Why I hate airline code-sharing and — why you will, too

How much do I hate airline code-sharing? Let me count the ways.

I could offer a lot of persuasive answers, starting with the many code-share catastrophe cases we receive every day on this site. I could also point out that code-sharing is a euphemism for passing off someone else’s flight as your own, or in the language of reality, lying.

But I also have personal reasons for detesting code-sharing. They came from my own recent disaster involving Emirates and JetBlue.

Disaster? Oh yeah.

Picture hours-long lines at JFK, crying children and intransigent ticket agents, and you’ll get the idea of what I was up against. No question about it, code-sharing is one of the biggest airline scams of the 21st century.

Here’s the setup: I was flying from Nairobi back to Orlando. Emirates took the first two segments, from Nairobi to Dubai and from Dubai to New York. Then JetBlue was supposed to pick up the connection from JFK to Orlando.

It didn’t happen.

First, a little context. I was in Kenya to speak at a conference, and for reasons too complicated to mention in this story, I brought my three kids, ages 10, 12 and 14. Our day had started in the northern part of Kenya with a grueling six-hour drive, two hours of which were on dirt roads. That was followed by another six-hour wait, then a five-hour flight to Dubai, a three-hour stopover and a 13-hour flight to New York.

We were beyond exhausted.

Shortly after landing in the States, we found out that our JetBlue flight, which was supposed to leave five hours later, had been canceled. The reason: It alternated between “weather” and “runway construction.” No one was entirely sure, but other flights to Orlando were leaving on time, so I had a difficult time believing either excuse.

Related story:   Here's a secret rule about credit card disputes you need to know

A JetBlue representative sent us to a long line at JFK’s Terminal 5 — and when I say long, I’m not exaggerating. It took nearly two hours to get help.

Calls made to Emirates and JetBlue as we patiently waited were futile. JetBlue insisted only the “help” desk at Terminal 5 could help. Emirates, which had ticketed the flight, deferred to JetBlue. Meanwhile, we watched in horror as every flight back to Orlando was canceled. My daughter started to cry.

When we finally reached the counter, an agent tried to help us. After 20 minutes of searching and calling, she authorized $40 of meal vouchers for us, rebooked us on a 9 p.m. flight the next day — the last flight of the day — and said we would have to wait three hours for JetBlue to “authorize” a hotel voucher. By now, my daughter was sleeping on the floor.

“Good,” I thought, “at least I’ll be able to feed these kids.”

If you’ve ever been to Terminal 5, you probably know what happened next. We can’t get through security into the main terminal because our flight doesn’t leave for another day. The only food in the check-in area is at a bar or a Dunkin’ Donuts.

We were dispatched to another line to speak with a supervisor about getting a gate pass, but as I tried to comfort my daughter who was still lying on the floor, several passengers vaulted ahead of us in line. I waited for our turn — what’s another 10 minutes? — but when I reached the supervisor, she accused us of trying to cut in line.

Related story:   Hey JetBlue, that's no way to start a cruise!

I left the line, convinced that neither Emirates nor JetBlue cared about us.

You’re probably wondering how this ended. I won’t keep you in suspense. I called my travel agent, who made a reservation at the airport Ramada. We crashed for the night and flew home the next day. (Travel agents, I love you!)

But this is about code-sharing. See, airlines like Emirates and JetBlue want all the benefits of code-sharing — the additional passengers, the ability to sell seats on each other’s flights, and the incremental revenue generated from it — but they don’t want to assume the responsibility when something goes wrong.

Our flight to Orlando was canceled shortly before we landed at JFK. A JetBlue representative should have met us at the gate, handed us new boarding passes for the next flight, meal vouchers we could have used and hotel vouchers. That’s how code-sharing should work. Instead, we waited in several long lines until we simply gave up. Shame on the airlines for making my daughter cry. Shame on them for not caring.

Code-sharing may allow a few loyalty-program-obsessed frequent fliers to collect and redeem even more points, but when it comes right down to it, the airlines reap almost all of the rewards. The government has no business sanctioning this kind of collusive behavior.

Update: Several days after I filed this story, my travel agent contacted me to say that JetBlue had refunded my JFK-Orlando flight and would cover my hotel expenses.

Airline code-sharing is better for:

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org.

  • sirwired

    I don’t see how the pre-code-sharing alternative, interlining, would have resulted in a different result. (Okay, there’s the OTHER alternative of having to book separate reservations, but that’s even worse, since it leads to things like no-show cancellations.)

    I agree that this could have been handled better by JetBlue, I just don’t see how it’s code-sharing’s fault, or how getting rid of the practice would have fixed things.

  • Grandma

    I second sirwired. It has nothing to do with code-sharing. Jet Blue would have done the same thing without code sharing.

  • Jeff W.

    I agree with sirwired. This is not really a code-sharing problem. An interline agreement would have yielded the same results. You received poor customer service from JetBlue

    Orlando to Nairobi, Kenya is going to involve multiple airlines. The US domestic airlines have very little service to Africa in general. Nairobi is not a small town.

    And while your travel agent got you a room, where was he/she in trying to get you an alternate flight? You should not have had to stand in all of those lines. An agent should have been on the phone making those arrangements.

  • BubbaJoe123

    How does this have anything to do with code-sharing? If your ticket had been for Emirates flight 123 DXB-JFK, connecting to JetBlue flight 456 JFK-MCO, you would have been in the same situation. The fact that the ticket showed an Emirates flight number for the JFK-MCO flight, rather than a JetBlue flight number, didn’t make any difference here…

  • BubbaJoe123

    I’m also wondering about the travel agent as well.

  • Lloyd Johnston

    There has to be a standard (mandated if needed) as to WHICH airline is responsible for dealing with issues such as this, regardless of which airline the ticket was purchased on. This could be the first or final airline you fly on that trip, the airline that issued the tickets, or even the airline who’s plane you are on (or supposed to be on).

    Logistically, I’m not sure what is easier, but I’m thinking it should be based on the airline who’s name appears on the ticket. If their code share partner bails, then ultimately the original ticketing airline should be responsible for getting you to your final destination – even if that means putting you on a different company’s flight. As a consumer, if I know 100% who the responsible party is for making it right (and they aren’t allowed to refer me to anyone else), that would eliminate much of the headaches. I would appreciate reasons why this would not be a good idea.

    I’ve only been involved in one code-share flight (Westjet and AA, YQR->SFO), and it went perfectly (which honestly is probably normal). Had something gone wrong, I’m not sure who I would have been best off talking to. Likely Westjet, but only because my experience with my years of flying with them has always been extremely positive and that was the first time I had been on an AA flight.

Get smart. Sign up for the newsletter.