In my last column I waxed on about my fear of flying, and how an unexpected codeshare really threw me off course. While cursing my ticket’s fine print, I realized that part of the issue is that codeshares are just plain confusing.
So WTF is a codeshare, exactly? They seem to be everywhere these days, and never really fully explained to passengers. Essentially, codeshares enable airlines to partner together and operate more flights to a destination, because they’re pooling resources.
Let’s say, for example, Cathay wants to offer 10 flights a day to Beijing, but either can’t allocate 10 airplanes or doesn’t think there’s enough demand to warrant the extra routes. However, if they partner with Air China, they can still “offer” 10 flights a day by buying a block of seats on the Air China flight and selling them under the Cathay name, making it more manageable for both airlines. They keep operational costs down, fill seats and it all results in a better yield. Sharing is caring, you know?
Ok great, but just one thing: The passenger loses out in several ways. In situations like my recent flight to Beijing — I bought a Cathay ticket but flew Air China — the codeshare meant that Cathay flyers did not receive premium airline services, such as online check-in, seat selection, lounge access, in-flight entertainment unavailable. Either the airlines were not communicating properly to ensure a seamless trip, or Cathay became severely limited in its IT abilities and ground handling services.
But it’s not just a Cathay-Air China problem. If you bought a premium ticket on any airline and are later thrown onto a lesser flight (ie, no TVs, terrible food, old grimy seats, poorly trained staff, etc), it would feel like a big old downgrade. And who appreciates that?
It’s also confusing and time consuming when you have three different flight numbers for the same flight. No one is sure where to check in. You lose time, patience, sanity. The headache compounds when you buy from Zuji, or some other online travel agent, and you can’t even figure out who to call for a problem, rescheduling or reimbursement.
Not to mention frequent flyer benefits. Sometimes, they count… sometimes they don’t. Unless you’re super savvy (and have hours to spend waiting on hold) and check with every party involved, you probably won’t accrue those beloved points on a codeshare due to each carrier’s varying exceptions and rules.
On the other hand, the codeshares make air travel more convenient and accessible. If you’re cool with flying Air China to Beijing, then you can choose from like 30 flights a day instead of just one route from your favorite carrier. And for those who have tight schedules, need flexible connecting flights, or simply love to have a smorgasbord of options, then codeshares are your BFFs.
Love them or hate them, we can all thank US Airways for the concept. Apparently back in 1967, Allegheny Airlines and US Airways were the first codeshares in the US, while Qantas and American Airlines eventually coined the term in 1989. Thanks guys, thanks a lot.