Volaris and Southwest Start Their “Almost A Codeshare But Not Quite” Partnership

On November 10, 2008, Southwest and a little known Mexican airline named Volaris announced that they would be joining up “to build a codeshare partnership.” It was said that details would be announced in early 2010. Well here we are in late 2010, two years after the first announcement, and the two airlines finally gave us details at Southwest’s Media Day last week. But it’s not a codeshare. It’s, uh, sort of a hybrid that’s the best the airlines can do right now.

In the last couple years, Volaris has grown up rapidly. The low cost carrier, based near Mexico City, is now the second largest airline in Mexico with 20 Southwest and Volaris Exchange Alcoholpercent of the market in the country. It has been profitable and has some of the most impressive guarantees you’ll ever see. If your flight is more than 30 minutes late, you get a refund. Same thing if the airline loses your bag.

I’ve written about Volaris before and met with Holger Blankenstein, the Chief Commercial Officer awhile back. He was in Dallas this week along with CEO Enrique Beltranena (along with a very nice bottle of tequila for Southwest CEO Gary Kelly) to announce the first step in this partnership with Southwest. So what is this thing? It’s being called International Connect.

Starting on November 12, you can go to Southwest.com and book a flight to Mexico begining December 1 from a handful of West Coast cities.

That will slowly expand to add more cities over time, but the focus is west of Denver right now because Volaris’s US destinations (and the partnership’s connecting points) are Oakland, San Jose, and Los Angeles. In Mexico, the initial cities are Toluca (near Mexico City), Cancun, Guadalajara, Zacatecas, and Morelia with more to come later.

What you’ll see on Southwest.com will look like a regular fare display and you’ll think you’re buying a single ticket connecting on the two airlines but you’re not. What’s actually happening is that it is just combining the Southwest fare with the Volaris fare and showing it as one. When you buy a ticket, you’re actually buying two separate tickets between the two airlines. You will get a Southwest confirmation number and a Volaris confirmation number and you’ll need to check in separately for each.

So what’s the benefit? Well Southwest will now be able to check your bag all the way through to Mexico and Volaris can do the same on the return (though you have to collect your bag to go through customs and immigration anyway coming back north). Since each airline knows that you’ll be traveling on the other, the airlines can take care of you if there’s a delay. I spoke with Robby Byam, the Director of Parternships and he said that if a customer is late coming in on Volaris, Southwest will rebook that person on the next available flight and will send confirmation via email or text and meet the airplane with info. That is a big benefit. Then again, if a Volaris customer is late, they’ll be pretty happy that the flight ended up being free for them.

The Southwest guys kept floating the mantra that this is a simpler way to do things and has advantages over codeshare. The one example?

It’s more transparent – you know what airline you’re flying and not trying to figure out who is operating your codeshare flight. While I agree with that, there are a lot of other drawbacks here.

To me, this seems simple for the airline for sure, but it’s more complex for the customer. I agree about transparency and that would be just fine with me if they didn’t do a full codeshare, but I would want to see a single ticket where I only had to check in once. Whether I’m on Volaris flight 123 or Southwest flgiht 9123 (operated by Volaris), that’s not a concerne and in fact, the former might be better anyway.

But because of the limitations of Southwest’s ancient reservation system, this is the closest the airlines can come right now. So we’ll just have to take what we can get. It opens up the ability for Southwest to get its customers to Mexico more easily and in a few months, Volaris will be able to do the same for its customers via its website. That’s good.

At the end of the year, Southwest and Volaris will evaluate the partnership and decide how to expand further. Volaris will certainly be looking to see which cities send the most traffic down and that can help the airline pick its next destinations in the US. Once Volaris has gateways open in other parts of the country, it makes options with Southwest easier for people east of the Rockies.

So, is this everything I would have wanted to see here? No, but I’m just glad to see something finally happening. Being hamstrung with Southwest’s reservation system means you have to start with less than what’s ideal. I just wish Southwest could get things moving on the technology front more quickly.


22 Responses to Volaris and Southwest Start Their “Almost A Codeshare But Not Quite” Partnership

  1. Ben says:

    Southwest’s ancient software may definitely be a major part of their integration issues, but isn’t there also that pesky prohibition on codeshares with Mexican carriers by the FAA?

