One of the most troublesome kinds of airline reservations is the codeshare where one airline places its ‘code’ on another airline’s flight and sells it as though it’s on their own planes and operated by their own crew. This often doesn’t work out well.
There are several ways that two airlines can partner with each other. For instance,
- Airlines can sell tickets on other carriers. This is part of interlining.
- They can enter a frequent flyer partnership, which may involve mileage-earning and some recognition for elite frequent flyers like priority check-in and boarding.
- And there are joint ventures where the airlines share revenue on particular routes, and therefore are supposed to be indifferent whether a passenger flies one airline versus the other.
All of these have benefits to the airline and the customer. But they don’t require putting one airline’s code on the other airline’s flight (codeshare).
But when you see “[Airline flight] operated by [second airline]” and it isn’t just a regional carrier doing the flying (such as Delta operated by SkyWest]” – when you see something like “United Airlines operated by ANA” – run away. Quickly.
Now, there are several potential benefits to booking a codeshare,
- Since two airlines are selling the flight, the price might be different and you might save some money with the codeshare as part of a larger itinerary.
- Airlines may favor codeshares for mileage and elite-status earning.
However when things go wrong it can get complicated. If you have an American Airlines ticket for travel on JetBlue, and JetBlue cancels your flight prior to the day of travel, it’s American you’re dealing with to get rebooked. They may not have as much inventory to work with on JetBlue, and may favor their own flights over putting you on another JetBlue flight.
Codeshares also foil travelers who don’t realize whom they’ll be flying. An American Airlines customer who buys an American Airlines flight number for travel on British Airways from London might have checked in at London Heathrow terminal 3 before the pandemic (where American is!), not realizing they were supposed to go to an entirely different terminal because they are really flying British Airways.
One of the trickiest areas when booking codeshares can be assigning seats. Often you won’t even be able to pull up a seat map for the codeshare flight. In essence, the operating airline’s own flight has a flight number and associated seat map. But the airline selling the flight doesn’t have or control a seat map for that flight, and the two may not talk to each other properly.
Right now in fact American Airlines isn’t able to give you seat assignments on JetBlue.
When you book a flight with American Airlines, with an American Airlines flight number, and American Airlines tells you to call a different airline if you want seats that is a problem.
There are much better ways for airlines to handle financial arrangements than codeshares. Sure, if American sells its flight number on JetBlue it’s keeping money off that ticket. But why can’t they just work out a commission arrangement for selling the JetBlue flight, let the customer have a JetBlue flight number, for the same exact trip? That would simplify seating tremendously and reduce confusion over whom the passenger will actually be flying.
Of course when other airlines run to the government to complain about the JetBlue-American Airlines partnership and say the deal is bad for consumers, they do not cite any of these issues that are actually bad for customers. They can’t, because they all do these things too.