When airlines first transferred over to electronic tickets, there were a lot of problems when passengers needed two airlines on one ticket. This usually happened when the second airline couldn’t find the ticket.

Some travelers ended up having to buy separate tickets and then having to try to get reimbursement later. Others, by being persistent, were able to help the checkin agent find the missing ticket, usually by giving them the ticket number or by calling their travel agent and having an agent give the airline employee more information.

The situation has improved in recent years, but is by no means perfect. The most common problem seems to be with code-shares. Sometimes, simply two one-way tickets can be a problem, as my client found out with a roundtrip from Seattle to Washington DC flying in out with Alaska Airlines and returning on United.

Normally, I try to get the roundtrip on the same airline, however, the times didn’t work for this traveler. I also, usually, issue flights on different airlines on separate ticket, but in this case, the fare was a bit lower to issue a roundtrip. Plus the client wanted one receipt to be reimbursed (and had heard that one way tickets trigger additional security).

So I issued a roundtrip ticket and sent him the ticket number. As it turned out, he decided he would be tight on time and tried to checkin online for the return before he left for his day’s meetings. The response “No electronic ticket found for this itinerary.”

I sent him the number again and a scan of the ticket. United Airlines advised me by phone that the airport agent should be able to find it easily, even if the website couldn’t handle the checkin.

I then called their help desk, and an agent said, “Well, let me see if I can link it.” When I responded that I thought electronic tickets were linked at time of issue, the response was, “Well, not always.”

After waiting on hold for a while, the agent came back and told me he could check in now online. Although, by this time, the passenger had just decided to go the next day, because he didn’t want to risk an airport delay.

So now we reissued the ticket for the next day, and sent him a new ticket number.

A little travel jargon is required for this next part. When a single airline ticket is issued, agents must “plate” on only one carrier. In this case, Alaska had the outbound flight, so it was plated on them.

Plating means that the money goes to that first carrier, and they distribute it, via an airline bank, to other carriers on the ticket. The system works pretty well, except when it doesn’t.

Being forewarned now, I called United back, explained to them that we had changed the ticket, and could they either make sure it was still linked, or re-link it. The first agent asked “Why didn’t you plate the new return on United?” (Well, because we are not allowed legally to take an Alaska plated ticket and plate it on any other carrier, it’s like taking a check from Wells Fargo and turning it into a check from Bank of America.)

So after checking with her supervisor the agent said, “Well, okay, now that you’ve changed it, we can’t link it. but just send them to the airport, it will be fine.”

Right. At this point I called the highest level sales office we have in Chicago, where a supervisor there confirmed that online checkin wasn’t working, but she documented the record (where I could see it), explaining to any airport agent what the ticket number was and that a glitch had prevented the passenger from checking in early.

I copied and pasted this all into an email to the passenger, and off he went to the airport. Where, you guessed it, someone told him he didn’t have a ticket.

Armed with the printout of my email and a little persistence, he was able to get checked in by a supervisor, although without so much as an apology.

The lessons in all this are relatively simple. Whenever possible, book itineraries with a single carrier. Where that is not possible, book separate tickets. And when there are reasons to book all the flights together, arrive at the airport armed with as much documentation as possible; including, for travel agency bookings, their contact information.

At this point I’ve decided I don’t care what the situation is, unless there’s a codeshare situation with absolutely no choice, clients are getting individual airlines on individual tickets. Though these multi-carrier itineraries sound simple, to airline computer systems, they ARE still rocket science.