No one who’s familiar with the airline industry will be surprised to hear airlines announcing codeshares and partnerships with each other. However, taking a closer look at recent partnership announcements, an observer might be surprised to notice that, in fact, many airlines are choosing to partner with rail companies as well. For example, Air France, Cathay Pacific and Qatar Airways are just a few of the airlines which have formed partnerships with the French rail carrier SNCF. So why are airlines diversifying their choice of partners and choosing to codeshare with rail companies?
It’s indicative of an emerging trend towards air-rail intermodality – in other words the interconnection between air travel and rail travel – particularly high-speed rail or inter-city rail links. This connection between different modes of transport is gaining momentum as airlines and railways both recognise the benefits not only to their business (e.g.: better capacity to reach customers through an extended network), but also for the traveller. In fact, we believe that it has the potential to transform the face of the travel industry, providing a crucial building block in the efforts towards creating the door-to-door, seamless journey that travellers and travel providers both want.
The impact of air-rail intermodality has yet to be fully felt – but we can certainly expect it to significantly change the way people travel. As travellers increasingly become better informed and their expectations for the journey become higher, it’s essential that travel providers are able to offer their customers flexible and personalised travel options that match their requirements. For example, the traveller might want to fly from New York to Paris, and then take the high-speed train to La Rochelle as a result of environmental concerns, or because it’s more cost- or time-efficient than a connecting flight. Air-rail intermodality will make this possible. Achieving ‘true’ intermodality – where a single ticket can be issued for a journey that includes both air and rail segments – will make this even more convenient and attractive for the traveller. It will also dramatically impact the way people search for travel, moving beyond airport to airport search towards more personalized, door-to-door criteria.
We will see new destinations emerge in secondary cities as the high-speed rail network opens up new options for the leisure traveller, just as low-cost carriers did when they first entered the market. The result will be more choices for travellers.