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The rise of self-connect

Stephanie Taylor reports on the second session at the Routes Europe Strategy Summit. 

Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary’s announcement that his carrier is ready to begin interlining with other airlines was the initial focus of the panel session about innovators in the European aviation market at the Routes Europe Strategy Summit.

Juha Jarvinen, Finnair’s CCO, said carriers will have to think about product consistency before they partner with a low-fare airline. He mentioned Finnair’s plans to introduce inflight WiFi by 2018 to cater to its Asian passengers, who want to be online all the time.

With that in mind, Jarvinen queried whether passengers from Singapore Airlines would be happy switching to a Ryanair flight? Jeroen Erdman, head of network planning for Transavia, responded that Ryanair is an attractive partner because of its punctuality.

Moderator Mike Miller, head of content and industry relations at Routes, then floated the idea of a partnership between Singapore and Norwegian (which offers free inflight WiFi), to which Jarvinen shrugged, “Anything is possible.”

The conversation then moved on to whether interline agreements were even necessary, as passengers were beginning to self-connect. Edmond Rose, VP of ICF International and a former director of commercial & revenue planning for Virgin Atlantic Airways, contended that increasingly savvy passengers are realising they can source connecting flights for cheaper on their own.

The speakers cited Milan Malpensa as an airport encouraging passengers to do so by creating a network of disparate long-haul carriers and lots of different low-fare carriers in one place.

Henk Ombelet, a senior analyst at Ascend, opined the move towards passengers self-connecting would be slow, as they “need a lot of assurance.” For example, he averred, “Whose responsibility is a lost bag? Which airline? Which third party contractor? It’s cheaper, but is it worth it?”

In mid-April, Skyscanner released information aggregated using Travel Insight – a data-crunching tool developed by the company’s dedicated B2B unit, Skyscanner for Business – which suggests it is. They announced the top three airports for passengers building their own itinerary, and Dublin came in on top for Europe alongside Los Angeles International in the Americas and Singapore Changi for Asia.

Interestingly, Skyscanner attributed this directly to the presence of low-fare airlines at these three airports. According to their data, only 17% of seats booked out of Changi are currently attributed to self-connecting passengers, versus 28% from Dublin and 33% from LAX, but Skyscanner says this is because penetration of LFAs is slower there and that this percentage will soon increase.

Soon London Gatwick may be right behind Dublin, as a result of the new Gatwick Connect service, which has been live for a year. Addressing Ombelet’s fears about liability, Gatwick Connect takes responsibility for a passenger’s connection at its airport. A delegate from London Gatwick confirmed that many other airlines have been visiting solely to find out more about the concept.

Rose added that there is now so much data readily available on the internet that consumers can probably work out whether their flight will be late or not. Even if this happens, Gatwick Connect is a good interim solution, certainly for older, less-savvy passengers worried about going it alone.

While Michael O’Leary’s statement was a good springboard for discussion, it seems change is already taking place with regard to self-connecting. And those driving the innovation – to which airlines and airports now have to adapt – are the passengers.

Stephanie Taylor, assistant editor, Low-Fare & Regional Airlines / LARA
Krakow, Poland

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