Partnerships help budget airlines expand destinations, go long-haul

9/29/2017
European budget airline easyJet has formed partnerships with two other airlines to do what larger airlines have easily done for many years – allow passengers to book an entire journey from its web site involving more than one airline. 

It might not seem like much of a big deal to the average flyer but this is a significant entry into the world of interlining that, for cost and logistical reasons, has largely been out of the scope of what budget airlines do. Passengers on easyJet will be able to book flights all the way to North and South America as well as Singapore by including flights on Norwegian and Canada's WestJet that connect in London's Gatwick Airport. Both airlines are discount carriers that have expanded services across the Atlantic – something low-cost airlines like easyJet and Ryanair have contemplated doing but have yet to achieve. The imperfection in this version of interline travel is that passengers booked through on a different carrier from easyJet will have to collect and move their luggage to their next flight when connecting, which Gatwick makes available through its GatwickConnects service. 

Dubbed 'Worldwide by easyJet', the airline is incorporating the booking capability of the GatwickConnects service into its website so that passengers can book flights using multiple airlines. What this boils down to is a step- and time-saving option for passengers who would normally have to buy tickets on separate carriers, treating each journey as an unrelated trip. Without interline agreements, each connecting point would require that passengers collect luggage, leave the secured area, and check in with the next airline and go through security again. GatwickConnects offers baggage connecting and flight booking services, along with priority security for connecting passengers. In essence it uses third-party itinerary building services to act as a travel agent. The advantage is that passengers can receive tickets on both (or more) airlines, plus the baggage connection and priority security services. But what happens if things go wrong? 

Without interline agreements between airlines, any delay on one airline that causes a passenger to miss a connecting flight on the other is not the responsibility of the delayed airline. Two separate tickets means two separate contracts and sets of liability. However, when booking through a travel agent (online or otherwise), passengers might have the protection from the travel agency and can be rebooked, depending on the reason for the original delay (for example, something within the airline's control). There are some restrictions, but passengers could consider it a form of quasi-insurance, or more aptly, an assurance that you won't entirely be left in the lurch if something goes wrong. 

From an industry standpoint, this could put more competitive pressure on legacy carriers. Interline agreements between these carriers allow passengers to book entire journeys on one ticket, with one governing carrier assuming most of the liability. While the easyJet-GatwickConnect option does not offer the same seamlessness, for many budget-minded passengers, it could be the next best thing. It also puts budget carriers in the long-haul game. The airline plans to expand its connecting service to more European cities in the future, likely where Norwegian offers long-haul connections.