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European self-connection market

ICF’s Rob Walker presented an overview of the European self-connection market including the potential it offers airports and the global market at the 2016 Global Airport Development (GAD) World Conference in Lisbon. Click to download Rob's full presentation or read on for an insight piece on this topic.


Understanding the Growing Self-Connection Market Demand

 ICF estimates the 2015 European self-connection market at around 16 million passengers—a relatively small segment compared with total demand but a significant share of travel demand for some markets.  It is especially significant on those markets with limited service from traditional airlines or markets that have many connecting options between traditional and LCC carriers.

Self-Connection Drivers

 ICF conducted its own survey as to why passengers choose to self-connect today. The two main factors supporting self-connections are price and the lack of service from traditional airlines. While price is always a concern to any airline passenger, there are already many markets where LCCs provide the greatest capacity and superior schedules which could in theory account for a significant share of any connecting demand.

 ICF explored the current trends across the main enablers in this market segment, notably distribution, airports, and airlines. These were discussed in turn highlighting the recent developments and how airports and booking channels are already serving as a ‘one-stop’ shop for self-connecting traffic enabling self-connections to compete on a more even footing compared to traditional interline flows.

European Market

 Today the short haul market accounts for 550 million journeys of which around 8% involve a connection. Whilst a relatively small share, it still represents over 90 million flights taken by this segment, significantly bigger than LHR is today!

 The short haul European market is well served today and has been supported by the growth of new nonstop services which have increased from 4,000 in 2000 to 8,000 in 2015 highlighting the rapid expansion driven by LCCs across Europe.

 This trend for increased connectivity has followed the well-established patterns of capital to capital, capital to major city, major city to major city, major city to minor city, and minor city to minor city. For example, in 2000, there were just 14 unique routes between the UK and Poland focused on London and Warsaw. Today, there are more than 400 weekly flights, on 79 unique routes, connecting cities such as Aberdeen and Gdansk.

 The long haul European market is approximately half the size of the short haul market, and it relies much more heavily on connecting services. In 2015 45% of the market flew on connecting itineraries. This connecting demand accounted for over 150 million flights taken at European airports in 2015.

Airport Responses to Self-Connection

 Airports may choose to consider a range of self-connection responses—everything from doing nothing to various levels of support:

 1. Do nothing: Some airports may choose to accept what self-connections they get ‘naturally’.

2. Minimal hosting: Airports may choose to invest in an ‘on the ground’ product to drive volumes through ease of connection and repeat business.

3. Introduce ‘own service’: Airports such as Gatwick, Milan, and Changi already provide an on the ground service supporting the collection and re-check in of passengers and bags at the airport.

4. Fully integrated: Though not yet realized, airports and airlines may be able to provide a product to compete even more effectively with traditional interline connections, by integrating their services.  This would likely support the whole journey cycle from booking through the passenger’s final destination.

A Case Study: Milan

 Today Milan airport has a strong self-connection market opportunity owing to its wide range of carriers (e.g. LCC, long haul, etc.) whilst also having significant scale. Several hundred markets could realistically flow over Milan that have a combined market size of more than 10 million passengers per year. Achieving just a small share of these markets could drive valuable incremental passenger volumes to the airport and it is one of the airports within Europe that has chosen to invest in these facilities.


The self-connection market has evolved significantly over the last few years and is expected to continue developing and growing, supported by new distribution technologies and the growth of LCCs in short and long haul markets. Airports and alliances should be eager to understand and capitalize on self-connection opportunities. It may not be long until we are routinely and smoothly transferring between legacy and full service carriers—and where the necessary resources and coordination of stakeholders, logistics, and technology behind self-connections become the norm.

ICF’s Self-Connecting Tool

 ICF has worked with several airports to present the size and potential of its self-connection market. ICF’s self-connecting tool enables airports to estimate the top market opportunities combining the quality of service at their airport as well as the overall market demand. ICF’s self-connecting tool assesses four key variables:

- Suitable connection time between flights
- Circuity limits to ensure realistic flows are captured
- The carrier type to validate the self-connecting itineraries
- Further thresholds relating to minimum frequency levels and whether the market connects both ways

Click to download Rob's full presentation >>


Rob Walker

Rob Walker is a Principal with ICF and has over a decade of direct aviation experience having worked for British Airways and Virgin Atlantic across several departments before joining ICF. He has worked on many network, schedule, and connection projects for a wide range of clients including alliances, airlines, and airports. His experience provides valuable input into understanding the emerging market segment for self-connections.

Please contact Rob by telephone on +44(0)7584992371 or via email on

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