One of the more complex customer-facing issues airlines have to deal with involves interlining. In simple terms, that’s when two carriers have to work together to serve one customer on one trip. A combination of complexity and regulation has led airlines to narrow the scope of when they’re willing to work together. Most recently, the oneworld alliance revised its rules on interlining and made it easier for member airlines to NOT have to work together. That’s unfortunate.
There are some rules which aren’t breakable. Most importantly, if all flights are on a single ticket, then the airlines have to work together in three important ways.
- If there are any schedule changes that make for an invalid connection, or if there are massive changes that aren’t acceptable to the customer, then the airlines either need to fix the problem or give a refund.
- When the customer checks a bag, it will be checked through all the way to the final destination. (Sometimes it will need to be claimed earlier for customs.)
- If there is a delay or cancellation, then the airlines need to get the traveler to the final destination on the ticket even if the original ticketed flights no longer work.
Again, if everything is on the same ticket, these rules apply. But when things are on separate tickets, that’s where it gets squirrely. For checking bags (number 2), airlines used to still check them all the way even on separate tickets if there was an agreement between the two airlines to work together. (American would check your bag to United, but it would never do it to Southwest since they don’t have an agreement in place to handle it.)
Over time, this has eroded thanks to the added complexity of bag fees alongside regulation that requires those fees to be charged accurately on a journey across airlines. It’s a minefield for airlines to have to know bag policies for every carrier and figure out what rules and fees apply when separate tickets are involved. I get it.
When it comes to reaccommodation protection (numbers 1 and 3 above), that generally wouldn’t apply to separate tickets. (Though in practice, if you have separate tickets on the same airline, they’ll often help anyway.) It was always a “book at your own risk” kind of thing.
As things got more complex and airlines started tightening up their rules about interlining, alliances stepped in to set minimum guidelines. And no alliance was more generous than oneworld.
See, oneworld made the rule that if any two oneworld carriers were involved in a journey, regardless of whether the reservations were on a single ticket or not, they had to be treated as if they were all on one ticket. The consumer benefit from this was huge. You could buy a roundtrip ticket from, say, Philly to Doha on Qatar and then buy the American flight from Charleston to Philly to connect separately, and you’d still be protected. Often you’d want to do this because the fare was a lot less expensive (very common especially on airlines within an alliance that don’t have codesharing or joint ventures with each other) or because you were mixing mileage awards and paid tickets. This was a huge benefit.
All good things must come to an end. Last month, Australian Business Traveller caught that oneworld had made some changes. From now on, if tickets are purchased separately in separate reservations, then the protections no longer have to apply. (Airlines within the alliance can decide to go above that standard, but some, like Cathay Pacific and British Airways, have already gone down to the new oneworld minimum. American has not.)
There is some good news here in that if you have separate tickets in the same reservation (yes, you can have multiple tickets on one reservation, which seems strange), then nothing will change. That means you can have a travel agent still book those two separate cheap fares into a single reservation and the protections will be in place. (If you buy direct or through an online travel agent, you won’t have that option. This is good news for Cranky Concierge, but not good news for people who want to book on their own.) It does, unfortunately, mean that mixing paid and award tickets may now come with a big price if something goes wrong.
Why is oneworld doing this? I spoke with Michael Blunt, VP of Corporate Communications for oneworld, he was happy to discuss in great detail.
The previous requirement dated back to the time when e-ticket interlining was introduced around 10 years ago (with oneworld the first alliance to have it in place across all member airlines), when the hopes and expectations of what the new technology could deliver exceeded the reality of the everyday business a decade on.
Experience has shown that using separate tickets for different sectors presents multiple problems in delivering an alliance’s through check-in/customer support promise – as many of who have blogged on this issue have highlighted.
In particular an airline operating a sector covered by one ticket may change the schedule for that flight, making the planned connection impossible. If the connecting flight was covered by that same booking, the airline making the schedule change would be aware of the implications for the connection and the appropriate action to maintain the customer’s itinerary could be taken well in advance – not dealt with at the last minute, when the customer checks in, when it is often too late to put simple, workable alternatives in place.
