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What are codeshare flights?

Have you ever bought a ticket for a flight on your favorite airline and just before the sale is confirmed the agent says (or these days the computer screen shows) that the flight is operated by a different airline? Or worse still, have you showed up to take a flight and found yourself boarding a completely different airline? Unless you made a mistake, you were on a codeshare flight. This word codeshare is airline jargon for one aircraft, with two airlines selling it as one of their own. Sometimes, it is possible that you could have several airlines selling a flight as if it was one of their own, like British Midland that sometimes has six airlines codesharing on its flights inside the U.K.

A typical codeshare arrangement consists of one airline that actually operates the flight (i.e. the aircraft is painted in that airline's livery, the crew wear that airline's uniforms and the flight departs from a gate emblazoned with that airline's logo), and another one that jointly markets the flight (i.e. sells the tickets, and sometimes provides a token crew member to ease language barriers etc.).

So now you know what they are, why do airlines do these codeshare flights, doesn't it just complicate an already complex system? There are several reasons why airlines codeshare, and on balance I believe it is does benefit the consumer if it is done well. Some people cry deceptive practices or bait and switch, but I say if I can get there with less hassle and earn frequent flyer miles to boot, who cares!

Reasons why airlines codeshare:

  • There are not enough passengers for two airlines to operate economically between two cities.
  • One airline wants a market presence in a city but doesn't want to invest in a new airplane, people real estate etc.
  • Two governments can't agree on how many frequencies airlines of each country can fly, so they compromise and offer codeshare frequencies instead.
  • Every one else is doing it so we better as well
  • By offering lots of new cities with our airline partners we can control better the itineraries (hence revenue) displayed for sale in the reservation systems and sell more tickets than the other guy.
  • Our strategic partner wants to have codeshares so we better had.
  • We can offer the passengers a better level of service when they switch airlines in foreign cities.

The glut of codeshares may be just a transitional phenomenon on the road to airline globalization and open skies. Pretty soon we may start to see airlines with names as long as Wall Street Investment firms and Railroads, etc. In the future, we'll get used to it, and with all the incentives thrown in we may learn to like it.


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