Swiss International Airlines is expanding its route network through numerous codeshare services operated by partner carriershare agreements. BTN caught up with Sarah Built, General Manager UK, Ireland & Nordics at WTM to discuss the carrier’s developments since it became a member of The Lufthansa Group in July.
BTN: How are you dealing with the low cost model in Europe?
SB: It has had a very positive impact on the travel industry opening up travel to a huge number of new passengers. However it has also set an expectation about what people are willing to pay. We have to strike the right balance between having a high volume passengers, but also offer a product and a service which appeals to business travellers who need more flexibility with their service.
Swiss has to have prices that are comparable with the low cost carriers with flights starting at £85 return including taxes, but there is no guarantee of these low fares. Booking early is the best way to get the best value fare.
We do have a lot of special offers but we can not guarantee a destination. We have a newsletter on Swiss.com that informs people of lastminute offers - we also make those available to the agency community who are by far our greatest distribution channel.
BTN: How many Swiss passengers book online at swiss.com?
SB: The majority of our passengers travel point to point. 25% of passengers travelling out of the UK to Switzerland book online. For more complicated itineraries people still go through the agencies. Whilst we are encouraging direct sales our number one partner is and will always be travel agents - full stop!
BTN: What have the recent developments at Zurich Airport done for Swiss?
SB: The new terminal has really helped us in terms of the credibility and it’s a modern airport that people are willing to transit through.
BTN: You have recently announced codesharing with Air Canada, Qatar Airways, and United Airways, offering routes to Doha, Delhi, Toronto and Washington. Do you plan to launch your own routes in the near future?
SB: We are not looking to expand our route network through our own operations as we are not in a large period of expansion and still in a restructuring program. We are very happy to set up codeshare operations with our partner airlines because they give the customer more choice. Moving towards Star Alliance - we will have a lot more opportunities to codeshare with our partner carriers which is in the customers best interest.
BTN: How far along are you along integrating your membership with Star Alliance?
SB: We will join fully in April 2006. This membership, together with our partnership with Lufthansa, opens up the world to our customers. Being a member of an alliance also presents a number of cost synergies which we are interested in exploring.
BTN: Can you comment on the importance of being a member of an alliance in today’s industry? Do you foresee a time when there will be alliance of low cost carriers?
SB: It is almost too big to say - it customers expect to be able to transit from one carrier to another with synchronised routes.
It is hard to say whether the low cost carriers will form an alliance because they are not network carriers so the connections aren’t so great - on the cost side it would fit - t’s very hard to say if they will go into full alliances
BTN: What benefits has being a member of Lufthansa Group brought Swiss?
SB: We are still a stand alone airline but with the backing of a very large parent. From a customer point of view it is very positive since Lufthansa has a very large route network.
We have been very warmly welcomed into that group and so far it has been a very positive experience for everyone involved in the integration.
Although it’s still early days we are still moving quickly. In the UK we launched out first combined fare offer and we plan to go further with that in 2005. Out of Switzerland and Germany we have harmonised our schedule. There are so many different fronts on which we are working.
BTN: How far along are you with implementation of e-tickets in line with IATA’s proposal to scrap paperless tickets by 2007 and how is passenger uptake?
SB: Swiss have implemented e-ticketing in 75% of our destinations. We are very far along with the initiative in the UK with 80% of passengers using the service.
A very high percentage of people are utilising e-tickets worldwide. People tend to be nervous before they have tried paperless ticketing but once they have tried it they don’t go back.