Also, the only way that through check-in of passengers (with their baggage) flying multiple sectors on separate tickets/bookings/[passenger name records] can be handled is by an agent at the original departure airport linking the various separate elements of the journey together, potentially covered by multiple different bookings/[passenger name records]. As anyone who has stood in a check-in line behind someone doing this can testify, that can be a lengthy process. And this at a time when, in response to the preferences of the majority of customers, check-in and baggage drop are now moving towards self-service and online options. And the reality is that this leads to a significantly higher failure rate, in terms of baggage delivery, transfers etc, than for multi-sector journeys covered by a single booking/[passenger name record].
So again, it’s that complexity issue. Technology hasn’t been able to properly serve the needs of travelers, so instead of fixing the technology, a policy change was put into place instead. It’s a lot easier.
To be clear, oneworld was way beyond what Star Alliance and Skyteam had as standards before. This just erases the benefit oneworld had over the others. I understand the rationale, but as I said above, it’s really unfortunate.
[Original luggage with bag tag photo via Shutterstock]
Another example of how there are managerial solutions to technology problems, but rarely are there technological solutions to managerial problems!
I say follow the money rather than anything else. IAG Group, parent to BA, also own Vueling, a discount carrier where you can now be booked on through OneWorld. However, none of your OneWorld status and benefits count into Vueling flights, meaning you’ll have to pay for checked bags, actually sitting and breathing and toilet paper (two ply is cheaper than three!). FlyingPiggie’s blog has written about this: http://flyingpiggie.com/2015/08/oneworld-vueling-codeshares/
Beware American Airlines pax who get code-shared onto Vueling!
The other thing that really made me laugh out loud was this gem from Mr. Blunt (an appropriate name for a VP of Customer Relations if I have ever heard one!): “And this at a time when, in response to the preferences of the majority of customers, check-in and baggage drop are now moving towards self-service and online options.”
Really? Really? It was us who asked to do away with check in and fumble at kiosks and sticky baggage labels? Right….
Oh, and I forgot to mention two other examples of why OneWorld is a name only… BA and American do not accept or transfer UnMin’s from one another, even irging also do not accepton code-shared flights. In fact, BA has done away with Unaccompanied Minor service all together. My son goes to school in the UK, and visits us often. He usually flies LBA – LHR – CLT. No longer as LBA – LHR is a BA domestic flight. So now he flies MAN – PHL – CLT, all on American and therefore not an issue. (Note: DL and Virgin also do not accept UnMin’s from one another).
And then online check-in on code-shared flights. Same trip LBA – LHR – CLT I am taking today (writing from the lounge right now). The AA booked ticket sends you to BA for check in on the domestic flight, which works fine. But BA can not check you in for the LHR – CLT leg of the journey on an AA booked ticket as BA does not hold your passport/greencar/ESTA data. But when you go back to AA to then check in for LHR – CLT you can’t as the website keeps redirecting you to BA. An hour on the phone yesterday resulted in AA telling me to call BA and BA subsequently telling me to… yup, you guessed it: contact AA.
Ever tried reservations in VS/DL codeshares? You can’t even prebook your seats in one transaction even though they have the same airline code. And if you are flying Virgin Upper Class on a DL flight number you are not entitled to the complimentary limo service that you would get as a VS tickted passenger.
The way to game the system with interline seats is get the record locator from the booking carrier for the carrier actually flying the flight and pulling it up on their system. So if it is DL codeshare operated by VS get the VS record locator from DL and go to the VS site to pick your seats.
Mark – That’ll be fixed once Virgin Atlantic migrates over to the Delta res system (coming soon). But it’s not impossible to get seats. A travel agent can easily get seats even if it’s a codeshare. Otherwise, as another commenter mentioned, you can get seats via the operating airline. It shouldn’t be this hard, but indeed, it is.
