Aer Lingus-JetBlue tie-up: sign of things to come?

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The Aer Lingus-JetBlue tie-up is a first of its kind and model-changing but it is not real-time

After nearly three years of discussions and more than one year of developing the required technology, Aer Lingus and Jet­Blue Airways are finally launching their new web-based partnership.

The two carriers announced at the beginning of February that they are ready to start selling combination tickets in April for flights connecting Dublin or Shannon in Ireland with over 40 US destinations. The tie-up has sparked interest among low-cost carriers worldwide since Mannion first revealed it was in the works early last year because it promises to have all the benefits of a codeshare without any of the traditional costs.

Mannion and JetBlue chief executive Dave Barger could not stop using the phrases "innovative", "first of its kind", "totally different" and "untraditional" during a Dublin press conference announcing the tie-up. Both say they have received calls over the last year from several carriers interested in forging similar partnerships. "It's not an exclusive deal. The door is open for Aer Lingus and JetBlue to partner with other carriers," Mannion says.

aerlingusjetblue4 mannion barger    
Mannion (left) and Barger celebrate the tie-up on the Dublin tarmac

He adds Aer Lingus will initially focus on implementing and expanding the JetBlue tie-up, which will be limited to connections at New York JFK in the first phase but will likely be extended in a second phase to include other Aer Lingus gateways such as Boston and Orlando as well as flights beyond Dublin to continental Europe. But Aer Lingus corporate affairs director Enda Corneille says JetBlue is working toward adding seven partners by the end of this year, saying Aer Lingus is only first because "we've been talking about it for two to three years and our brands are so similar". Datalex chief executive Cormac Whelan also expects JetBlue will partner with up to 10 carriers, potentially using the technology Datalex has developed for Aer Lingus to support the new link with JetBlue.

Barger says "there is not necessarily someone who is queued up as next" but acknowledges partnering with foreign carriers serving JFK is "a large part of our strategy". Star Alliance member Lufthansa, which recently took a 19% stake in JetBlue, is one option but JetBlue is also talking to several non-aligned carriers. Barger says the commercial relationship Lufthansa and JetBlue are now discussing "may look like this or it may not".

The new partnership model does not involve swapping codes and is not an interline because there is no pro rate agreement. Instead Aer Lingus and JetBlue are simply combining their cheapest one-way internet fares with each carrier receiving its portion of the ticket. The carriers will transfer bags, something many low-cost carriers refuse to do, but they claim transfer costs are minimal because they operate at adjacent terminals at JFK. They are also not concerned about the potential cost of missed connections because both carriers offer multiple daily frequencies on most of their JFK routes.

"It is unique. It is a simplified interline," Whelan says. "There are no pro rates and hardly any back office costs. They have taken a simple view and linked up their systems."

Whelan says Datalex has been working on the project for over one year but says the technology could have been developed in only three to four months if legal and other issues did not delay the project. The work has mainly been done on the Aer Lingus website, which for now is the only channel which can sell the new tickets. Jetblue.com customers will be directed to aerlingus.com.

Aer Lingus and JetBlue have called their web-based link up "real-time" but Whelan says in reality a "cache" has been set up holding JetBlue fares that mimics real-time. He says there is a risk of double selling a single ticket because the two carriers' inventories are not linked but given the volume expected from the partnership this is unlikely.

"It's as close to real-time as we are going to get," says JetBlue vice-president planning Marty St George, adding if the link is not effective it will be upgraded.

Whelan says the deal could move to real-time if the new partnership generates a high volume of traffic or if JetBlue adds several other partners. "In a multi-airline environment it will have to go to real-time," he says.

For more information, watch our video at: www.flightglobal.com/aerlingusjetblue