Code-Sharing of Flights: Beneficial or Deceptive?

Code-sharing is the practice of two or more airlines applying a flight number to the same flight, thereby sharing the flight. This business arrangement is officially known as a codeshare agreement between airlines and is done for economic reasons. In fact, other modes of transportation can also engage in code-sharing, such as companies which operate trains.
Citing “one of the worst examples of what-you-see-isn’t-what-you-get is airline codesharing” in his weblog, Christopher Elliott says that “anyone who cares about the truth should be worried about it.”
I beg to differ with Christopher Elliott to a point, as I have never booked an airline itinerary not knowing specifically on which airline I will actually be a passenger. In fact, I find code-sharing a great way to try out other airlines while still earning frequent flier loyalty program miles on the airline on which I am a passenger most often.
Code-sharing is also a great way to offer more routes economically. Let us use the example of non-stop flights between Washington, D.C. and Frankfurt, departing from the United States on October 10, 2012. United Airlines operates three flights, while Lufthansa operates two flights, combining for a total of five non-stop flights. Sure, United Airlines and Lufthansa essentially compete directly by each offering non-stop flights on the route from Washington, D.C. to Frankfurt on October 10, 2012 — but because they are both part of Star Alliance, they also engage in code-sharing, which economically allows both United Airlines and Lufthansa to effectively offer a total of five non-stop flights on this day from Washington, D.C. and Frankfurt.
Does it really make sense for each airline to offer five non-stop flights without the option of code-sharing? Does it really make sense to go to different Internet web sites to compare and book flights when it can be done from one convenient Internet web site of your choice?
On both of their Internet web sites, not only does it clearly state which airline operates which flight, but the flight numbers are purposely different. In each case, a three-digit flight number indicates that the airline itself operates the flight, while a four-digit flight number — in this case, beginning with an 8 on United Airlines and a 9 on Lufthansa — indicates that another airline operates the flight. Many airlines have similar systems for numbering code-share flights. This is one of countless examples of where I believe that code-sharing is not deceptive and, in fact, beneficial to the consumer.
In fact, airlines can be fined for not disclosing code-sharing of flights, as has happened to United Airlines back in 2009.
While code-sharing can actually strengthen the branding of an airline, some would argue that code-sharing actually weakens the branding of an airline, as inferred by FlyerTalk member glob99. I agree with this as well to a point, using the following scenario:
It does not happen often, but what irks me is when a regional airline operates as its mainline partner. Again, the same disclaimers by the airlines are practiced here, clearly disclosing which is the operating airline. The difference here, however, is that when the mainline airline advertises the flight as its own but irregular operations or rude behavior by the staff occur, the mainline airline distances itself from any blame or responsibility — even if it partially or wholly owns the regional airline. If an airline advertises a flight as its own, then it should also bear the responsibility of whatever goes wrong with the flight — even if that means acting as the middleman with the operating airline in question…
…and then there is the case of FlyerTalk member OrvilleWright, who considers one code-sharing experience to possibly be a form of “baiting and switching.”
Christopher Elliott states that “airline apologist (sic) have done a pretty good job convincing regulators and the flying public that codesharing is good. They use meaningless buzzwords like “synergy” and promise customers nonexistent benefits.” Do you agree? What are your thoughts about code-sharing?

4 thoughts on “Code-Sharing of Flights: Beneficial or Deceptive?”

  1. FlyinDutchman says:

    Some examples in the above are not quite right. There is no competition for instance between LH and UA on transatlantic routes, since they are officially a joint venture structure transatlantically. Specifically, may even mean reduction of choices by more fluent business calculations of the amount of flights needed.
    Furthermore, when codesharing, actual booking classes may differ. For instance, a codeshared LH flight operated by SQ will have a different booking class for LH and SQ. Thus, while you might be booking a class eligible for FF miles, this may change due to the flight being operated by the other airline. And nowhere in the process is this new actual booking class mentioned.
    Thus, codesharing is mostly deceitful and positive for the airlines, not customers.
    My 2pence…

  2. Phoenixtinct says:

    Not only what’s mentioned above by FlyinDutchman. There is also the difference in aircraft/service. Using Brian’s example of LH and UA – if one is booking on and sees an United flight number (even if it mentions operated by someone else – in this case, LH), one might expect the same configuration/services UA offers – BusinessFirst, GlobalFirst, which LH doesn’t offer. Also, the in-flight service is most likely very different. The types of aircraft probably as well. Moreover, with *A Gold status, you can check 2 bags up to 50lbs. with LH but 3 bags up to 70lbs on UA. Prices are sometimes very different – let’s say LH markets the flight as LH 1000 and UA as UA9300. Even though it’s the same flight operated by one airline – LH1000 might be more expensive for the same class of service on or elsewhere than UA9300 on or other sites. So, code-sharing is deceptive in so many ways – just mentioning operated by another carrier takes away the convenience mentioned above as you have to check the allowances and fees of the other carrier to know exactly what you’re buying. There is that 1 benefit though – more flight options between city pairs, however, the downsides really outweigh the benefits in my opinion.

  3. BrianCohen says:

    Both of you have expressed excellent points as to the disadvantages of code-sharing. Thank you for posting these points. With all of the disparities mentioned, this causes me to wonder if a definitive guide even exists to enlighten and educate passengers about codeshare arrangements between airlines.
    If one exists, where is it located? If not, should one be created?

  4. mikegator says:

    Code sharing is a pointless lie. I’ve missed flights twice by going to the wrong terminal when my ticket explicitly showed the airline I thought I was flying. Both flights were international and cause me to miss connections and subsequent meetings at the final destination. Code sharing should be outlawed!

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