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By Alistair Smout and Victoria Bryan
LONDON (Reuters) - British budget airline easyJet launched a new booking platform on Wednesday to allow customers to more easily connect onto long-haul flights with other airlines, moving ahead of its rivals in a potentially lucrative market.
Both easyJet and Ryanair have for some time been looking at so-called feeder flights to attract more customers, and have often said traditional carriers should use low cost rivals to bring passengers to their hubs.
The move is an attempt to muscle into the market for connections at international hub airports currently dominated by the big global airline alliances - Oneworld, SkyTeam and Star Alliance.
EasyJet passengers will be able to buy other airlines' flights on easyJet.com and will also initially be able to connect onto long-haul flights provided by Norwegian Air Shuttle and WestJet at London Gatwick using the airport's Gatwick Connect scheme.
Peter Duffy, chief commercial officer at easyJet, said 70 million passengers currently begin journeys at easyJet airports, and make a stop before travelling across continents, and that easyJet wanted a slice of that market.
"This will open up lots of new competition for long-haul travel and will drive prices down," Duffy told reporters.
In January, Ryanair said it hoped to start offering connections to long-haul flights from Norwegian and Aer Lingus from May, but later said that would more likely be from September. It said technical issues were causing delays.
The move also increases pressure on British Airways at Gatwick, RBC analyst Damian Brewer said, where it lacks the short-haul feed for its intercontinental routes.
Shares in Norwegian were up 2.9 percent, while easyJet's rose 1 percent.
Norwegian, one of the low-cost carriers shaking up the transatlantic market, said it hoped the deal would boost its long-haul ticket sales.
"For us this is a great opportunity to increase passenger traffic on our long-haul routes from Gatwick. It is an additional sales channel for us," a spokesman said.
The Gatwick Connect scheme allows passengers to pick up their bags and drop them off at a transfer desk before going through security for their next flight. Passengers will have a minimum 2-1/2 hour connection time.
EasyJet said it did not expect any additional costs as a result of the new service.
Aviation consultant John Strickland said the deal would make customers' lives easier, but as easyJet already operated very full planes, it was more a case of topping up business where available.
"Importantly for easyJet it won't pick up the tab for any missed connections or baggage disruptions," he added.
EasyJet also said it was in talks with carriers in the Middle East and Asia about joining the scheme, which would expand into other airports in Europe.
(Additional reporting by Conor Humphries in Dublin and Joachim Dagenborg in Oslo; Editing by Mark Potter)
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)