Brussels Airlines and Jet Airways join forces with Thalys to link their networks to the centre of Paris, via Brussels Airport

As from 30 October 2011, passengers departing from Paris will be able to travel with Thalys to Brussels Airport, the city’s international flight hub; from there they will be able to choose from numerous destinations offered by the two partner airlines, Brussels Airlines and Jet Airways. A new stage in air-rail intermodality has just been completed. It is based on a completely new distribution system which makes air and rail data compatible. It is now possible to book a combined Thalys + Flight ticket between Paris and Kinshasa with Brussels Airlines or Paris to Delhi with Jet Airways from travel agencies or on the airlines’ websites. These combined tickets will go on sale as from today.

A commercial ambition supported by innovative technical solutions

Two airlines, Brussels Airlines and Jet Airways, one rail transporter, Thalys, and one airport, Brussels Airport, are at the heart of this unique project.

For Brussels Airlines and Jet Airways, it is about gaining access to a part of the French market that offers great potential and about increasing volumes on long-haul flights. Bernard Gustin, CEO of Brussels Airlines, explains: “thanks to this new partnership with Thalys, we are now offering our customers a comfortable high-speed rail solution to Brussels Airport. This new offer acts as an extension of our flight operations and we hope that this new product will be the start of a solid intermodal partnership between Brussels Airlines and Thalys.”

Jet Airways will operate the Paris-Brussels link as a code share with Thalys. Nikos Kardassis, CEO of Jet Airways, states: “Jet Airways has constantly innovated to set new benchmarks and our affiliation with Thalys high speed train is another distinctive travel solution. We are delighted to offer our guests this unique train-plane intermodality long haul travel solution, for seamless travel between the French capital - Paris and the Jet Airways European hub in Brussels. Jet Airways‟ guests will now be able to access Brussels Airport from the French capital in a mere hour and forty seven minutes thanks to the new Thalys‟ high-speed train . As the largest long haul carrier in Brussels since 2007, offering daily six direct flights to India and North America, we are certain that our guests from France as well as from both the Asian and North American continents will greatly benefit from this new travel solution. We look forward to extending partnership with Thalys to more European cities in the near future. ”

As a result of this project, Thalys is strengthening its position as a major player in intermodality.

Franck Gervais, CEO of Thalys International, asserts: “Travelling to and from Brussels Airport, the international airport at the heart of our network, is part of our optimisation strategy to go beyond the expectations of our international clientele. Moreover, through this partnership, Thalys is establishing itself as a key player and pioneer in the development of rail-air transport.”

Michel Jadot, Managing Director of SNCB Europe and Chairman of the Board of Thalys International, also asserts: “by developing a unique technical solution which allows mandatory reservation trains to be sold directly in GDS, SNCB can now claim to be a major player in air-rail distribution.”

Brussels Airlines‟ and Jet Airways‟ operations constitute an important part of Brussels Airport‟s intercontinental network by offering several unique destinations and some, in particular in Africa and India, which are not directly accessible from other European airports. Arnaud Feist, CEO of Brussels Airport, highlights: “Brussels Airport has become more and more popular with travellers from the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region in recent years. We are therefore very happy that this new connection makes our services accessible to Paris and the Ile-de-France region. This area actually holds a potential of 11 million inhabitants: a population as large as the whole of the Belgian market.”

A new step in the intermodality of air-rail

In order for this intermodal air-rail project to work, a number of technical, operational and legal constraints had to be overcome because there are fundamental differences between the distribution systems for air and rail. The difficulties concern the intermediation between electronic booking management platforms (GDS – globalised at an international level for air travel, but constrained to a national level for rail travel), as well as distribution, the implementation of common procedures, management of disruptions, luggage policy and even the responsibilities towards passengers.

As the keystone of this new partnership, the solutions implemented have, in particular, involved making the rail and air data compatible, such that the data from each Thalys journey (stored in the rail inventory, Résarail) are coded in the booking system for flight tickets. So from now on, travellers who reserve flights with Jet Airways or Brussels Airlines to or from Paris will directly be allocated a seat in the rail inventory for the part of their journey on Thalys, between Paris and Brussels Airport. Any modifications or cancellations will also be transmitted directly between the different systems.

This work on the compatibility of data allows a move away from the „block seats‟ model whereby airlines would buy a fixed number of seats on the partner trains. Within the partnership between Thalys, Brussels Airlines, Jet Airways and Brussels Airport, only the seats on Thalys that are actually sold by the partner company are then reserved in the rail inventory.

This challenge was overcome thanks to the intervention of two technical actors: Accesrail and BeNeRi. Accesrail is a technical tool offered to rail transporters who convert air data into rail data and vice versa. It therefore enables rail companies to appear in GDS under the IATA code of Accesrail (9B) in the same way as any airline. BeNeRI is the technical distribution platform of SNCB which makes the link between Accesrail and the rail inventory (Résarail).

Destination: Kinshasa, Delhi, Toronto, Abidjan or even Dakar

Departing from Paris-Nord at 6.25 a.m. and arriving at Brussels Airport at 8.12 a.m., Brussels Airlines and Jet Airways customers will have access to 24 international destinations from Brussels Airport (which is located just 1 hour and 47 minutes from Paris with Thalys); trains are scheduled to depart from Brussels Airport at 9.46 a.m., arriving in the centre of Paris at 11.35 a.m.

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