Air Travel: Potential Buyer for Norwegian; More on GDS Fees

Norwegian Air

There’s been more big news in budget airlines and GDS fees this week in air travel. 

In a surprise move, this week IAG took a nearly 5 percent stake in Norwegian, which the airline told The Daily Telegraph could lead to a bid for the entire airline. Norwegian has been operating as a low-cost carrier since 2002; however, over the past few years it has launched a number of transatlantic routes to the United States, bringing the low-cost model to flights to Europe. A purchase by IAG would put Norwegian under the same parent company as British Airways and Iberia, two airlines which have made waves with travel agents over the past year by being among the airline groups to implement a surcharge on bookings made through GDS. 

Speaking of GDS fees, this week another company signed a deal to avoid the newly implemented GDS fee by Air France - KLM -- American Express Global Business Travel (GBT). GBT said the deal would allow its customers to avoid the 11€ fee on GDS bookings, which the airline group began charging April 1. Expedia Group, which owns the Expedia CruiseShipCenters travel agency in addition to OTAs like Expedia.com and Hotels.com, signed a similar deal last week. 

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In other technology news this week, Sabre announced a new Digital Airline Commerce platform that it says will allow travel agencies to develop personalized offers for their clients using new distribution capability (NDC) technology. Billed as an end-to-end solution for the travel ecosystem, the rollout of the new platform will begin in the fourth quarter of this year, with other improvements launching later. 

In Mexico, three airports launched their first digital biometric kiosks for automatic passenger registration: Cancun International Airport, Mexico City International Airport and Los Cabos International Airport. The new kiosks allow passengers to use biometrics instead of passports to enter and leave the country, which can allow travelers to complete their review within two and a half minutes, officials said. 

In flight news, this week Azores Airlines announced it will double its number of weekly flights to Portugal this summer, including 11 flights per week from Boston Logan Airport and a weekly flight from Providence. The summer service, which will start in May, will be on the airline’s new Airbus A321neo fleet. All flights will be nonstop to the Azores, with connections to Funchal (Madeira), Lisbon, Porto, Frankfurt, Gran Canaria and Cape Verde.

Scandinavian Airlines announced an expanded winter schedule between the United States and Europe this week, which the airline said will improve options from key hubs such as Miami, Washington, DC, and Los Angeles. Starting December 10, the airline will offer three flights per week to Copenhagen; two to Stockholm; and two to Oslo. December 12, the airline will add a new Wednesday flight, providing daily departures from Washington, DC, to Scandinavia. Finally, starting December 16, the airline will replace its Wednesday flight from Los Angeles to Stockholm with a Sunday flight due to significant demands for flights on weekend. 

Finally, in onboard product news this week, United Airlines announced it was expanding its free entertainment options. The airline has expanded its personal device entertainment option to all aircraft with DIRECTV live streaming for purchase to provide at least one free entertainment option on all Wi-Fi equipped aircraft (which is any aircraft with more than 70 seats), allowing customers to use their device to access a library of complimentary movies and TV shows, in addition to having the opportunity to purchase DIRECTV to view live programming.

Additionally, on select flights during the busy summer travel season, United will distribute free cardboard phone stands which prop up devices and allow hands free viewing. The airline also said it is continuing to install in-seat power outlets.

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