"Code Share": When Your Airline Isn't Your Airline

Ever go to check in for the next leg of your flight, only to find that there is no check-in for the airline you’re supposed to be on? That’s what happened to Michael and Joyce Ludmer.

“We spent a frenzied half-hour in search of Lufthansa’s check-in counter until discovering that the actual carrier was Air One,” Michael wrote in an e-mail [to the Chicago Tribune.]

Nowhere on their printed ticket was Air One mentioned, nor was it on the itinerary their travel agent provided them. The Ludmers had very nearly been tripped up by what might best be called “code-share confusion.”

“Code share” means that tickets are sold by one airline for a seat on a code-share partner’s airplane, a growing trend in the industry.

According to the Trib, code sharing can have benefits, including lower fares and the ability to book flights and acquire frequent flier points with a familiar airline, but there’s also the risk of confusion, especially with paper tickets. “Department of Transportation regulations require carriers to “tell consumers clearly when the air transportation they are buying or considering buying involves a code-sharing arrangement.” It seems that airlines aren’t doing a very good job.

If you have an electronic ticket: Look for the words “operated by” to find your code share airline, if any.
If you have a paper ticker: “Check the departure screen at the airport. Even if your airline is not listed there, your destination and time of departure should be. Then go to the gate that matches that information, even if it is a different airline from the one on your ticket.” —MEGHANN MARCO

The code share: When your airline’s not your airline [Chicago Tribune]

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  1. acambras says:

    Wow — a paper ticket. Haven’t seen one of those in a really long time.

  2. missdona says:

    Air One? Is there such a thing?

  3. formergr says:

    “If you have a paper ticker: “Check the departure screen at the airport. Even if your airline is not listed there, your destination and time of departure should be. Then go to the gate that matches that information, even if it is a different airline from the one on your ticket.”

    This won’t help you though if you have luggage to check…

  4. RandomHookup says:

    I’ve had the opposite happen…my tiny little airline was using the check-in counter of one of the giants. Except they didn’t tell me and the micro-airline isn’t listed on any of terminal signs/directories. Hey, let’s wander around Detroit airport and try to find the right terminal.

  5. ndavies says:

    In December I booked flights to and from Canada on US Airways, but when I went to check in, they sent me to the Air Canada counter. As I was waiting in line at Air Canada, they sent a bunch of people in front of me over to US Airways, and I think we all ended up on the same plane. It makes no sense at all.

  6. FlashSandbox says:

    I booked a flight with United and I flew on US Air planes both legs, both directions. Getting dropped off at a huge airport at the wrong terminal (United and US Air were on opposite sides of the airport) sucks.

  7. itchy feet says:

    I booked a Northwest flight operated by KLM from Munich to Minneapolis with a stop in Amsterdam. I knew it was a code share, but I freaked when the tag they put on my luggage was from Air France. Wha?

    I had a confusing conversation in Eng-man (or Germ-ish?) before I understood that Air France is also a code share partner. My luggage arrived just fine.

  8. Clare says:

    I bet one of you consumer ninjas knows the answer to this question:

    Southwest shares codes with ATA. Does ATA have the check-in-online-24-hours-before-your-flight setup that Southwest does? I am flying Philly-Oakland-Honolulu next month. Philly-Oakland is on Southwest, but the Oakland-Honolulu leg of the trip is on ATA.

  9. vividblurry says:

    This is probably going to happen to me next week when I fly from L.A. to D.C. I think I booked on United or something, but I saw the same flight number listed with a different carrier. It is confusing just explaining it.

    Lufthansa and Air One are both part of the Star Alliance, so it is not surprising that they do code sharing. I would be disappointed though if I booked Lufthansa and ended up with a different carrier. They always have good sales and their staff is always nice.

  10. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    I had a United flight a few years ago (back before United started truly sucking) and I wound up on Continental for one leg of it. Ugh. I don’t consider code-sharing “getting what you paid for.”

    If you order a pair of Nike sneakers, does that automatically give the store the right to substitute Reeboks or any other brand of their choice? “Hey, what the heck..they’re sneakers..it’s all the same..Nike, Reebok, Wal-Mart..whatever.”

