Robert Silk
Robert Silk

Airlines like to promote codeshare arrangements as being consumer friendly, and in some respects they are.

There's no doubt, for example, that it's convenient for travelers to be able to make just a single booking, even when they purchase tickets to destinations that they can't reach on one airline.

But by allowing airlines to affix a flight number to a flight they aren't actually operating, codeshares can also create an illusion of seamlessness where it doesn't exist. 

A sharp example of this was brought to my attention recently by Travel Weekly senior editor Jeri Clausing, who was traveling home to Albuquerque, N.M., via Los Angeles, from Lima, Peru, on a Latam/American codeshare itinerary she had purchased through American.

Per her itinerary, Clausing was slated to arrive at LAX on Latam from Lima at 7 p.m. on that late April evening and then fly on to Albuquerque at 9:05 p.m. on an American Eagle-branded flight.

Her flight actually arrived at LAX at 7:24 p.m., according to the website Flight Aware, which left Clausing a somewhat tight but doable connection. However, upon landing in Los Angeles, she learned that Latam had proactively rebooked her to the following morning.

Clausing attempted to have an American counter agent reassign her to her original evening flight. But, according to her account of the incident, she was told that only Latam could make that change. The counter agent called Latam but was unable to solve the problem. Unwilling to wait the night, Clausing instead purchased a second ticket for that evening flight at a cost of $410.

In responses to Clausing's subsequent requests for a refund on that second ticket, an American ticket agent was apologetic but twice told her that she needed to contact Latam.

"Despite that your travel agency bought your ticket through American, we do not have control over what occurs on other airlines nor do we communicate on each other's systems," the ticket agent wrote in one message.

Reading this message made me wonder how many other flyers, not only on American and Latam but on other airlines, get caught in similar traps.
Last fall, at a conference outside Washington, I listened as former American CEO Bob Crandall described codeshares as a way for airlines to fool people into thinking they are flying on a carrier that they perceive as more reliable than the carrier they will actually fly.

I don't feel that strongly. But I wasn't surprised about the results of a recent, informal survey undertaken by Routehappy by ATPCO, which found that among people who flew multiple times in 2018, 40% were unsure what a codeshare flight was.

Indeed, I have little doubt that many people who book codeshare itineraries don't realize they have done so. But even those who do know aren't likely to realize that the airline that sells them a unified itinerary, branded entirely with its own flight codes, isn't necessarily going to take responsibility for the whole of that itinerary when it comes to delays, cancellations or other problems.

For this column, I asked American and Latam to explain how they communicate with codeshare partners when problems develop and also to explain any efforts they are making to improve such functionality. Neither responded.

Industry analyst Gary Leff, who writes the View From the Wing blog, did have some pointed advice: If you can avoid booking a codeshare, do so, even if it requires booking two airlines under their own flight numbers.

Leff added that when possible, travelers should book a joint-venture itinerary instead of a codeshare because airlines invest more heavily in their closest partnerships.

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