Sometimes airline passengers have no choice. If they are flying to a small airport or between two airports with limited air service, the only option is to connect from “airline A” to “airline B.” Sometimes. Sometimes codeshare arrangements, such as between United and Lufthansa, are the only option for a good fare.
Often the only reason travelers attempt a trip with connections involving two (or more) airlines is presumed efficiency with a shorter connection, or a cheaper fare by combining two different tickets.
My usual response is to try to talk the person out of mixing airlines. The potential problems usually far out-weigh most perceived time and/or money savings.
An experience today was the latest in a long line of examples.
The client in question wanted to get from Boston connecting in London to Delhi to Kathmandu, admittedly not the easiest routing. British Airways would have gotten him as far as Delhi. But he didn’t like the times.
So he suggested a routing he had found online with British Airways to London, Virgin Atlantic to Delhi, and Jet Airways to Kathmandu. I couldn’t talk him out of it.
No, this is not another British Airways strike story. British Airways was on time with no problems at all, despite the strike, and they even checked his luggage through.
When he got to Heathrow, however, the fun started. Virgin Atlantic announced their flight would be two hours late. Which means they would miss the connection to his flight from Delhi to Kathmandu.
We were able to find another flight to Kathmandu on Indian Airlines, where he will probably make the connection, but then there was the matter of checked luggage.
Despite a five-hour layover at Heathrow, Virgin Atlantic insisted that because British Airways had checked the luggage all the way through, that they could not change it over to his new flight.
Virgin actually claimed this was British Airways’ fault for checking the luggage through. Now, had the plane been on time and British Airways hadn’t checked the bags through, resulting in the passengers and/or their luggage missing the flight, that would have probably received the same “not our fault” response.
Now, in this situation, it is all going to eventually work out, probably. My best guess since Virgin has refused to transfer bags to Indian Air in Delhi, they will probably put them on the next Jet Airways flight, the following morning. (We hope.) A colleague would then be able to pick them up for him. But at time of writing we don’t know, and won’t for another 24 hours.
In this particular case, while I think Virgin Atlantic is the guiltier party, it really matters little in the long run when one airline is blaming the other, or denying responsibility. The real loser is the traveler.
This happens over and over, the second carrier will insist responsibility resides with the first carrier (technically it usually does) or the first carrier will claim they did their job and it’s the second carrier’s problem. Sometimes it’s just an issue of luggage, other times its a matter of missed connections.
These issues crop up with airlines that actually have ticketing and interline agreements — translation, they will transfer bags and tickets between each other. If it’s a connection involving an international low-cost carrier or even a domestic major carrier like Southwest, don’t even think about any luggage transfer or ticketing cooperation.
In short, stuff happens. Before you or your travel agent, however, get too creative with fares and ticketing when choosing a multiple carrier itinerary, think of the worst case scenario.
Everything might go smoothly and the risk might turn out to be well be worth it. But can you live with it if it’s not?