VIRTUAL INTERLINING BEST PRACTICES INITIATIVE
Ensuring reliable and safe self-connecting air travel for the European consumers
Virtual interlining has been developing intensively over the past few years and currently over a third of the cheapest fares offered on the European market are self-connecting combinations. Since this type of air travel is not regulated, various vendors across Europe started offering products without any standards, often exposing passengers to unjustified risks. In many cases vendors deliberately mislead passengers and push them into buying highly unreliable products. During the Covid-19 aviation crisis, the consequences of these practices became evident and described in our report "Virtual interlining in 2020: Lessons learned". Our goals are to establish best practice guidelines for virtual interlining stakeholders to adhere to. Some of the areas to address are:
Now: A huge part of virtually-interlined flights pushed to metasearch sites and presented on OTA's websites are what could be best described as "junk". Just to illustrate, for a very little price advantage, passengers are offered options with 3 or 4 stopovers, connecting times of 10h+ hours for inter-European trips, overnight transit at small airports that close for the night (and kick out passengers) or require transit visa to change planes, etc. On the other extreme, some very attractive fares pose real risks for missed connections or put passengers in stressful and even impossible situations.
Goal: To come up with guidelines and definitions as to what an acceptable virtual interlining product should look like. Virtual interlining allows for unlimited combinations, but should we draw a line somewhere?
Now: No rules exist whatsoever. Often passengers are presented with too short connection times or logistically impossible connections (e.g. change of airports in a country requiring transit visa).
Goal: To create clear guidelines and algorithms for virtual interlining minimum connecting times and transit processes.
Fare transparency and accessibility
Now: Vendors advertise base fares w/o any baggage or other mandatory fees, but the real costs are actually much higher. Fare rules are often hidden. Dealing directly with airlines for issues like refund requests, upgrades, etc. is often deliberately made impossible by the vendors.
Goal: To create an unified model for displaying fare breakdown & rules, costs of upgrades and amendment policies.
Now: Each online agency has own protection service, covering missed connections and cancelations, but with a lot of fine prints and exclusions. Events like bad weather, pandemics, strikes are almost always excluded, despite the fact that they are a major cause of incidents. In many cases, vendors leave passengers stranded with no protection.
Goal: To establish minimum requirements for the connection guarantee services and unified procedures.
Now: Each vendor names the virtual interlining offers differently and some vendors don't even label them. Passengers are often mislead of what they are actually buying.
Goal: To have a common way of presenting virtual interlining offers with a clear "tag" and descriptions of the fare rules.
Passenger rights and transparency
Now: Passengers on virtually-interlined flights have no rights in case of missed connections or cancellations, despite the fact that the air products are constructed and offered by a third-party vendor. Sometimes they are mislead to choose a self-connecting combination over a regular flight for a small gain (e.g. a couple of EUR). Passengers are not fully aware of the associated risks and lack of consumer protection.
Goal: To work with institutions over updating the EC directives to include the rights of self-connecting passengers.
Join us in this exciting project. Let's offer European consumers a truly great self-connecting experience starting January 2021!