Flying is a great and exciting way to travel. It allows us to overcome large distances in mere hours and has grown to be an affordable means of travel. However, there are certain situations when passengers are considering other forms of transportation as an alternative.
Today, traffic has already shifted from air to rail; especially on shorter routes within Europe and between Madrid and Valencia rail is the primary mode of transport.
Are these forms of transportation a threat to airlines? Competition in the aviation industry has definitely undergone a change in paradigm and today the entire transport industry is competing against each other.
So I was really excited the other day when I watched CNN Business Traveller. Doing some global crisscrossing on planes, trains and automobiles, Richard Quest was proving that intermodal is truly a driver in the industry.
The way to travel will continue changing: Uber is not only a clever and easy app, it is proof that the way we travel is fundamentally changing. (And Airbnb shows that the same goes for the way we will lodge in the future.)
So, what else comes next in this transportation evolution? That’s right: intermodal. And there are three heavy weight reasons for why you shouldn’t turn a blind eye to the trend.
Reason 1: Politicians want it
Around the world, rail services are rapidly expanding their route networks. In the EU, the Commission has shown its support for the development of a pan-European high-speed rail network, under the Horizon 2020 programme, with nearly €80 billion funding available between 2014 and 2020 for such developments.
The United States has a new high-speed rail service programme that will be in development from 2015-2030 to connect people by rail across the entire country. In addition, China will have one of the most extensive high-speed rail networks by 2020.
So what makes these rail services so attractive to governments? Modern rail services are better for the environment (through the use of clean energy and minimising pollution caused by individual road traffic); they are affordable and rail services support the further economic development of regions they connect.
Ferry services are beneficial transportation options as well, obviously and especially for islands. But they are very helpful in coastal regions that have easy access to water and where airports or other infrastructure supporting travel (railway tracks and roads) would be difficult to install.
Reason 2: Travellers want it
While cars are still considered the most flexible individual form of ground transportation, rail and ferry services are becoming more and more popular, as they not only take away the pains of sitting in traffic or navigating difficult routes, but they have also become a very affordable and fast alternative.
Bus services too are an even more affordable option for travellers. Although still thought of as an individual mode of transport, shuttle services are able to provide travellers with a touch of class offering a more intimate and comfortable option than travelling in a large train or bus.
Shuttle providers can offer individual services, by departing from the airport and transporting passengers right to their doorstep or picking them up from their home on the way to the airport.
There are many limitations to flying as a single mode of transportation: airport infrastructure isn’t always easily available (think of Tibet) and flights may not always be affordable, especially if countries have not yet adopted an LCC culture.
Other modes of transportation such as Deutsche Bahn’s Rail & Fly service can also make it easier for passengers to arrive or depart from airports, before or after their flights.
In some cases it is simply easier and often faster to take a train that services passengers between city centres rather than going to the airport and through all of the procedures that go along with flying, twice! Rail to air services are now in place with train station check in facilities, where luggage can be checked right through. Rail to air services appear to become the primary feeder for long haul air traffic, especially with more and more airports being connected to high speed rail networks.
An additional upside to rail and bus services is that they usually offer trips at a higher frequency, therefore giving travellers more flexibility and choices in their travel plans.
Reason 3: The industry wants it
Airlines are able to widen their customer reach around an airport by adding or connecting other modes of transport to and from airports. Some of these services are already in action.
There are bus services connecting remote airports like Charleroi to Brussels and Buenos Aires to Ezeiza. High-speed train services give passengers access to major airports situated outside of metropolitan areas like Oslo Gardermoen and soon, Washington Dulles.
Even ferries are playing large roles in connecting passengers to airports like those between downtown Toronto and Billy Bishop Airport (although a pedestrian tunnel will be ready soon) and those that transfer passengers easily between Hong Kong airport, which has its own transit ferry terminal, and Macau.
By connecting with ground transport providers, airlines can broaden their network and generate more traffic by providing multi-airport connections in cities or regions where major airports are within close distance to each other.
For instance, a passenger could fly from New York JFK to London Heathrow, and then connect to London Gatwick via ground transportation to catch a connecting flight to Malta.
Coming from the ferry business, Argentinean Buquebus who operates ferries between Uruguay and Argentina, crossing the Rio de la Plata, have successfully extended their network with buses and even tried to integrate air services with BQB Airlines.
Broadening the access of airports to new regions gives airlines the benefit of concentrating on their core routes, so they don’t have to operate smaller and unprofitable ones.
Instead, airlines can use various partners providing alternative forms of transportation to transport outlying passengers into their core market. Even more, airlines could use intermodal connections to create an end-to-end passenger experience, completed with rail seat reservations, check through luggage, and more.
Intermodal transport allows airlines to benefit from alternative forms of transport, and vice versa.
Distribution efforts should reflect the development and opportunities of alternate forms of transport by finding additional solutions to incorporate rail, road and ferry services into airline reservation systems. With many innovative developments in the realm of airline distribution, it is now time to open these innovations and opportunities up to intermodal traffic!
What are your thoughts about intermodal traffic?
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