    Sadly, I don’t suppose it makes much difference now, since most of the major carries now suck equally (except Southwest, which doesn’t suck), but I purposely avoided Continental because I didn’t want to end up being their “guest” sitting on the runway at Newark for 6 hours while they duct-taped the wing back on.

    Still, it’s the principle of the thing. If you order a hamburger, does that give the restaurant the right to substitute mystery-meat-of-the-day for ground beef? If I go buy a Ford truck, are they allowed to say “Hey, we didn’t have the Ford you wanted, here’s a nice Dodge”?

  11. OwenCatherwood says:

    It depends on the airline as to how the codeshare flights are arranged. For the most part, they’re playing the brand familiarity card by making you think that United, et. al provide all the flights even though they don’t. At my home town, for instance, the jets are even painted in the United scheme, but it’s Skywest that operates the flights to and from United hubs.

  12. XPav says:

    I had the second leg of USAir/America West flight operated by Ted by United. Connection was in Las Vegas. Our incoming flight was was late.

    They wouldn’t let us check in through the ticket kiosk, so we had to go to the front desk and get them to force the checkin. United started to tell me off for not getting to the airport in time. I spent 5 seconds telling them off before grabbing the boarding passes and running through the airport, my fiancee in tow.

    Due to the way Las Vegas is arranged, no matter what, we would have had to go through security again. We went through the first class security line. Then we had to get on the train to the United terminal.

    We barely made it on the plane. Our bags didn’t. The guy who realized he lost his wallet on the train didn’t either.

    Codesharing sucks.

  13. cabinaero says:

    OwenCatherwood – United Express flights aren’t code share. They’re contracted operations. They don’t have a Mesa, Skywest, etc. flight number listed anywhere.

  14. cabinaero says:

    Also, the photo Meghann used for this article isn’t the best. That ticket is not a codeshare ticket, it’s interlined. A codeshare is where an airline holds the rights to sell a certain number of seats on its codeshare partner’s flights. In this case, Delta sold the guy a ticket on United metal with a United flight number.

    I’m also curious as to why he’d use Delta for this. None of the flights are on Delta. LAX-SFO is United. SFO-TPE-SGN is going to be all China Air metal. He’d have been better off on Cathay Pacific for not much more money.

  15. Sunbun says:

    It’s even better when the supposed airline is on one side of the airport, and the actual carrier’s on the other. Makes for a fun time.

    Skywest (OO), Mesa (YV), American Eagle (MQ) and other contracted “express” airlines have their own flight numbers, too, but they’re oft unseen.

  16. healthdog says:

    So that’s why the check-in clerk spends five minutes typing when all of my information is allegedly on the ticket. I figured they were playing WoW.

  17. This sounds more like an Airport SNAFU to me. Everytime I was doing code sharing all the connecting flights were announced on boards right at the exit of the Gangway. That included the Gate you had to go to.

    Even if you would have to pick up your baggage the Code Share numbers were announced on the boards in the area.

  18. AllTech76 says:

    As a travel agent in a large business travel center quick tips:

    There are 3 HUGE domestic “code share” partners look for the lower of the two fares:
    US Airways-United (8 out of 10 or more flights are like this)
    US Airways-America West (Same parent company)
    American-Alaska Air (6 of 10 in the Northwest US to any major US city)

    If you live in San Francisco or Houston take Continental to the east coast. They fly to Newark and other hubs in 2 cabin planes… if you gain status they will upgrade you to first instead of the lackluster “business”

    Check a Non-Refundable status of tickets before booking, and if you like Southwest like me check other regional jets (Ted, American Eagle, Delta Connect… and yes even the 8 hour in plane delay favorite JetBlue) to find lower fares than even ATA, AirTran, or Southwest.

    And finally:
    With the modern check-in process (automated machines) talk to the desk agent and schmooze them to death. If you have a center seat don’t just take what you can get. ASK! If you are traveling with a companion, ask to be moved next to them by the gate agent. They are “generally” willing to ask another passenger to trade seats. And as always check to see food service on a flight with the gate agent. If you are expecting to “buy” (give away 5 dollars) and eat a sandwich on the plane… think again. The flights do not always have food for purchase even though they may have intended to.