Two airlines on one e-ticket isn’t rocket science? Or is it?

by Janice Hough on June 16, 2011


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.

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  • Joelw

    I gave up validating multi-carrier itineraries on one ticket a long time ago. It may be a little more costly sometimes, in which case I’ll adjust my fee, but it just isn’t worth the inevitable hassle.

  • SoBeSparky

    Life was simpler with paper tickets.  These new-fangled computers just gum things up!

  • Luanne711

    The worst part is when  you’re dealing with nonrefundable tickets because if the passenger ends up cancelling the trip, then they’d have to pay two change fees.  Codeshares and 2 different airlines on one ticket are not my favorite scenario at all.  Some of the airlines require that if changes are made on a nonrefundable ticket, then the passenger must use the same airline that the return was orginally ticketed on.  For instance, if plated on US Airways with a return on Delta, the passenger (according to US Airways) is not allowed to change their return to come home on US Airways which makes absolutely NO SENSE to me, because it’s on US Airways ticket stock.  They have the worst rules across the board as far as I’m concerned….  Now United will let you move your funds from one airline to another, but NOT US Airways…..

  • Anonymous

    I’m just a little nervous when issuing one ticket for multiple airlines just for the reasons you describe.  We always remommend issuing seperate tickets for each airline.  However when there are non-refundable tickets involved, if there are changes that would mean 2 change fees with 2 tickets, so sometimes its better to issue one ticket for travelers that have a habit of changing their itineraries. 

  • Anonymous

    The downside to split ticketing where each airline’s flight is issued on it’s own ticket, is that instead of one change fee of $150+, the customer pays multiple change fees. I think one must leave that decision up to the person paying for any change fees.

  • cam

    I have been issuing 2 tkts for a while now. It’s just cleaner for the client and for the agent. Change the return? Sure! It’s a 1 way with a $150 charge. I seriously do not care about the 2 $150 change fees. And when confronted with the scenario above, neither would most clients. At least you have contacts in high UA places to document a record. Most of us can’t get past an agent who is not empowered to think!

  • cam

    I have been issuing 2 tkts for a while now. It’s just cleaner for the client and for the agent. Change the return? Sure! It’s a 1 way with a $150 charge. I seriously do not care about the 2 $150 change fees. And when confronted with the scenario above, neither would most clients. At least you have contacts in high UA places to document a record. Most of us can’t get past an agent who is not empowered to think!

  • Tony A.

    Since travel agents use a GDS to book tickets, why not just provide the client with a link to the GDS’s online site (e.g. ViewTrip, VirtuallyThere, CheckMyTrip, etc.)?
    The client can view for themselves all the RLOCs (Record Locators) for each airline and also inspect the  E-ticket Receipt for any discrepancy.
    Each airline uses their own Record Locator and the client can simply go to each airline’s own website and check his/her flight status.
    Every time we sell a flight from an INLAND airport to ASIA plated (validated) on an Asian airline, there is always going to be another airline (a USA carrier) handling the US domestic portion to the Asian carrier’s US gateway (unless the flight is codeshared).
    As long as the travel agent has reported the ticket numbers correctly for ALL segments to ALL airlines, then there should not be a problem.
    I suspect the coupon (e-tkt #-C#)  for UA was not transmitted to UA correctly in this specific case. That is probably why the UA segment or portion of the flight did not find an e-ticket assigned to it.

  • Anonymous

    So you don’t ask the customer if she or he is willing to pay two fees when if issued as one ticket there would be only one fee?!?  As a customer, I would be might unhappy to find out that you are costing me at least an extra $150.00 per simple round trip, just to make your job easier.  And what about those trips where I have two carriers on the way to my destination?  What happens if you issue two tickets and I want to check my bags all the way through?  Do I get to pay more bag fees?  And if the first flight is delayed, will the second carrier, on a different ticket, work with me to get on a later flight or do I have to purchase a new ticket or pay a change fee, even though it wasn’t my fault that the flight was delayed?  

    This is not as simple as you make it out to be, there are lots of other issues involved.

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