Virtual Interlining: How Kiwi Is Disrupting Flight Connections

Kiwi.com started life as a simple travel tool, helping passengers find connecting itineraries with non-interlined airlines with a minimum of stress. Eight years later and the company has grown to employ almost 3,000 people and handle all aspects of the travel booking. But Kiwi are not ready to stop. Here’s how the company is looking to continue disrupting the way we travel and book our flights, and making it easier and safer than ever to curate our own connecting itineraries.

Kiwi.com virtual interlining
Self connecting comes with many risks, but those risks are minimized using virtual interlining. Photo: Unsplash

If you’re not aware of kiwi.com, the company describes itself as a ‘virtual interlining service’. Airlines often have interlining agreements with other carriers, which enables passengers to book through tickets on multiple carriers with baggage taken care of from flight to flight. However, not all airlines offer this sort of partnership.

Indeed, many of the world’s biggest low-cost carriers do not have extensive interlining agreements, and certainly not between each other. Kiwi.com exists to enable passengers traveling on multiple low-cost carriers or on other itineraries without any interlining in place to book their entire journey in one place.

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Not only that, but all the connections are covered by Kiwi.com’s guarantee, which means any delay or cancellation that leads to a missed connection is taken care of. Simple Flying caught up with Zdenek Komenda, Chief Business Development Officer at Kiwi.com on the sidelines of the AviaDev Europe conference to find out what’s coming next for this disruptive travel company.

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What is Kiwi.com doing right now?

We asked Komenda to explain a little about where Kiwi came from and how the service works. He told us,

“Kiwi.com started as a small startup eight years ago. It was founded by one Czech student entrepreneur who was arranging a trip from the Czech city of Brno to Porto in Portugal. He discovered that by combining a couple of carriers he could save 80% on the cost of his ticket. However, this was a time consuming process, taking many hours, so then he had an idea to set up a service that would take care of the hard work.

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Kiwi.com virtual interlining
Zdenek Komenda, Chief Business Development Officer at Kiwi.com, talked to Simple Flying at the recent AviaDev conference. Photo: AviaDev

“Now into our eighth year, we have around 3,000 people working for Kiwi.com with a thousand core employees in the Czech Republic. We transport around 35,000 seats every day. Although we started with the low cost carriers, now we can combine full service carriers as well.”

I asked for clarity on the guarantee and how that all works. Komenda told me,

“The guarantee is applied for all the virtual interline combinations for all the carriers that don’t cooperate with each other. All the liability lies on us, so it’s not the airline or the airport or the customer. We often know, even before departure, if a flight is being cancelled or delayed. If that means that the connecting flight would be affected, then we offer either a full refund or a new flight.

“If we’re able to connect that customer to their final destination today, then we will do that. If there are no flights that day, then we will cover the hotel voucher, a meal voucher and even a transfer from the airport to the hotel and back.

“When something goes wrong last minute, we have 1,800 people working in customer support centers all around the world. If a person gets stuck at the airport, they can call our 24/7 customer support line where our operators speak something like 12 different languages and get support that way.”

Ground transportation and baggage is coming

Kiwi, not satisfied with providing an easier way to combine low cost carriers, have been extending their service to include ground transportation too. Popular rail and bus services such as Flixbus and RER can now be included in the itinerary, and the company is building on that network to include more operators all the time.

Kiwi.com virtual interlining
Kiwi is now rolling out bookings on ground services too. Photo: Unsplash

Even better, the connections based on road and rail transport are covered by the very same guarantee. This means that, if a customer has an itinerary that begins with a bus journey, for example, and that bus gets stuck in traffic, they can simply let Kiwi know and all their onward flights, trains and busses will be rearranged by the company.

What’s even more exciting, however, is what’s coming next. Right now, Kiwi are trialing a baggage interlining service which will see connections facilitating automatic baggage transfers within the service. Komenda told me,

“Soon, our passengers won’t need to recheck their bags. All they’ll need to do is one extra step at the origin airport. The traveler would go to the check in kiosk at the origin airport as normal, then will put the kiwi.com bag tag with its QR code on their bags and scan them with the kiwi.com app.

“Now, all the luggage is synched with the booking and itinerary and shared with the ground handlers at the other airports. The bag will automatically get loaded onto the connecting flight, and the passenger won’t even need to exit airside because he already has the boarding pass from us. The bag is tracked throughout its journey, so the passenger can see at any time exactly where it is. They just need to pick it up at the final destination airport.”

Kiwi.com virtual interlining
Passengers will soon be able to check their bags right through to the destination. Photo: Unsplash

I asked how long it would be before this would be rolled out, and whether it would be implemented across all the airports being used by Kiwi.com travelers. Komenda replied,

“It’s not live for the public yet, but we’ve been testing it with employees and friends in Stanstead airport. It’s going to be launched next year; everything is in place. With regards to a rollout, volume is key. We need to see enough passenger volume using Kiwi at the airport to justify setting up the baggage interlining facilities.

“At smaller airports where there is not enough volume, we might look at a facility like we have at Milan Bergamo. This is the deepest baggage solution that we will have but the lighter solution is to have a special desk where the passenger still needs to collect the bag but rechecks it at our own desk. This can save a lot of time.

“We will need to work on a case by case basis, as ground handling operations can be very variable from airport to airport. Some airports have ground handling done by just one company, some might have two or even three, some airports don’t have any third party companies at all but use their own staff. So, it’s a case by case situation as to which airports we can roll this out to.”

What’s the future for a company like Kiwi?

Clearly, Kiwi are focused on disrupting the travel industry, and giving passengers a great means of connecting between carriers who do not officially interline. They’re working on the baggage issue, rolling out ground connections and growing at an exponential rate… so what’s next?

Kiwi.com virtual interlining
Kiwi.com wants to let people book from A to B, door to door, with a guarantee. Photo: Kiwi.com

Komenda shared their aspirations, saying,

“So we’re mastering the combinations of flight to flight, were adding lots of ground carriers, the final stage would be transportation from address to address. A customer should be able to book with us from one specific address to another specific address with just one click. The whole journey would be covered by the guarantee, so we’d look to connect into Uber or taxi companies, that sort of thing, to get right from A to B with one booking.”

A guaranteed booking from my door to the door of my hotel on the other side of the world? Yes please!

What do you think? Let us know in the comments.

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