Ultra low cost carriers are great at bringing low fares to places, but they don’t really help connect people into the broader air travel network. None of these airlines interline with other carriers, and a good number don’t even allow you to connect between flights on that airline. London’s Gatwick airport has partnered with Dohop to do something really interesting. It has taken its previous Gatwick Connect program and put it on steroids. The new service is called GatwickConnects and it’s like a strange hybrid travel agent/ground service provider/insurance company. It’s awesome, and I can only hope that US airports will consider something similar. Let’s walk through how this thing works.
In the US, Spirit and Frontier sell connecting flights, but they don’t work with other airlines. In Europe, the big ultra low cost carriers are even more strict. They operate more like Allegiant here in the US. Ryanair and easyJet don’t allow connections to be booked on the same ticket at all. If you want to connect, you have to buy two separate tickets and you’ll get no help connecting your bags. If things go wrong? Tough luck.
For Gatwick Airport, this is a problem. Gatwick has become a major hub for leisure travel in the UK. easyJet is the largest airline with 41 percent of passengers, but British Airways is second with 15 percent. You get a big mix of short and long haul carriers in there, but published connections are few and far between since most airlines there don’t work with each other or even with themselves. Despite all that, an increasing number of people had begun building their own connections because the fares were so good.
Gatwick saw an opportunity to help those people and boost traffic further by finding a way to allow those connections to happen more easily. It first launched Gatwick Connect in May 2013. Previously if you wanted to build your own connections, you could. But you had to claim your own bags, take them to the ticket counter, re-check them, and then go through security. That was a real pain, especially if one airline was in the North Terminal and the other in the South Terminal.
The original Gatwick Connect had a desk in the baggage claim area that acted like a bag re-check you find with international carriers elsewhere. Once you claimed your bag, you walked over to the desk and they re-tagged it and took it to your next flight. In effect, Gatwick was creating an interline arrangement through its own devices. You could also get your boarding pass for your connection if you didn’t have it yet. This eliminated the need to go to the ticket counter at all. You could just head back through security and on to your connecting gate.
But that only solved part of the problem. You still had to go buy your own tickets separately, building your own connections. You were also on your own if you had delays or cancellations. So, the airport put Gatwick Connect on steroids, removed all sense of proper word-spacing, and created GatwickConnects. It kept the original bag service (which is still free for people who buy their own connections), but it created a service to make it more seamless.
To tackle the separate ticket issue, Gatwick worked with Dohop. Dohop already self-builds connections in its system so that was easy. Now when you search Dohop, GatwickConnects will come up as an online travel agent option on those flights that connect through Gatwick. But keep in mind this only works for sale in the UK, Norway, and Iceland right now. That’s going to change, but you have to change your country in the upper right if you want to see it today. (The Gatwick-branded site is at dohop.com/gatwick, but I don’t think you can change your country there. So just use the regular Dohop site.) You’ll see a result like this:
You can see that Dohop shows you an option to buy separate tickets, but if you pay more, you get GatwickConnects looking like another online travel agency. When you click it, you go off to the Gatwick Airport website where you see this:
The cost of this service is GBP 27.50 per person for a one way or GBP 40 per person for a roundtrip. You buy the tickets in a single transaction via GatwickConnects, but you’re really getting three things. You get one ticket on Wow, one on easyJet, and then you get the GatwickConnects service. If you need to make changes or anything, you’d come back to GatwickConnects to handle, just as you would with another online travel agent.
That’s helpful to have it done all it one place, but is it really worth the extra cost when you could just book it on your own? There are a couple of extra benefits here. First, you get priority security to make it easier to get back to your next gate. You also get a luggage tracking service. But most important is what the airport calls a “Protected Connection” service. This is like travel insurance.
My biggest issue with building self-connections is that if something goes wrong on the first flight, the second airline isn’t going to care. You lose the ticket and have to find your own way to the destination, paying whatever fare is out there to make it happen. That’s why I’ve seen plenty of people shy away from building their own connections. The risks involved are too great.
GatwickConnects, however, treats the connection like a regular online connection at a legacy carrier. If you miss your flight, GatwickConnects will put you on the next one without cost. It’ll also put you up in a hotel, give you meal vouchers, etc. As is always the case, there’s bunch of fine print here, but it generally matches what you find with standard connections. For example, they won’t do this if the reason for the misconnection is outside of the airline’s control (weather, strike, air traffic control, etc). You can see all the restrictions here.
Of course, there may not be a connecting flight for days, in theory. And flights could be full. So GatwickConnects can’t make this a perfect solution. But it’s still a good insurance-style option that would make me feel much more confident about booking a connection on airlines that don’t work together.
So far this works for easyJet, Norwegian, Virgin Atlantic, Thomas Cook, Flybe, and WOW. That means once this gets expanded beyond the UK/Norway/Iceland point-of-sale, people in the US who have Virgin Atlantic service to Gatwick (Florida and Vegas) can build their own connections with these other carriers and have it all protected through GatwickConnects.
This is a really innovative idea. Just imagine what would happen if an airport like Las Vegas did this. Think of all the small communities with Allegiant service that could be better connected into global airline networks. It’s not perfect, but it would take the reliance on airline interline agreements away. And that’s great for consumers.