Delta backs down — for now — on transferring checked bags to other airlines


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.

  • Bill

    will skyteam ever get tired of DL? DL is constantly pulling stunts that makes the alliance almost worthless – it definitely is not a seamless travel experience as an alliance is supposed to provide. oneworld and star alliance are much better at this – although those two tend to be true alliances – i have always thought of sky team as simply delta/klm/airfrance with a few other members nobody cares about…

  • AirlineEmployee

    This idea is ridiculous and just another way to annoy passengers to the hilt. It would also mean extra bag fees with each carrier when passengers have to “recheck” their bags. One World, Star Alliance — all supposed to be “seamless” but no longer the case ?? How can you call this a codeshare, partnership or alliance if it’s “chopped up” midstream ?

  • TonyA_says

    Well technically if you buy SEPARATE tickets, there is no baggage transfer or through check in between them. I don’t understand the shock when all this time the airlines were simply doing y’all a favor they didn’t have to.

  • janice

    TonyA, it would make more sense with say, Delta to British Airways, and you’re right, it’s a favor, but it also reduces, for example, check in lines for airlines. But between partner carriers it makes no sense, and as mentioned a lot of time with award tickets you HAVE to have two tickets.

  • TonyA_says

    The one that drives me crazy is if I buy or sell 2 delta separate tickets.
    Reading the rule, delta would not even transfer or check my baggage through on their own separate tickets.

    It is obvious what delta is trying to do. They are trying to preserve the value of THROUGH fares by reducing the UNINTENDED features of separate tickets.
    I for one do not see the reason why separate tickets should get the benefits of free transfers and baggage check throughs.
    If elites are that special, maybe Delta should carve an exception for Medallions. Otherwise I can see where Delta might charge for the cost of transferring bags. I understand the insurance is paid by the airline that tags the bag.

  • TonyA_says

    Hi Janice, do you have a link to the official Delta communication regarding this?

  • James Penrose

    The airlines are basically saying “Hey! We don’t *want* you to fly. We’re going to make it so ****ed inconvenient despite the ridiculous fares we often charge that you simply will choose not to fly and we can quietly go out of business while complaining about a lack of passenger loyalty.”

    “We know it costs effectively zero in money and time to run a cart of baggage a few hundred feet to another airline but we’d much prefer *you* spend several hours of *your* time picking up your bag, going to another terminal, standing in line, checking those bags back in and then standing in more lines for “security” rather than bother us with your petty demands for service and convenience.”

    “And when we arrive so late you cannot possibly do all that? Well, sorry, not our problem. You have your bags, now go sort it out with that other airline.”

    “We allowed you to buy a ticket that doesn’t even guarantee we will get you to your destination the same month you started out. Heck, we can claim unspecified “problems” and toss your *** on a Greyhound bus and there’s nothing you can do. Refund? I don’t think so, even if the ticket says ‘refundable’, we’ll make your life a living hell if you even dare to try that trick on us unless you fly a hundred thousand miles a year or so on us and maybe not even then.”

    “You got there alive, eventually, what more do you expect of us? Did you think we are in the business of providing service? Think again.”

  • Jack

    Wish there was a “Like” button on this. Yes, that does seem to be what they’re trying to achieve. Then again, Delta has been pretty horrible for at least two decades and I will never again fly them: That’s due to a cancelled flight (crew delay) where they didn’t offer food, lodging, or compensation outside of a $100 6 month voucher…