British Airways, Cathay Pacific and oneworld Have Found a New Way to Screw Customers

The oneworld alliance no longer requires to through-check luggage onto partner airlines when passengers are traveling on more than one reservation.

Cathay Pacific has announced that they are not only ending through-checked luggage on separate reservations, they are going a step further and will no longer provide protection during irregular operations to passengers traveling on two different reservations.

With effect from 01 Jun 2016, all oneworld carriers have agreed that through* check-in will apply ONLY to passengers travelling on an oneworld itinerary ticketed on a single ticket or where segments are ticketed separately but in the same PNR record.

…To align with the change, disruption policy will also be revised to exclude protection for passengers holding separate tickets that is not booked under the same PNR.

Cathay Pacific Business Class

Of course it’s false that ‘all oneworld carriers have agreed’ to anything other than not to require other oneworld carriers to through check bags — not that they will not do so and nothing about this requires aligning policies for how to take care of passengers in the event of bad weather or mechanical issues. Misleading.

A reader tweets that they’re going to be unable to through-check bags from British Airways first class to Qantas business class.

Qantas Business Class

British Airways won’t even through-check bags when flying on two separate British Airways reservations.

With this change there’s really no reason to buy a separate ticket from British Airways versus another airline.

British Airways is also eliminating protection when traveling on two separate reservations — even when those reservations are both with British Airways.

British Airways Business Class

As of this morning American still has a policy where they’ll treat two oneworld tickets as a single ticket in the event of irregular operations. That policy is still published internally, with a last update to the document in April. How far behind will American Airlines be?

Meanwhile American says they aren’t following suit at this time. Presumably Delta’s and United’s willingness to through-check bags onto partner airlines will create a competitive reason for American to do so as well. I hope.

I book travel on separate reservations all the time. There are several reasons to this this. For instance,

  1. You have an award ticket, but award space wasn’t available starting in your home city or all the way to your final destination. So you book an award but buy a flight segment.

  2. You buy a ticket out of Boston for a fare sale. If the reservation started in New York you wouldn’t get the great price. It’s still a fabulous deal even when you buy your New York – Boston shuttle flight.

  3. You don’t know where you’ll be starting your trip from! You know you’re going to Asia but need a positioning flight once your plans firm.

  4. Plans change, you’re ticketed to Hong Kong but while there need a sidetrip to somewhere in Southeast Asia, and buy a ticket that connects up to your existing return flight.

Airlines forget that — especially in premium cabins, but not exclusively — they’re in a hospitality business as much as a transportation business. They’re providing a service that empowers their customers to meet their goals, whether it’s seeing family and friends or attending an important meeting.

Get off a long haul international flight, go take a shower in the arrivals lounge before heading to a meeting. Airlines compete to provide service that bolsters productivity, and thereby attractive a revenue premium.

This move fundamentally inconveniences customers, and not in a small way. I’ve gone over some reasons why someone winds up with more than one reservation. But what does it mean when the airline won’t through check bags?

  • Much more time between connections, you have to be able to wait at baggage claim (a variable length of time because most airlines aren’t consistent in their ability to check bags) and then wait to re-check those bags (variable lines to do so) and then wait to re-clear security.

  • Hassle of dragging luggage around the airport.

  • For international connections it means going through immigration. Depending on the country, and the passenger’s nationality, that may even mean getting a visa.

This is an incredible hassle for customers, and one that’s wholly unnecessary since it’s perfectly possible – easy even – for airlines to transfer bags on separate tickets. They do it every day and have done it for decades.

Ultra low cost carriers don’t invest in this capability. But Cathay Pacific and British Airways aren’t ultra low cost carriers, and have tried to cultivate a brand that’s quite the opposite.

By making travel more difficult they may be able to squeeze some customers for more revenue. They’ll also discourage travel on their airlines — and possibly even reduce trips taken at the margin as well.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. These moves seem pretty shortsighted. In one fell swoop, Oneworld managed to devalue both award and paid tickets. Impressive. Normally, the customer just gets screwed by one airline at a time.

  2. Wouldn’t bother me as much if they allowed you to buy add on flights under the same PNR for award reservations.

  3. From a baggage handling standpoint, how much labor are they reducing? In some situations, it may actually increase the amount of work.

  4. Sounds like they feel like there is a weak point in one or more of the alliance members’ baggage screening operations or locations.

