Four airlines and an airport: that was the line-up on Wednesday when the concept of easyJet Worldwide was launched. It’s an intriguing and unprecedented concept: easyJet, Norwegian, WestJet and Loganair teaming up with Gatwick airport to offer a sort-of network that, they hope, will rival the network carriers and their hubs.
“So let me get this right,” I said, when speaking to representatives of all five enterprises. “Loganair hates easyJet; easyJet hates Norwegian; Norwegian hates WestJet; and everyone hates Gatwick. But now you’ve gone all lovey-dovey?”
They certainly have. The idea is that a single website (owned and operated by the biggest airline, easyJet) is now able to sell connecting flights on other carriers. Well, kind-of connecting. The standard arrangement will be for passengers to combine a domestic or European flight on easyJet to Gatwick with a long-haul service on Norwegian or WestJet to the US, Canada, Latin America or Asia.
There’s a big difference from the model used by British Airways at Heathrow, Air France at Paris and Lufthansa at Frankfurt. No smiling check-in agent happy to tag your bag straight through to your final destination, and hand you boarding passes for both your short-haul flight and the long-haul connection.
Instead, you will have been assumed to have checked in online and printed out (or saved to your phone) the boarding passes.
Next, while Gatwick possesses a sophisticated baggage transfer system – it was once known by British Airways as “the hub without the hubbub” – there will be no behind-the-scenes transfer. Instead, passengers will need to wait around for their bags at the carousel after the first flight and take it to the GatwickConnects desk. It’s a walk of only a few yards, but it’s not quite the same experience as breezing off for a coffee while machine and man identify the baggage and organise for it to be loaded on to your next flight.
Because of this extra complexity, and the likely need to change terminals at Gatwick, the minimum connection time is two hours and 30 minutes.
Things will inevitably go wrong sometimes, though, typically when your inbound flight is delayed and you miss the outbound connection at Gatwick. You will be rescheduled onto another flight, but it won’t necessarily be as straightforward a process as going to the airline desk and demanding a seat on the next available departure.
But if you are prepared to accept those conditions, the tie-up promises prospective rewards that are currently the preserve of the network carrier – such as a straightforward quote for the whole journey, rather than having to juggle between screens as you seek to connect from Belfast to Buenos Aires or Edinburgh to Edmonton. You can compare this easily with what other players are charging, for example on the Dohop fare-comparison site – and it happens that Dohop’s technology is powering the whole enterprise.
Much remains to be done, such as working out how not to pay the Chancellor two helpings of Air Passenger Duty; Edinburgh-Gatwick-Fort Lauderdale on British Airways has a £75 APD liability, while self-connectors pay £88. And how will EC261, the rules on delayed and cancelled flights, apply to journeys? The law was not designed for this sort of model.
But former Monarch Airlines boss Tim Jeans applauds the development: “It looks to be making good use of the GatwickConnects service and potentially solves a big problem for Norwegian, that of driving feeder traffic onto their long-haul network from Gatwick.” His conclusion, with which I agree: “A service that combines the network and cost of a short-haul specialist with access to low-cost, long-haul routes in a single ticket has got to be good news.”
Let’s see where the concept turns up next; my bet is on Barcelona. There are many more airports, and airlines, who could sign up for the latest twist in the low-cost revolution.