For Scots planning a holiday abroad, whether in Europe or further afield, the number of destinations one can fly to directly from either of Scotland’s two main airports, Glasgow or Edinburgh, is limited.

Easyjet, for example, the leading budget carrier in Scotland, offers around around 19 direct destinations outside the UK from Glasgow. From Edinburgh, Easyjet offers a few more routes, but these only number about 34 out of a possible 208 overseas direct routes in the Easyjet network.

All this adds up to a limited number of holiday destinations being available to Scots who insist on flying direct. Of course, everything opens up if you are prepared to fly via Gatwick Airport, though this means taking on the responsibility and the risk of arriving in time to make the connecting flight.

Evening Times:

As Gary Wallace, Head of Commercial Products at Gatwick Airport notes, what puts many travellers off the idea of building a “portfolio” trip via one or more connecting flights, is the risk of missing the departure time on the second leg. All it takes is a delay in the first leg of the journey and your expensive long haul flight may well be departing without you.”

After studying the problem, the Airport decided to derisk the whole “missed connections” saga for travellers. Stephenson points out that Gatwick now offers “GatwickConnects” which guarantees that if a passenger misses a connecting flight through a delay or cancellation on the first leg of their journey, the Airport will guarantee to get the passenger on the next available flight to their connecting destination.

“We became aware of the “missed connection” problem some years ago when we were analysing how passengers were using our route network,” he explains. “We have the biggest route network in the UK and we wanted to find out what was happening inside it,” he says.

What the Airport discovered was a growing trend for people to book their own onward connections, devising their own holiday by making their own choices about onward flights.

“We saw that around a million passengers a year were using the airport to connect onward, so the market potential looked exciting if we could encourage this trend. Key to this was to take away the fear that some delay on the first leg would make someone miss their connection to a flight offered by an airline that might have no relationship with the flight on the first leg of the journey,” he explains.

Evening Times: Gary Wallace, Head of Commercial Products at Gatwick AirportGary Wallace, Head of Commercial Products at Gatwick Airport

Looking at the problem it was clear that any solution would have to be on the basis of there being no hassle and no cost to the airlines involved. The Airport would have to take the responsibility for any implementation costs onto its own shoulders.

“The first thing we did was to put desks in our baggage reclaim halls, and we got the participating airlines, which now number 14, to agree that we could check connecting passengers through in the baggage reclaim areas. That enabled people to get through the airport a lot quicker,” he notes.

But this improvement only helped those passengers who turned up and discovered the service for themselves. “We talked to a lot more people and decided to move further upstream, to the point where people were getting into the search and book process for their holidays,” Stephenson says.

The Airport got together with a technology company to develop a booking engine that would allow two connecting journeys to be booked in a single transaction. This happens even where two different airlines and two airline tickets are involved.

Evening Times:

“When we started looking at this, we were the only airport in the world. It was genuinely pioneering stuff. Even today when we go to Airport Conferences we are asked to speak on the theme of derisking onward connections for passengers. It really was revolutionary and it has been a tremendous benefit for travellers connecting through Gatwick Airport,” he comments.

This whole process is becoming known as “virtual interlining”, to describe a process that in effect makes two unconnected airlines look like a single entity to passengers. “This is now emerging as a very interesting new development within the air transport industry,” Stephenson says. “Airlines that do not link up commercially can now benefit from connecting passenger flows through technology and airport providers interacting more efficiently.

For example, budget airlines tend not to have reciprocal arrangements with other mainstream airlines because it would add costs to their lean business model. What Gatwick Airport has done with GatwickConnects is to provide a layer of protection for the customer.

The traveller sees the GatwickConnects option at the time of booking. They can select this for a modest fee and it acts as a guarantee that will get them to their destination. If the next flight is the last flight and it happens to be fully booked the Airport will put them up in a hotel and get them on the first available flight the next day – at no cost to the passenger or family involved.

The GatwickConnects option is also available for overseas travellers heading for Scottish destinations.

Evening Times:

“We have a very ambitious plan to grow Gatwick Airport and we will continue to see Scottish route enhancements going forward. We are already the ninth biggest airport in Europe with some 46 million passengers using the airport each year,” he notes.

As Stephenson points out, at a stroke GatwickConnects opens up the whole Gatwick route network for Scots when it comes to planning holidays abroad. Instead of having 34 destinations, they now have a choice of 230 destinations and 50 capital cities in 77 different countries. Flights that connect through Gatwick can be booked on the airport’s website.

Bon voyage…

For more information about GatwickConnects please visit our website by CLICKING HERE 

This article appeared in The Herald on the 20th June 2019.