Only a year after the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull caused travel chaos for millions of air passengers, this month a second volcanic ash cloud threatened to do the same. Over 200 flights in and out of Scotland and Germany were cancelled as ash fragments from the Icelandic volcano, Grimsvotn drifted over Northern Europe. Fortunately, it was not as serious as first thought and the cloud dispersed after just a few days and in time for the bank holiday weekend.
It is timely that this occurred so soon after the release of the EU whitepaper - Roadmap to a Single European Transport Area - which provides a vision of a fully integrated, European - wide travel network that will encompass all modes of transport. For, as the familiar scenes of stranded holidaymakers hit our screens, the overreliance on airlines by travellers and the woeful unpreparedness of the European travel network for disruption to air travel was once again laid bare.
Currently, when flights are cancelled the majority of passengers are forced to either abandon their plans or seek and pay for an alternative form of transport themselves. As the Financial Times reported on May 25th, the one exception to this rule was in Berlin where Lufthansa advised passengers on cancelled flights that they could exchange their tickets for rail vouchers. Lufthansa’s ability to do this was thanks to the interlining agreement that it holds with Deutsche Bahn. This makes it easier for passengers to book their travel using multiple providers and make changes to their itinerary when necessary.
Such agreements are currently far from commonplace; but they could and should be. Technology has the potential to transform the travel experience and help the industry to streamline its services so that travellers can have a seamless journey, however they choose to travel. This can be achieved through a combination of the right technology and access to the right travel content - through a global distribution system that is already used across the travel and tourism industry.
Interline agreements across the European network form the quickest route to fulfilling the EU whitepaper’s vision. The current lack of them is due to the fact that there is NO open access for rail to this distribution network (access to full fares and timetables). This needs to be executed in cooperation with a European standard in order to ensure the traveller benefits from a total trip experience and the railways (and airlines) start to capture new business from other modes of transport. Not only will doing this ensure that travellers across Europe are kept moving even in the event of disruption, but it will reduce our reliance on carbon guzzling aeroplanes - another key objective of the white paper and crucial to meeting our 2020 carbon emission targets.