Starting on October 3, Newark will no longer be considered a New York City airport… or something like that. The reality is actually quite boring, but the news has spread like wildfire thanks to misunderstandings about what this actually means. I wasn’t planning on writing this up at all, but well, now it seems like a good opportunity to shed some light on what is happening here.
This tweet was when I first heard that the change was happening. The screenshot which appears to be a communication from Lufthansa about the change, has set off concerns that if you search for New York City, you will no longer be shown flights to/from Newark. That is not the case.
This change is really about airline pricing and not much more. See, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has different sets of codes which are used for different things. We’re all familiar with airport codes, but there are also a set of city codes that are meant primarily for pricing purposes.
In many cases, the airport code is the same as the city code, but there are several exceptions. Usually, the reason for an exception is because there are multiple airports under a single city code, but sometimes it’s just historical precedent. Here are some of the more common ones I remember using back in my pricing analyst days.
- CHI includes O’Hare (ORD) and Midway (MDW)
- DTT includes Metro (DTW) and I assume the old City airport (DET) which has no service
- HOU includes Hobby (HOU) and Intercontinental (IAH)
- LON includes Heathrow (LHR), Gatwick (LGW), Stansted (STN), City (LCY), and Luton (LTN)
- MKC includes Kansas City Intl (MCI) and I assume the old Downtown airport (MKC) which has no service
- NYC includes JFK (JFK), LaGuardia (LGA), and Newark (EWR) for now
- ORL includes Orlando Intl (MCO) and Sanford (SFB)
- PAR includes de Gaule (CDG) and Orly (ORY)
- TYO includes Haneda (HND) and Narita (NRT)
- WAS includes National (DCA) and Dulles (IAD)
- YTO includes Toronto/Pearson (YYZ) and Toronto/City (YTZ)
The list goes on and on, but you get the point. The rationale for this kind of thing is to make it easier to set fares in a given city without having to duplicate the effort. The reality ends up often being the opposite, however. Because frequently an airline will decide it wants to, say, charge more to fly to DCA than to IAD due to its close-in location. To achieve that, the airlines simply put in the fare rules which airport is allowed under each fare.
IATA is an organization of standards, and as spokesperson Perry Flint explained:
The Pricing Automation Working Group… has been working over the past 3 years on creating a common viable industry standard for the consistent identification of cities for pricing and fare construction.
This change is the result of that review. So now, Newark fares will be filed to EWR while JFK and LaGuardia fares will continue to be filed to NYC. That is all that needs to change here.
What about searches in the GDS? Those are not tied to city codes but rather Metropolitan Areas. As Perry explains again…
Metropolitan Areas will continue to be used for schedules and availability – for example, here EWR will remain in the Metropolitan Area of NYC and any GDS availability request for NYC will continue to show EWR.
This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone using a GDS today since there are already discrepancies between what you see there and how fares are file. For example, if you search for WAS flights, BWI is included. If you search for LAX, it shows Ontario (ONT) flights. And if you search for flights to anywhere in Florida, it automatically includes options to hell since they are so similar.
The only other change of significance is the last bullet point in that stated Lufthansa communication.
… in an involuntary case (e.g. flight cancellation FRA-JFK) a rebooking to FRA-EWR is considered as O&D change and requires a waiver.
This should just be a technical issue and one that is entirely of Lufthansa’s own doing. The way I read this, Lufthansa’s systems will require a travel agency to get a waiver to reissue the ticket to EWR instead of JFK because it is no longer considered the same market from a pricing perspective.
Other airlines have long created their own “co-terminals” which allow for reaccommodation between airports without any issues, so I don’t know why Lufthansa is making its policy so difficult here. But I don’t read this as saying that you might not get a waiver. It’s just that an extra step is involved.
To wrap this up, none of this is going to change anything for travelers. It might make travel agents work a little harder in rare cases, but this is really just about how fares are filed. Everyone can take a deep breath and relax.