Pulkovo is first Russian airport to launch ‘virtual interline’ transfer connector

Pulkovo Depending on the season, the share of transfer traffic through Pulkovo currently averages between only three and five per cent (Pulkovo Airport)

St Petersburg’s Pulkovo Airport (LED) is determined to develop its untapped passenger transfer potential this year with the launch of Self Connect from on-line travel agency partner Kiwi.com.

Airport operator Northern capital Gateway (NCG) claims it is the first such automated project in Russia’s airport industry. Commercial director Evgeny Ilyin has revealed to Russian Aviation Insider that Self Connect will become fully operational from the beginning of the coming summer season.

Kiwi.com was selected as the strategic partner for the project as the creator of the largest database of cached flights offering connections between flights operated by 700 airlines, including 250 low-cost carriers. A passenger booking a ticket using the agency’s web service also receives a single route plan made up of segments operated by non-partner airlines, based on the so-called ‘virtual interline’ concept.

“We are delighted to be partnering with Pulkovo Airport, which is growing massively,” advises Kiwi.com’s chief business development officer Zdenek Komenda. “Passengers want a variety of options, and that’s what our technology can offer. It’s all about giving control back to customers and enabling them to make well-founded decisions on their travel choices,” he adds.

According to the on-line travel agency’s research, more than 40 per cent of passengers today tend to “by-pass traditional booking practices and begin to create their own itineraries, stopovers and transfers.” In this project with the Russian airport its algorithms will enable passengers from some 150 countries to create more than 3,650 unique flight combinations, across both full-service and low-cost airlines, for travel via Pulkovo Airport.

Where a flight is delayed or cancelled Kiwi.com will notify the passenger and offer alternative options, as well as providing compensation for a meal for delays of four-hours and accommodation for eight-hour hold-ups. In turn, the airport will help administer the connection on-site, ensuring the changed itinerary is handled as smoothly and as customer-friendly as possible.

Because Self Connect does not hold specific agreements either with individual airlines or through-fares, passengers have to reclaim their own baggage and check it onto the next leg between flights at the first stage of the project’s implementation. Passengers traveling light and in possession of a boarding pass for the connecting flight can proceed via the transfer corridor along with the flight’s standard transfer passengers.

NCG believes that Self Connect will contribute significantly to the total transfer business through Pulkovo, the share of which currently languishes between three and five per cent, depending on the season. The main contributor to this state of affairs is base airline Rossiya’s reluctance to develop hub operations at Pulkovo. However, Ilyin believes Pulkovo has the potential to conjure new traffic flows, especially as the airport has a convenient terminal infrastructure, a developed network of point-to-point flights, and the exceptional attraction of St Petersburg itself.

To fully realise the historic city’s potential as a stop-over for passengers travelling between Europe and Asia, NCG is also working with the Russian government on introducing visa-free incentive periods for air passengers.

Pulkovo’s first attempt at boosting its transfer traffic is a programme called M2 that was jointly implemented with Russia’s Transport Clearing House. It facilitates connections between airlines that do not have interline or code-share agreements. As of now, 15 carriers have joined the programme, which allows them to apply through-fares for connecting flights. Passengers using M2 are treated as transfer passengers, but with a minimum connection time of 60 minutes.

Ilyin meanwhile confirms that, even when Self Connect becomes operational, M2 will be maintained, but for only as long as it continues to be utilised by passengers and airlines.

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