    • BarryATL says:

      I have seen writers mentioning the limitations for the WN reservations system for years. This has stopped WN from codeshares and international flights. Other legacy carriers have been able to change systems in a couple of years. Why is it taking WN many years to accomplish this? Everytime someone in WN PR talks about the system, it sounds like they are just starting to investigate a change…. and that has been going on for at least four+ years.

    • CF says:

      Cat 2 is a very temporary thing, and I’m sure it will change again soon enough. So yes, as of this moment, a codeshare isn’t allowed but even if it was, they still couldn’t do it due to system limitations.

      BarryATL – Tomorrow’s post is all about the reservation system.

  2. tqe | Adam says:

    I think the FAA’s degradation of Mexico from Category I to Category II, thus prohibiting codeshares between US carriers and Mexican carriers is a huge barrier here. Plus, if I am nto mistaken, Mexican carriers cannot add new destinations in the United States until Mexico returns to Category I status, so this will be limited to where Volaris currently flies, unless Southwest starts going south of the border themselves.

  3. As Ben points out, much of the fuss about lack of codeshare is a moot point.

    In my mind, the real questions are:
    1. Outbound, where do you have to check in for the connection? At the gate or at the counter? Since your bag is already checked to your final destination in Mexico, hopefully it is at the gate, inside security.

    2. What about on-line check in for Volaris? Does it make physical check in mostly a non issue?

    3. Are the two even located in the same terminals to allow an option to stay inside security?

    4. What about on the return from Mexico? Is Southwest going to provide a mechanism to allow you to recheck your bags in the customs area and quickly send you on your way?

    5. Who is the target market – do they even care about the above questions?

    • CF says:

      1/2) You should just check-in online to get your boarding pass. I would assume you can just go to the gate at that point, but you still have to check in twice.

      3) I believe all gates in San Jose and Oakland are now connected behind security after the recent construction, but I could be wrong on those. At LAX, Southwest is in Terminal 1 and Volaris is in Terminal 2 – they are not connected behind security.

      4) No. When you come back, you have to go back to the other airline and re-check your bags. No transfer desks as far as I know.

      5) The target is anyone who they can get, I think.

  4. Is this really a partnership or each airline using the other to test the water? Is Southwest just in this to see how many people it books and connects to Mexico so they know if they should start their own service, and like you said is Volaris using this to grab business using the Southwest name and to see what cities connecting passengers come from to start their own service?

    When you buy a ticket that showed a combined price, but getting two different airline comfirmation numbers, so your credit card bill will show two charges, one for each airline? If you are actually buying two separate tickets then you are being taxed more then if on one ticket. You will be paying the domestic US tax on the WN ticket and the US international taxes on the Volaris ticket. If it was on one ticket and you were connecting, you would not pay the domestic US tax even if the WN fare was a local fare as long as your connection time was under 12hrs. This is a disadvantage to booking other airlines using one ticket. Or has WN worked on their computer to know you are connecting to/from Volaris and not charging your domestic US tax on their part of the ticket?

    • CF says:

      I think this really is a partnership, without question. Yes, they can learn from each other and pick and choose destinations, but Volaris can’t fly within the US and Southwest can’t fly within Mexico. They can use that restriction to feed each other a ton of traffic.

      Yes, these are two separate tickets, so you will get the double tax in that sense.

  5. someday WN will have to invest some of those quarterly profits in their IT systems. at some point soon, if not already, their antiquated software will constrain their growth. i would think WN would be smart enough to connect these dots and invest in their future sooner rather than later.

    • Ben says:

      I believe that an IT system upgrade was one of the reasons stated for the Airtran merger. Southwest would simply migrate over to the existing, far superior, system at some point after the sale closes.

      • aliquot says:

        But Airtran’s system is not ideal either. They are a “ticketless” carrier, so although they have some interline agreements paper tickets are required for reservations involving another airline. It is also a painful process to be rebooked on one of their interline “partners” in irrops. The Airtran reservation has to be “re-ticketed” and printed out as a paper ticket and then physically brought to the other airline. Only a small portion of Airtran’s agents are allowed and/or able to do this.

        • Hrm, I got the impression that by buying Airtran they got a team that was experienced with other reservation systems. But yeah, Southwest’s system is long outdated.

