Every now and then, smart airlines show the world that there is still room for innovation in a seemingly comparable and highly competitive industry: air travel. The differentiation of airlines is more and more difficult, as inflight entertainment systems and cabin design gets more and more standardized (and reduced). The only way for an airline to really make a difference for their customers is service. There are many examples of airlines that truly go the extra mile for their customers, and try harder than the mediocre rest of them. Take Delta Airlines, which offers to me the most friendly and customer-centric service organization of all US airlines. Their cooperation with premium hotel chain Starwood is deep and meaningful for customers – but this is another topic.
In Europe, Airlines must be way more creative to stand out. Competition is deadly fierce, and distances are sometimes too short to make flights profitable. My favorite European airline, Austrian Airlines, has recently launched a product that is very interesting. Its basic business model: it enhances the reach of its hub, Vienna International Airport, by building a train line right into its terminal and offering trains to key Austrian cities as flight routes. The high speed rail network of Austria hauls passengers to the country’s capital airport in no time, and lets you use your flight ticket as train ticket as well. Passengers have preassigned seats, earn airlines miles and are rebooked in case they experience a delay and miss their connection flight. Just like on a real flight. Star Alliance status members and business class passengers even have a lounge at the train station to hang out and relax before the ride.
The principle behind is easy: Austrian Airlines (OS) has assigned train stations IATA airport codes. For example, Linz becomes LZS (normally LNZ for Linz Airport) and the high speed train ICE leaves every two hours to bring passengers in 1:47 to Vienna Airport. That means more passengers from Linz for Austrian Airlines, less car driving and expensive parking fees for customers, and a positive impact on the environment. Other Austrian cities are expected to be connected with this system, called AiRail, soon.
Austrian Airlines has been able to cut down their flight service from Linz Airport to Vienna from six flights per day to two, while adding up to 10 trains per day, increasing availability of connections for passengers. And, Vienna airport is a lot better than Munich when it comes to lounges and short walking time.
Mother company Lufthansa is already offering the AiRail train service in its central German hub Frankfurt Airport to several cities, avoiding airspace congestion and the high environmental emissions of ultra-shorthaul flights.