These airlines must think we value this type of setup but since its on their terms the answer is no. I have had issues with an AA-IB interline 2 out of 2 times and QF 3 of 4. The only airline where I have had issues where this worked well is AY. And when I called the Oneworld desk I did not get any help. I had to call the AA PLAT desk for any kind of assistance (and they of course tried to connect me to IB or AY).
Sounds like it’s a way for the airline to save time/money with travelers have separate reservations and to make the online booking sites look bad to travelers with things go wrong so passengers will start booking directly with the airline.
There was once a time when customer service (ticket) agents were TRAINED to handle rebooking of interline tickets. Ironically it used to be very easy to do it right in the computer (I’m speaking for pre-merger United Airlines) even if it mean’t the agent making a phone call to a ticketing department to get a ticket reissued. Now the airlines are loathe to train their agents to do this (God forbid) customer “service” should be just that. I used to EARN my salary knowing how to do this; now I’m only an “information” giver at top pay showing people how to push buttons on a kiosk. Ticketing problem ?….just refer them to the 800 phone number in India (eye roll). Passengers today have to advocate on their own; they’d be hard-pressed to find senior agents (far and few between) who can still do this. I guess if airline B keeps losing bags from airline A (or A to B to C), no wonder the last carrier that handled the bag doesn’t want to deal with the hot potato. 21st century, computerized up the ying-yang but they can’t handle interlining anymore.
I see two issues being addressed. As far as separate bookings in separate PNRs this is nothing new. In the era of paper tickets when I worked for AA it was easy to accomplish by adding a HK or GK segment in the PNR or writing a manual bag tag. As a travel agent my clients did indeed get bags tagged to the final destination no matter how many e-tickets are in the PNR. This is simply restating bag and ticketing regulations. When it came to resolving issues due to misconnects we would simply pull the paper coupons and write a FIM and let revenue accounting department figure it out. Electronic ticketing has killed that ability. From my recent experience it isn’t that the agent at the airport doesn’t want to help you. It’s that the automation won’t let them. Even if the agent is completely versed in tariff and ticketing regulations they are hobbled by the automation. Newer agents aren’t even remotely trained in ticketing and tariff. From the airline’s perspective the automation audits the transaction real time to ensure the airline keeps the revenue in-house. Of course, from a customer care perspective it truly sucks. Airline automation protects the airline’s revenue, customer service be damned.
Cities/passengers served by Air Taxi (nine pax aircraft) or a carrier with no interline agreement have delt with this for a long time. You can have two tickets and go to the second carrier but if you have non carry on luggage you will need to retrieve your luggage at baggage claim and have it re-checked by the second carrier and then go thru security a second time so don’t feel so bad. We have been dealing with this for some time.
I’m curious to know how many people actually understood 1W’s preivous position on the issue and actually took advantage of it.
I only found out about this last year, and this was aftere having taken a couple of award trips on CX out of JFK and ORD and booked positioning flights the night before because I thought with separate tickets I’d be screwed if I missed the connection.
So, not only is this a complexity issue, but it’s also one of competitive advantage. If people didn’t know about it and it’s a pain, it’s probably best to kill it.
OTOH, I fully concede that this is a customer unfriendly move.
I know that twice in the past Star Alliance carriers have refused to check bags on two separate tickets. Once on Asiana from Seoul to SFO connecting on United via LAX (both UA issued tickets). Secondly TAP from LIS to FRA to LAX (on LH) connecting to UA LAX to SFO, LH ticket to LAX, UA ticket to SFO. Not a huge deal, as bags have to be claimed upon clearing customs in USA, but nice to avoid bag fees (though the incompetence of UA gate agent staffing agency workers at LAX usually allows for this). This is one small area where US based carriers, like United and American have provided better service – they usually have not objected to checking a bag all the way through.
