For many airline travelers, this would have been a big change with little fanfare. Delta Air Lines announced in October that starting January 15, 2013, they would no longer transfer bags for passengers to another airline if the trip was not all on one ticket, even when it involved their Skyteam partners.
For domestic travelers, this situation almost never arises, since most trips within the U.S. are on one airline and mergers have largely eliminated the issue of transferring between carriers with code-share flights.
Now, Delta has announced that they will postpone implementing the new policy, saying that they and their partners “needed time to assess implications and regulatory requirements of the new policy.”
My sense is that the translation of that is, “Enough of our elite frequent fliers screamed bloody murder.” Plus, there were no announcements from United and American that they might follow suit.
US Airways and Alaska have already changed their policies and no longer interline baggage, but they are much smaller airlines. Delta is the largest airline in the United States. In addition, Delta code-shares for KLM, Alitalia and Air France, amongst others. So this change, if it is implemented, will have major implications.
Here are some situations where travelers would be affected when different international flights are on separate tickets. Say a traveler was flying Delta to Paris, then continuing on to another city in Europe, but on the return they wanted to stop in Paris. Even when the trip would be all on Delta and their partner Air France, it might well be less expensive to do separate tickets, since discount fares often don’t allow stopovers.
For some destinations — many cities in Africa and Asia come to mind — Delta may not have “through fares” and separate tickets might be required or are significantly less expensive.
In addition, while business travelers may not care as much about the ticket price, this change could hit them when they may care most about both cost and comfort — at vacation time. Often free mileage awards are available only to a gateway city. I’ve often issued intra-Europe tickets especially for clients in that situation.
If Delta eventually goes through with the change, this would mean that a family with free tickets to London, but with a connection on to Rome, would have to pick up their luggage at Heathrow, recheck it, and go back through security. That procedure could take hours.
In any case, we more than likely haven’t seen the last of this issue. Interlining baggage is an added cost for airlines at a time when they’ve already cut every cost they can.
Perhaps Delta and other carriers will end up with a model similar to what they do for other formerly free services: allow Elite travelers to avoid payment, but charge others for interline baggage. Stay tuned, this is a long way from over.