Airlines and passengers crave connectivity now more than ever. As the industry starts to recover post-pandemic, the scale and choice of flying options are no longer as vast as they used to be. This has led to more passengers traveling by self-connection.
However, when passengers create a self-connected itinerary on their own, the process can be fraught with uncertainty, volatility and financial risk.
The solution to the self-styled, self-connector is virtual interlining. By blending the trend of self-connection with digitization, airlines, technology providers and online travel agencies can access a valuable source of revenue and eliminate passenger headaches.
Virtual Interlining: Fixing What’s Broken
Interlining, or the idea of an airline selling services to a customer provided through another airline, has been the cornerstone of the aviation industry for decades. However, with alliances and agreements changing often, low-cost fares, more diverse destinations, and many players operating outside of traditional lines, the original model was beginning to crack – even before the pandemic.
Airlines, technology providers and online travel agencies are improving the model with creativity, innovation and insights to create new revenue models and answer the needs of the independent traveler. Through virtual interlining (VI), they aim to provide passengers with a digital itinerary that accounts for traveler mishaps, so passengers don’t need to worry about their baggage or delays. VI can also save passengers hundreds of dollars – turning a 2-star journey into a 5-star experience.
Harmonizing Technology, Simplifying Data
Improving data quality and freshness offers independent travelers more options and opportunities for personalization. With over 150,000 airline schedules changes a day, the ripple effect on the virtual interlining solutions can be significant.
Travel data that exists in disparate systems makes it impossible for this model to work. Organizations must invest in technology that provides real-time travel data in a single, centralized location that all aviation sectors have access to, whenever and wherever. Travel personalization can’t happen if the industry isn’t on the same page.
Some of the industry’s leading creative thinkers and innovators are on the forefront of this initiative—investing in travel technology and facilitating data sharing across the travel space to meet customer needs:
Air Black Box works with airlines, airports, and travel companies to provide the technology solutions they need. ABB facilitates connecting their inventory to strategic airline partners and travel networks. Their Air Connection Engine (ACE) removes the complexities of legacy airline systems, resulting in reduced distribution costs, improved direct channel sales and better traveler experiences.
Airsiders sells virtual interlining flights via its own booking channel. The content is full-service, which accounts for any flight changes and means passengers’ bags are through-checked. Airsiders offers a connection guarantee that ensures passengers are rebooked in case they miss their flight.
Dohop is an Icelandic technology company leading the mission to revolutionise travel connectivity. They provide virtual interlining and intermodal technologies that enable airlines to sell connecting itineraries without the need for codesharing or traditional interline agreements.
Hopper is a leading travel app helping users book flights and hotels at the most competitive prices. Hopper uses an algorithm based on millions of historical data points to predict future flight and hotel prices with 95% recommendation accuracy.
Tripstack was one of the first technology companies to offer virtual interlining fares. It continues to innovate its products to create unique flight itineraries at the lowest possible price. Tripstack anticipates that VI will represent 12 to 15 percent of all flight bookings in the future.
Advantages for the Entire Travel Ecosystem
Whilst technology delivers the solutions, the whole sector can benefit from this wave of innovation and fix an old problem with a new model. For online travel agencies, airports and airlines, sharing critical travel data makes it possible to collaborate and create more choices, options, competitive fares and personalization.
Virtual interlining technology and solutions, either third-party or internal, provide online travel agencies (OTAs) with virtually interlined itineraries that eliminate major headaches for passengers who would otherwise be self-connecting. These itineraries can be cheaper, faster and offer much more choice to consumers, delivering better margins for the OTAs, alongside the opportunity to sell additional ancillaries for each leg of the itinerary. There is a real opportunity for OTAs to embrace this emerging technology and sell these flights that are increasingly more popular with the traveling public.
For airlines, virtual interlining provides an opportunity to expand their virtual network and appeal to a wider customer base. Airlines that start to utilize this technology on their own websites can increase conversions, attract more bookings at minimal cost and add to those all-important margins.
Virtual interlining can also deliver revenue wins for airports. More choices, route offerings, new destinations and experiences, bring more passengers to the airport increasing revenue for retail, restaurants and services without the need of a huge investment.
As this market evolves, virtual interlining could be increasingly profitable and competitive. But without investing in the right technology and the right data partner, airlines, OTAs and technology providers who want to offer virtual interlining will continue to find it a challenge.