Apparently, all these groups work the same. I flew on the “Star Alliance” last November when I went to Ukraine. MEM-IAH on UA and IAH-IST-ODS on TK. On the return it was ODS-IST-ORD on TK and ORD-MEM on UA. My bags were NOT interlined. Had to claim and recheck at each U.S. airport. It cost me a missed flight in ORD and an unnecessary hotel stay in Chicago (not compensated by the airline). The line to recheck baggage at the international terminal in Chicago was ridiculous. And the international terminal is not connected or anywhere near domestic departures in Chicago.
Bob S – That’s not an interline issue. You always have to reclaim your bags at the first point of entry into the US, go through customs and immigration, and then recheck them.
Only partly true, Brett. If your bag is tagged for your destination you only have to put it on the dump and run belt after customs clearance. If it’s only tagged to the port of entry then you have to stand in line to recheck.
Bob S – Ah, wasn’t clear on what had happened in this situation.
Star Alliance has never had an alliance wide house rule (only OneWorld did). So it’s up to individual airlnes whether they through check to separately ticketed partner flights.
United’s policy is the same as the old 1W rule, and in line with American, in that they do through check bags. But it doesn’t mean other Star carriers will do the same.
And yes the 1W guy’s explanation to Cranky about it taking a long time is correct. United through checked my bags onto a separately ticketed EVA flight (ex-SFO) and it took around 20 minutes of keyboard clicking to get the through check. As a point of information EVA also through checked my bags on the return, meaning I could use the post-customs bag drop at SFO.
USBT – Star does have a rule. This is from their FAQ page ( http://www.staralliance.com/en/faqs):
To have baggage checked-in on flights that are operated by Star Alliance member carriers, the flights must be included in the same booking record.
Baggage cannot be checked-through, regardless of booking on the same record, if government restrictions are in effect or it the passenger is changing airports within their connection point (e.g. arriving into New York John F. Kennedy airport and departing from New York LaGuardia airport).
Cranky – I meant a policy on through checking on separate tickets/PNRs. Sorry I should have been clearer. The above FAQ is for one ticket/PNR and is the lowest common denominator.
For separate tickets/PNRs Star leaves it to individual airlines to determine their policy, like 1W now does. United will through check to separately ticketed flights on UA/UX and Star, so does EVA (when I used them) but NZ doesn’t (even NZ to NZ) and evidently neither does TK.
USBT – Oh yes, sorry. No policy for separate PNRs on any alliance other than oneworld (formerly).
The pressure to end the through checking house rule came from British Airways and Qatar. Both airlnes (though mostly BA) were losing money as UK based fliers booked ex-EU fares and exploited the house rule to remove any risk of traveling on separate tickets.
Business class fares from the likes of Dublin, Brussels, Düsseldorf and Oslo are up to 65% cheaper than from Heathrow. So pax would book say DUB-LHR-LAX and save $5-6000. Then they bought a cheap positioning flight to DUB for the same day and got protected against losing the long haul ticket. And while you can’t through check bags that backtrack (LHR-DUB-LHR-LAX) they flew the positioning flght from either Gatwick or London City and got the bags checked through too. Some of those pax would also try hidden city ticketing on the return by booking an airport change onto the last leg of the long haul to get their checked bags back at Heathrow and walk off.
Qatar was getting hit on flights ex-Scandanavia where they’d dropped fares to compete with Norwegian to Bangkok, with UK pax booking Stockholm-BKK and a cheap BA positioning flght.
Removing the baggage through check and disruption protection (BA doesn’t even through check to separately ticketed BA flights) makes it much more inconvenient to book those schedules. You can read all the faux outrage on FlyerTalk from those who can no longer game the system.
JOEllen I agree with you 100%. I started my career with America West in 87. We were cross utilized (CSR) We could handle anything at the time(although I loathed working the gate in PHX on a fri night for LAS, SAN, LAX..oversells like mad especially to vegas. Cant tell you how many times security..or s supv would have to come to the gate. Sorry that I got a bit off track, but in the older days we pretty much had the power to do what we could, for the most part Been in the industry for 29 yrs now…and my…how things have changed.Been with four airlines(love the industry..just don’t like certain aspects), Fly safe all