          I’d bet that part of this is a marketing vs. IT tug of war. IT doesn’t want to put the money and time into it (and probably can’t without additional people.) and marketing doesn’t want to allocate part of their budget to pay IT for a new system.

        • JamesK says:

          Yes and no. Delta and AirTran’s conflicts over the reimbursement for IROP tickets became so bad that they severed their ticketing agreement. If you’re in ATL and a DL flight cancels, FL won’t accept the ticket and vice versa. But it has nothing to do with technology.

          Interline electronic ticketing has moved by leaps and bounds over the past couple of years, including the ability (without getting into a whole lot of details) to allow the other carrier to “take” the flight coupon electronically during an Invol Reroute situation. I know Delta has pushed this hard over the last few years, and I’m pretty sure most mainline carriers here and abroad have. For Delta, it took a lot of tough negotiating and IT investment, and I have no idea how far AirTran is in that process.

      • CF says:

        I was confused about this as well. It appears that the AirTran acquisition will not deliver a system that will do what Southwest needs, so all it does is add complexity. I’ll have a lot more on the reservation system tomorrow.

  6. aliquot says:

    But Airtran’s system is not ideal either. They are a “ticketless” carrier, so although they have some interline agreements paper tickets are required for reservations involving another airline. It is also a painful process to be rebooked on one of their interline “partners” in irrops. The Airtran reservation has to be “re-ticketed” and printed out as a paper ticket and then physically brought to the other airline. Only a small portion of Airtran’s agents are allowed/able to do this.

  7. JayB says:

    Using “code-share” and “transparency” in the same blog. Wow! Methinks these are like oil and water. They don’t go very well together.

    But, hey, we’re only doing what the public wants. But then, why not name every flight, every flight connection, by every airline as, say, something purely generic, really, really transparent, like “XY1234″? We wouldn’t have to worry about whether this is the actual operating carrier flight number, the “operating by” carrier flight number, the marketing carrier flight, the ticket lifting carrier number, the res system flight number, the “partnership carrier” flight number, the ATC tracking flight number, the bag handling/checking carrier number, the…whatever flight number.

    Oh, where do I go to check-in? “You customers…it’s always something, isn’t it!”

    End of my anti-code-share rant for today!

    • I so don’t get people’s intense dislike of codeshares. Every time I’ve booked a codeshare its been quite clear which carrier is the operating carrier. Yes, it isn’t the most prominent flight number, but its clearly listed.

      • JamesK says:

        I agree, Nicholas. For most people, booking a flight comes down to time and price and little else. I have yet to come across a website that does not clearly indicate the operating carrier. The problem is that most people who are not airline savvy simply ignore the “Delta Connection Operated by SkyWest Airlines” or “Codeshare flight Operated by Volaris” and don’t take the time to do a Google search in another window or whip out their latest ATCR (I keep mine in my nightstand, you?). No matter how many “By clicking this checkbox and the ‘I Agree’ button, I certify under penalty of perjury that I understand that this flight is not actually operated by American Airlines” warnings you give the customers, there are a sizable number who will ignore it. The plain fact is you cannot force someone to read and comprehend something.

        As far as transparency regarding handling, I for one would like it when these inevitable ATCR and AQR stories come out. How many bags are touched by and how many seats are sold by ASA or Shuttle America or Trans States? Yet the numbers are helpfully broken out anyway, with no mention to whether that Chautauqua late flight/cancellation/mishandled bag/oversale involved American Connection, Continental Express, Delta Connection, Midwest Connect, US Airways Express or United Express. Of course, if you think it’s confusing now, just wait.

        • Fred says:

          Well, this year I flew IAD-LHR-BKK on UA and TG, on a UA ticket (TG codeshare), and only when I checked in I found out that I couldn’t get a TG boarding pass or even a seat assignmentuntil I got to London. At least my bags were checked through.
          Considering that UA and TG are both part of Star Alliance and have been for many years, I was surprised by this, although apart from getting a middle seat in the very back on a 12 hour flight, it wasn’t too bad.
          If they can get this partnership right, it should work out well, but hopefully Southwest’s IT system won’t screw things up.

  8. FELIPE says:

    Volaris will be a lot better if it becames an ARC participating carrier and
    elect the General Concurrence method of agent appointment .

  9. Pingback: Volaris Prepares For Full Scale US Invasion (and That’s a Good Thing) - >> The Cranky Flier

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