As reported this morning by One Mile at a Time, the oneworld Alliance has rescinded its long-standing policy that protects passengers who make connections on separate tickets. This customer-unfriendly change is more important than it seems — and it’s already in effect, as of June 1, 2016.
Airlines are obligated to get you from one city to another. Even the fares they sell are between two cities, not necessarily for specific flights (you choose your flights according to the rules of the fare). Mechanical, crew, or weather delays that cause you to miss one flight will require the airline to accommodate you on another. This applies to non-stop journeys as well as connecting itineraries.
However, an airline has no such obligation if you fail to show up, creating a special risk for connecting itineraries that are booked with separate tickets. If I have one ticket on United Airlines from Seattle to Frankfurt and another ticket on Lufthansa from Frankfurt to Paris, then Lufthansa can say “too bad” if United cancels or delays my first flight. Only if I book both flights on the same ticket would I be protected.
For a long time, the oneworld Alliance stood out as an exception. You would be protected even with two or more separate tickets. On a recent trip to Asia, I had two award tickets to get me from Los Angeles to Kuala Lumpur, connecting in Tokyo and Hong Kong. These were booked with two different loyalty programs and on three different carriers, but I was protected in the event of delays because my travel was entirely on oneworld Alliance members.
As Ben points out, the change was made specifically to discourage multiple ticketing scenarios like mine, which can create confusion and difficulty maintaining service standards.
“Experience has shown that using separate tickets for different sectors presents multiple problems in delivering an alliance’s through check-in/customer support promise,” Blunt reflects. — oneworld Communcations Chief Michael Blunt, speaking to Australian Business Traveler
Mr. Blunt has a point. I don’t doubt it can cause issues, especially since an airline may have no idea about the rest of your travel plans and the delays you’re experiencing until you show up and ask to be rebooked. When it’s on one ticket, they can work proactively and have a new boarding pass waiting for you.
But his explanation is equally an admission from the oneworld Alliance that they are lowering their service standards in order to make them easier to satisfy. There’s nothing wrong with that in principle. I would rather a company set the bar low and deliver what they promise than set it high and fail. But it’s still a benefit cut whichever way you look at it.