the O&D fare.”
Gatwick’s own GatwickConnect program - launched in 2015 - first highlighted new connection opportunities to passengers.
The program has been a success, Guy Stephenson, CCO at Gatwick Airport said during the same session at Aviation Festival.
“I think the big question really is: do you take a narrow view of return from an airport—that is to say, I’ve got costs and I need to recover them. Or do you take a broad perspective. That is; my airport is my biggest asset, how do I leverage the network to make the best use of that and also to grow our airlines, not the least the long-haul airlines?
"We’ve been very successful..we now have over 60 long-haul routes and airline combinations. We want to make sure that our long-haul network is thriving by developing it ourselves.
"When we first researched, we saw about one million passengers per annum which were transferring over to other London airports—primarily Heathrow—on exactly the same itineraries that we could do...That’s a big market to get at if we can.
The next piece of research told us that over the course of a year there are about 3.5 million connecting journeys that are capable of being booked on our network.”
The growth potential for airports of facilitating virtual interline for LCCs that want to avoid the complications of code-sharing and interline agreements may re-shape airline competition in future, giving airports greater control over the process.
Of course, this works for the benefit of passengers too—eliminating the hassle while opening up cheaper long-haul route combinations. Gatwick’s Stephenson was proud to boast that GatwickConnect services have only lost three passenger bags in five years.
Related reading:Gatwick Airport – a distribution disruptor?