In Part 1 of this article on Code Shares, I went into the value of code shared flights to airlines and to you the customer of the airlines. In this part I will go into the issues code-sharing brings and how code shared flights can potentially complicate travel for you, especially for a novice.
Here are the major areas of challenges:
Whose Flight is it anyway?
This is the commonest problem that comes to bear with code shared flights. As I described in part 1 of this article, code shared flights are tickets for flights that one airline sells, but is actually operated by another airline. This can get confusing if one does not realize who the operator of the actual flight is. Given all the relationships airlines have, both within and outside the Airline Alliance they belong too, this can cause problems when it comes to earning miles too. For example, as a United Airlines customer, you may purchase a ticket from Lufthansa airlines for a Lufthansa flight. As both United and Lufthansa are Star Alliance members, you would safely assume that that you will have no problems earning miles on the United MileagePlus program for any flight you have included in your itinerary. That is not always true. The Lufthansa flight you just purchased a seat on may be a code-shared flight operated by an airline that has no relationship with United Airlines. For example, Lufthansa flight LH 1612 is actually flight AI 120, operated by Air India. As Air India and United are not partners (at least till Air India finally joins Star Alliance), you will not earn any miles on this flight, on United MileagePlus.
Err…, where is my flight?
So, you buy a US Airways flight. You are running late but you know where you need to go, so you skip looking at the monitor to verify your gate. After all, you are at Dulles airport and you know US Airways operates from terminal Z. Well, you might miss your flight if it is actually a United operated code share and now you have to go all the way to Terminal D, where the flight is actually going to fly from. You would be surprised now many times this happens. It is further exasperated by the fact that in some airports, you may actually have to go thru security all over again to go to the right terminal. Typically, the TSA officer who checked your boarding pass would catch it that you were entering the wrong terminal, but they have been known to not pay attention to your gate number. It is really not a part of their job.
Whose Customer Service is it anyway?
While writing this article, I pinged some of my readers and friends for their horror stories about code shared flights. The most I got were related to customer service. In the true letter of the law, the airline that sold you the ticket is responsible for providing the customer service. After all, they took your money. But in reality, sometimes they drop the ball. In other cases, it may be out of their hands as they are not the ones operating the actual flight. I have two documented cases of an airline selling a seat on a code shared flight and the operating airline never confirming the seat. Both cases involve US Airways selling a seat on a United operated flight. United claims to have never received the reservation request from US Airways. Who knows who dropped the ball. In both cases however US Airways stepped to the plate and rebooked the passenger on another flight. My advice, ask the airline you bought the ticket from for the confirmation code the operating carrier gave for the code shared flight. There will always be one, but may not be given to you unless you ask.
Finally, don’t expect customer service to be on top of it all. After all, no gate agent will know all the code shared numbers the flight they are boarding may be sold as. Be patient and let them search for the answers for you.
What about my Status?
Recognition of your Elite status on the code shared flight will all depend upon the relationship between the two airlines. If they recognize and give special status to each other’s elites (like United and Continental), you are in good shape. Else, you are just another passenger. Going back to my earlier example of flight LH 1612, your Elite status on United will have no value on the Air India operated flight.
What about my Upgrade?
Here it all depends on how you are supporting your upgrade. If you plan to use miles, then the operating airline must allow the use of miles from the airline you have miles on, to pay for the upgrade. If you have miles or even elite status on the operating airline itself, you are still not in great shape when it comes to upgrades. This is because you have a ticket issues from another airlines. This puts you at the bottom of the upgrade list. For example, if I am flying a United operated flight, but I purchased the ticket from US Airways, even thought I am a 1K on United, my upgrade will not be confirmed till just before take off, as I will be behind all the United Elites with United issued tickets, on the upgrade priority list.
In conclusion, code-shares are great, for all the reasons I discussed in part 1 of this article, but they add complexity and room for things to go wrong. The solution is to be aware of the complexities and verify all the data before you purchase the ticket and certainly before you fly. Know the operating airline, their relationship to the airline you are an Elite on or are earning the miles on. Make sure you can earn miles. Know which terminal and gate the flight will depart from. And above all, confirm that the operating airline has confirmed your reservation on their flight.