Thursday, 17 December 2009

Regional airlines lie about codesharing in USA Today op-ed

Given space for a rebuttal on the same page with today’s USA Today editorial, When airlines share codes, truth-in-labeling suffers , president Roger Cohen of the Regional Airline Association (RAA) trots out the airlines’ usual “big lie” on code sharing, in unusually blatant form:

As complex as travel may seem today, it was far more inefficient previously…. Passengers have to purchase only one ticket, have to check in bags on only one airline and have to clear security only once. Before code-sharing, passengers needed to buy tickets on separate airlines, often needed to claim and recheck bags, and might have needed to clear security in multiple terminals. [emphasis added]

That’s an out-and-out lie, and the RAA must know it’s a lie.

Decades before code sharing was ever imagined, passengers could, in fact, buy a single ticket for a journey on multiple airlines, and check their bags through. (Today, of course, thanks to a different airline fraud called a “direct” flight with a change of equipment, inbound passengers on what is labelled as a single flight with a single number may have to claim and recheck their bags as well as change planes and perhaps terminals at an international gateway.)

Not one of these services requires code sharing or special “alliances”. They are all aspects of “interlining”, in which “regional”, national, and international airlines, including competitors, all had interline ticketing and baggage agreements in place from the earliest days of the airline industry. All airlines in the USA were regional in the early days, and interlining was essential to coast-to-coast travel. Just as it had been for the railroads, from whom the earliest airlines developed their interline protocols: Until Amtrak, no single railroad crossed the USA. Interlining is one of the oldest and most fundamental foundations of the airline industry, in the USA and worldwide.

The international standards that the airlines themselves established decades ago through IATA permit all IATA member airlines, not just code-share or alliance partners, to publish through fares and establish interline ticketing and baggage transfer agreements. Any IATA-appointed travel agency can sell tickets on any IATA airline, including tickets at a single through fare for a multi-airline journey. Different airlines that want to facilitate interline transfers can use close-together gates at the same terminals, so that passengers don’t need to go through extra security checkpoints, regardless of which airlines’ flight number(s) they use. And even airlines that are members of the major marketing alliances often give frequent flyer mileage credit for travel on non-alliance airlines, without code sharing. Interline ticketing agreements — not code sharing — are also what enable airlines to endorse their tickets to other airlines, even competitors if necessary, if their own flights are cancelled, delayed, or overbooked.

Code sharing is unnecessary for, indeed irrelevant to, any legitimate purpose or actual service. Code sharing doesn’t enable an airline to fly to any more places. It just enables the airline to mislead travellers into thinking that they fly to places they don’t, and mislead them as to which airline will actually be operating their flights. Major USA-based airlines, regional airlines, and foreign airlines all participate in codesharing, when they can get away with it, because they correctly believe that customers are more likely to buy tickets, and will pay more for those tickets, if they are for flights on Air Established than on Air Unknown or Air Foreign. I call that fraud.

Both code sharing and “change-of-equipment” flight labels also serve to “game” the Computerized Reservations Systems used by both offline and online travel agencies for fraudulent purposes, to travellers’ detriment. All else except the labelling being equal, CRS’s rank and display purportedly same-airline connections ahead of honestly described interline connections, and purportedly “through” change-of-equipment flights ahead of honestly described connections between multiple flights.

USA Today rightly editorializes that codesharing “presents a truth-in-advertising problem”, an issue entirely ignored in the RAA rebuttal. In another recent press release the RAA claims that, “The identity of the airline is clearly displayed on every single ticket.” But that’s a lie, too. As I pointed out in the most recent USA Department of Transportation rulemaking on disclosure of code shares:

While itineraries usually indicate the operating airline, tickets and boarding passes — the things travellers are required to have in hand while searching for a flight or gate, even if they don’t have a printed itinerary — do not. Indeed, IATA and airline rules provide no field on a ticket or boarding pass for the designation of the operating airline, and forbid the entry of other information in those fields. A travel agent who wants to indicate on a ticket which airline actually operates a code-share flight is forbidden from doing so by airline ticket issuance rules and procedures.

It’s airline lies like today’s from the RAA that demonstrate the need for Federal action to protect consumers against airline fraud, including fraudulent code sharing, as I’ve been saying for years.

[A shorter version of this article was published in USA Today 22 December 2009 as a letter to the editor.]

Link | Posted by Edward on Thursday, 17 December 2009, 12:24 (12:24 PM)

i want to get on amazing race with my dad. he is 46 and i'm 16 years old. we are from tunisia.please tell me that it is possible to get on this race. because we needs monney and i would like to see the world. So please could you tell me how we would enter the amazing race. i wait you ;)...

Posted by: meddeb sami, 27 December 2009, 11:50 (11:50 AM)

My understanding is that if you book on codeshared flights A and B and if flight A is delayed or canceled so that you miss flight B, you will not be penalized for missing flight B. On the other hand, if you book on competing airlines for A and B, the airline for flight B will charge you a rebooking fee if you miss that flight. To me, this is the big advantage of codesharing arrangements -- more itineraries are available without risking a financial penalty for missed connections.

I'm curious -- have you known an airline selling an interline ticket to *not* charge a rebooking fee if you miss a connection?

Posted by: Kevin, 1 February 2010, 03:50 ( 3:50 AM)

Kevin: Thanks for your question. I've answered in a separate article:

Posted by: Edward Hasbrouck, 4 February 2010, 08:42 ( 8:42 AM)

And thank you for your detailed response!

Do any airlines issue interline tickets these days, whether on a single ticket or separate ticket? I can't recall ever seeing that.

Posted by: Kevin, 4 February 2010, 09:28 ( 9:28 AM)

Yes, airlines still issue interline tickets. In most cases, however, you are better off dealing with a travel agency, rather than directly with an airline, if you want or need an interline ticket. Airlines will try to steer you first to their own flights, then to codeshare flights, and then to their marketing partners' flights, even if other airlines' flights would offer better connections or prices. I've written about examples of where this happened to contestants on "The Amazing Race". Codesharing aggravates the problem by "gaming" the CRS's, since CRS's typically prioritize pseudo-online codeshare connections ahead of better but honestly labelled interline connections.

Posted by: Edward Hasbrouck, 4 February 2010, 09:59 ( 9:59 AM)

I was searching for such article, and found your site... great man.. thanks a lot.

Posted by: Anonymous, 12 February 2010, 21:55 ( 9:55 PM)

Great article - only one point. IATA travel agents cannont just sell tickets on any IATA airline. In the UK and I guess in the US, each IATA travel agency, must get permission from each individual IATA airline to sell their tickets. Some airlines refuse routinely, because they only sell online, others will only accept an IATA travel agency after they have built up a track record.

Posted by: Philip, 28 February 2011, 23:23 (11:23 PM)
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