Is Your Airline Evolving to Meet the Needs of Self-Connecting Travellers?

Approaches to Interlining

The proliferation of low-cost carriers has fuelled a fast-growing market segment: the self-connecting traveller. Today, travellers are creating their own itineraries through a creative combination of flights and carriers to get them where they want to go.

Airlines have traditionally had difficulty integrating with other carriers to offer new routes or travel products, providing little flexibility with selling their seat inventory and preventing them from expanding their network through partnerships and alliances. So, in the absence of flight itineraries offered by airlines directly, travellers are taking trip planning into their own hands.

Self-connecting travellers assemble their own itineraries using a selection of airlines that don’t have a cooperative relationship. This assembly can be manual — the traveller visits a number of airlines websites and puts together an itinerary that seems to allow enough time between flights — or it can be automatic, through the use metasearch engines and online travel agencies.

But not all of these interlining systems are equal. Some assemble trips and then leave it to the traveller to take their changes. Others assemble itineraries but offer insurance to cover the trip if something goes wrong, though travellers need to read the fine print carefully since coverage and the compensation can be complicated.

Only one technology provider, Air Black Box, assembles the itinerary, lets the traveller select seats and meals and baggage requirements on all flight segments, all with complete protection for the trip.

Different Approaches to Interlining… a Mix of Hit and Miss

Traditional interlining and alliances: Traditional interlining is the result of a commercial agreement between multiple airlines, typically in different regions, referred to as an alliance. Major alliances include SkyTeam, OneWorld and Star Alliance; these and others help make passenger experience more consistent. Traditional interlining is supported by the participating airlines’ global distribution system (GDS), which standardizes the passenger name records and reservation systems to guarantee the flight itinerary. Any participating carrier can view the passenger’s entire itinerary.

While the entire trip in this case is assured and protected, there are often technical limitations on the airlines’ ability to sell seats or ancillaries on individual flights. And in the end, the traveller usually pays more, since traditional flag carriers tend to be more expensive than their low-cost carrier (LCC) counterparts. The complexity and cost of these GDS connections and joint ventures are prohibitive to many LCCs.

Virtual interlining: Virtual interlining technology grew out of the rise in self-connecting travel and helps travellers to assemble these complex itineraries sold by online travel agents and metasearch engines. This shopping-cart approach offers flights for travellers at lower prices at the moment of sale, but the resulting itineraries are assembled without the airline’s knowledge or, more often than not, without their approval.

Virtual interlining may create round trips made up of two or more different airline flights outbound and the same on the return trip. It will mix of full-service carriers (FSCs) and LCCs. This allows for a host of problems during travel, be it caused by delays, incorrect travel documents needed for transit, lost bags, a missed connection because of lost time collecting and re-checking baggage. Some providers offer insurance for the trip as part of the package, though coverage is inconsistent and making a claim comes with all the usual frustrations familiar to anyone who’s ever tried to make a claim.

Ultimately, virtual interlining is so named because the traveller’s complete itinerary does not actually exist in any airline’s system; it is a collection of tickets that exist independently of each other but which can be used in sequence. In this sense it could more accurately be termed “synthetic interlining.”

Managed interlining: Managed interlining is different. It’s the result of a bi-lateral agreement between airlines to cooperate on routes and cross-sell their entire range of ancillaries on each other’s flights. Instead of combining flights based solely on schedules, managed interlining integrates flight information at the reservation system and passenger service system levels and with the airline’s participation, so there is true trip integration.

The itinerary is entirely managed for the traveller since all airlines have access to the traveller’s “super PNR.” If there are disruptions during any stage of the journey, passengers are protected by a guarantee from the airlines to rebook on the next available flight and cover any related hotel costs. So the benefits of managed interlining match many of the benefits of traditional interlining while at the same time offering a greater range of products from a broader range of airlines, but a fraction of the costs imposed by GDSs.

The Air Black Box Travel Connection Platform: Managed Interlining

Air Black Box has already rolled out its patented Travel Connection Platform to power the Value Alliance, the largest low-cost airline alliance in the world. Today, the Value Alliance services more than 50 million passengers between 160 destinations across the Asia Pacific region.

Value Alliance passengers can fly from the remotest corner of Asia to the other remotest corner, all on a protected, managed interline ticket. Thanks to the integration on the back-end, passengers can also purchase ancillaries such as baggage, extra leg room, meals and more for each leg of their flight – all within one transaction on one booking platform with one credit card transaction, and feel confident they won’t be left on their own should anything go wrong.

You can read more about the Air Black Box and Value Alliance success story here. And to learn more about how we are helping airlines implement managed interlining, get in touch here.

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