Why airline codesharing must die

Although Shelley Jones’ complaint is common, I’ve never heard it from someone like her.

Her problem: She’s done with airline “codesharing” — a marketing arrangement in which an airline places its designator code on a flight operated by another airline, and sells tickets for that flight. She’s seen too many passengers pull up to the wrong terminal because they thought they were flying on one carrier when, in fact, they were booked on another.

Why is Jones’ grievance unusual? Because she’s a ticket agent for an airline. Codesharing benefits her employer in small ways, like being able to claim another airline’s flight as its own; and in big ways, like not having to compete with another airline.

But for passengers, the perks are becoming fewer and fewer. The worst part? “The lack of notification the airlines are allowed to get away with,” she says.

Customers often print their itineraries through an online agency and walk to the wrong gate. If you’re not sure what comes next, I’ll tell you what happened when my mother flew from Phoenix to Warsaw for a family reunion. She went to the wrong terminal, too. After she missed her flight, her airline demanded she buy a new one-way ticket. Ka-ching!

Across the airline industry, there’s a growing consensus that codesharing needs to be limited, if not eliminated. The consumer benefits are vanishing, leaving some observers to conclude that these are little more than government licenses to collude. Overwhelming anecdotal evidence suggests that passengers are more confused and frustrated than ever.

The biggest problem with codesharing is that passengers don’t know about it. To the average air traveler, codesharing seems counterintuitive, if not dishonest. When they receive their itinerary, they don’t notice the “operated by” language, often rendered in fine print, that discloses that their United Airlines flight to Frankfurt is actually a Lufthansa codeshare. Sometimes they’re dropped off at the wrong terminal, but more often, they arrive at the airport expecting one flying experience but receiving another.

“Even when codesharing is disclosed, the question remains whether reasonable consumers are being misled,” says Daylian Cain, a Yale professor who has published several research articles on the effects of disclosure.

Why offer minimal disclosure? It’s part ego, part greed, observers say. Codesharing airlines want you to believe they’re so big that they’re operating a flight, but more important, they want to reap the financial windfall from selling you a seat on an aircraft they have nothing to do with.

Making matters worse, airlines are quietly removing many of the benefits of codesharing. For example, this summer the Oneworld Alliance dropped a policy requiring that partner airlines check passengers and their baggage through to their final destination on certain flights. Some codesharing airlines have also stripped reciprocal airline club memberships and reduced mileage benefits to frequent travelers. All the while, the big alliances effectively choked competition on some popular trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific routes, critics say.

“Airlines are raking in record profits and taking advantage of operational synergies that are driving their bottom line,” says Charles Leocha, chairman of Travelers United, a Washington advocacy group.

Of course, airlines don’t see it that way. For starters, a codeshare alliance isn’t just granted to any airline. A carrier must apply to the Department of Transportation (DOT) for permission. Codesharing is meant to be a win-win — to strengthen or expand an airline’s market presence and competitive ability but also to be “in the public interest,” according to the DOT. And all of the alliances have met that burden of proof.

Or have they?

I asked other airline insiders what they thought of codesharing and was taken aback by their response.

“Time and time again, I see passengers missing flights because they do not understand that one of their flights is not on the carrier they booked with,” says Laura Einsetler, a commercial pilot. “An hour connection time to cross an entire airport, stand in line once again at security and run to the gate is not enough. They are exasperated and scared — there is nothing we can do to help them.”

Don’t even get me started on what passengers think about codesharing. I could begin by interviewing the retired kindergarten teacher living on a fixed income who missed her flight to Poland. But most of my interview with Mom would be unprintable.

“Honestly,” says Chris Backe, a fellow writer from Asheville, N.C. “I’m just confused about the whole thing.”

Other travelers have shared their tales of missed connections, lost luggage, dashed expectations and outright frustration. How, they ask, can an airline claim to operate a flight it has nothing to do with? And what’s in it for us?

Maybe it’s time for another look at airline codesharing. Congress will pass another Federal Aviation Reauthorization bill soon, and what better time than now to review these alliances, then end them once and for all?

Should the airline codesharing be eliminated?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Is my flight a codeshare?

• It’s the route. Although a codeshare flight can happen almost anywhere, it’s most prevalent on short commuter flights (the turboprop is a tipoff) and long overseas routes where it makes more sense for two or more airlines to cooperate. The DOT publishes a list of airlines it’s approved for codesharing on its site at transportation.gov.

• Read the fine print. Airlines are required to disclose their codeshare status prominently (look for “operated by” under the flight). But sometimes, things get lost in translation between the airline and a travel agency. The DOT has a rap sheet of agencies that failed to disclose codeshare agreements, so check with the airline to make sure you’re on the airline you think you are.

• Watch for the codesharing weasel words. Certain words should trigger your codesharing alarm. When an airline or agency starts saying “alliance” and “partner,” chances are they’re about to offload you to a different airline. That may be a good thing — most fliers would choose Singapore Airlines over its U.S. equivalent — and sometimes not.

Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirportParkingReservations.com

With nearly 20 years in the industry, over 128 airport covered in the U.S. and Canada, and over 1,000 Hotel and Parking Partners-we provide travelers the best options on how to get to the airport when flying. Whether you want to; drive yourself and park near an Airport (Airport Parking), stay the night before your flight at an airport hotel and leave your car (Hotel and Parking Package), or take a shared Shuttle/Private Car/Limo to the Airport- we got you covered. The best deals can be found online, and booking a reservation has never been easier. You can explore all of our options by visiting us at AirportParkingReservations.com, ParkSleepFly.com, AirportParking.com, and ShuttleFinder.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Cavalry Travel Insurance

Cavalry takes the worry of out travel by providing 24/7 access to medical and security professionals combined with the best medical evacuation and security extraction services. Cavalry gets you home safely when you need it most. Learn more at Cavalrytravelinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at Sodexoinsights.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at Travelexinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Insuremyrentalcar.com

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by G1G.com

Since its inception over three decades ago, G1G has continued to revolutionize the travel insurance industry by being the only aggregator to operate a customer portal, placing all of the user's primary needs in one place. We have continued to innovate and disrupt the market by reimagining the way travel insurance can be delivered to the end user in ways no competition can. Simply put, no one knows the market as well as its founders and no one else shares G1G values and mission.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at  Mediacomcable.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit  Virtuoso.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

As a company that is constantly striving to simplify travel insurance, VisitorsCoverage, is on a mission to help travelers make the better decisions about purchasing travel insurance, quickly. VisitorsCoverage has helped millions of travelers globally to buy the suitable travel insurance and explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at  VisitorsCoverage. Lowest Price Guaranteed.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. Elliott.org readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by TravelInsurance.com

TravelInsurance.com makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at  TravelInsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on  Squaremouth.com to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, SinglesCruise.com, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.

Send this to a friend