  5. I’m not surprised by this move at all. With regards to arguments 1 & 2, this is the type of behaviour they would like to prevent. For types 3 & 4, you just described business travellers and the vast majority of them won’t care because someone else is paying.

    Do I like it? No. Would I do the same if I ran an airline/alliance? Yup!

  6. What a sick joke of an alliance. Absolutely pitiful by BA/CX. I’m guessing it’s only a matter of time until AA follows suit. Off to UA/Star we go!

  7. If you have to go through immigration then to baggage claim to retrieve you bag, then check in again (meeting min check in times), check you bag again and go through security again…. you better have a min of 2-3 hr layover. Maybe I’d do it by myself but not doing it with my spouse in tow.

  8. Gary, I have to wonder about this wording: “or where segments are ticketed separately but in the same PNR record”

    Do you think it’s possible that if we were to call the relevant airline and ask to add the segment ticketed seperately – as a “ghost segment” (GK in Amadeus..) – so all segments were to appear on the same PNR (even though they are associated to different tickets) – if then it would be possible to interline?

    This does not seem to conflict with the exact wording : “or where segments are ticketed separately but in the same PNR record”…..

  9. there is something substantial that you might have missed, probably because you are a US citizen. This new rule means passengers have to go out of security and check in again. However, some countries require visa to do that for some citizens. Basically, this new rule completely closes the potential of that. Sometimes you cannot book complicated tickets under the same reservation, so you need to separate. But in those cases, I always booked oneworld even if the tickets are more expensive because I don’t have to worry about the visa issue in this case. Now, oneworld would be out of my option automatically because I know for sure, they will screw me up.

  10. How do we find out if the previous OW protection policy changes for LATAM and the other OW carriers, seeing as these are usually unwritten or not publicly posted policies? I choose OW carriers specifically because of these protections, even when the random international discount carriers have substantially lower fares. Nothing like being screwed due to mechanical or some other delay out of my control.

  11. I’ve been reading these stories over the past day or two and the first thing that keeps hitting my mind is that it will increase security lines like crazy. Not only that but it will be at the larger hub cities like NYC, London, Chicago, Paris, Hong Kong, etc. Seems like a perfect storm to me.

  12. I am wondering if the airlines are thinking that they can pick up incremental baggage fees by not checking in. However, this is an issue for sure.

  13. Holy cow, Batman!

    I’m part of the margin. My wife is part of the margin. My best friend that I just sold on this idea the other month and who bought three AA tickets to complete an award itinerary for the three of us recently is certainly part of the margin.

    IDK who made this decision nor why, but I am *highly* skeptical that they really knew what they were doing. This was one of those quiet, but significant, benefits.

    What makes it even worse is the utter lack of notice.

  14. @DaninMCI~ Security lines will be longer, Immigration lines will be longer, and the airlines check-in lines will be longer, all with cranky, tired customers. With regard to the 3rd item mentioned, have the airlines really thought this through? More work for themselves for no return?
    When I think of LHR with it’s sophisticated baggage handling operation, this new measure is like returning to the dark ages. By every measure it’s a lose-lose deal.

  15. This is in direct response to the thousands of bloggers who repeatedly educate the world and the airlines how to cheat them – so how about doing something about this since you have such an online audience instead of just advertising the news

  16. Just yesterday I booked away from oneworld due to this very reason.

    I had to buy an add-on flight to a business-class departure on Finnair ex-Zurich. I was travelling from London, and need to connect the same day in Zurich. The first BA flight of the day arrived just over an hour before the ZRH departure, and was a legal connection. There was also an option to arrive 40 mins earlier on a SWISS flight at the same price.

    Without any protections for a oneworld two-ticket itinerary, I opted for the SWISS flight to give me a little breathing room. Were the old policy still in place, I would have booked BA. Combined with the gutting of the frequent flyer programmes, the benefits of loyalty to any one alliance are diminishing by the day.

  17. I completely agree. This is crazy. It convinces that BA’s top priority is to screw their customers.
    An airline that is removing functionality at a time when e.g. Amazon and others are making logistics more and more tailored and efficient. (Instead of removing this option currently available only to customers who request it, BA should be investing in AI that spots when one customer has two tickets and asks them if they would like them to be joined!!)
    I feel tempted to ask the Federal Trade Commission whether this is even legal.

    With this policy BA are on a glide path to oblivion.

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