European passengers flying long-haul to the US or South America will now be able to book their flights through easyJet after the UK low-cost airline launched a new service aimed at connecting flights internationally.

EasyJet has teamed up with low-cost long-haul carriers Norwegian Air Shuttle and Canada’s WestJet to allow passengers to book connecting flights on a combined ticket.

This means a traveller wanting to fly between Europe and then connect on to the US, South America or Asia, and vice versa, will be able to do so by buying one ticket through easyJet’s website.

The move by easyJet will for the first time see the low-cost carriers rivalling the alliances of the traditional network carriers, such as Star Alliance, SkyTeam and OneWorld, which offer global connections through interline and code-share agreements.

The UK low-cost airline said it is in talks with other carriers, including Middle-Eastern and Asian airlines, to expand the new service, which it has called “Worldwide by easyJet”.

EasyJet is rolling out the initiative first at London’s Gatwick airport, its largest base. The budget carrier plans to expand the service to Milan Malpensa, Geneva, Barcelona as well as Paris Charles de Gaulle and Amsterdam Schiphol, two of Europe’s biggest transfer hubs.

It comes as Ryanair, easyJet’s main low-cost rival, has been working on similar plans. Michael O’Leary, the chief executive of Europe’s largest budget airline, has been vocal over the past few years on his plans to offer connecting flights to long-haul operators, but the airline has encountered some delays in signing major partnership deals. Ryanair is also in talks with Norwegian over teaming up.

In May, Ryanair revealed a deal to sell flights to the US and Latin America as part of a partnership with Air Europa. It is looking at expanding this to allow Ryanair customers to connect on to Air Europa long-haul flights through Madrid.

“EasyJet appears to have stolen a march on Ryanair, which has been working on similar concepts for connecting flights and making much noise, but less progress,” said Gerald Khoo, analyst at Liberum. He noted that technology, compensation liability and airport co-operation have been the key obstacles for Ryanair.

EasyJet has overcome those problems by using the GatwickConnects product, a service launched in 2015 that helps passengers self-connecting from one flight to another at the airport.

The move is an attempt to compete against traditional flag carriers, such as Air France-KLM and British Airways, part of International Airlines Group, whose businesses rely on a traditional connecting model.

Carolyn McCall, easyJet’s outgoing chief executive, said it is targeting a market of around 70m passengers who fly long-haul through the airports easyJet operates in.

“By opening this new market segment, this now means that easyJet can access a greater range of passengers flying across Europe,” she said.

The service includes certain conditions aimed at making the operation run more smoothly for easyJet and its partner airlines.

Passengers will have a minimum two-and-a-half hour connection time between flights to help lessen any problems with delayed flights.

Flyers who check in a bag will have to collect it and hand it to a GatwickConnects desk for it to be loaded on to the connecting flight.

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