September 8, 2005  ·  Lessig

So here’s a question someone out there should know the answer to.

My family and I were in Spain this summer. On our return back, we flew from Alicante to Frankfurt, through Barcelona. (No, for no good reason.) Our ticket from Alicante to Barcelona was on Iberia, and from Barcelona to Frankfurt on Lufthansa. We had about an hours connection in Barcelona.

When we checked in, Iberia informed us that they would not check the bags through to the Lufthansa flight, and that its only interline agreements were with airlines within the One World Alliance. Thus, in Barcelona, we had to get our bags, recheck them, and then get through security, in less than an hour. Lufthansa was fantastic in helping us. We made the flight by literally 5 minutes.

I guess if I were an airline trying to kill of the amazing competition of new low cost airlines, this would be a good strategy — make it effectively impossible to interconnect outside your (high cost) network. (E.g., while in Frankfurt, I had to fly to Berlin for a meeting. The cost on Lufthansa for that trip was about 700 EU. The cost on FlyDBA was about 150 EU.) But what is the history of this? It couldn’t have been the case that interline agreements were only with alliances, since alliances are new. So when did this practice begin? How broadly practiced is it? And why would competition authorities permit it?

  • Ryan

    I believe this all relates to code sharing airline alliances. Star Alliance is the biggest one.

    If you want to do a trip that involves carriers from more then one alliance (or no alliance at all) you’re on your own. Inside the alliance transfer times are controlled and in theory so is baggage.

    It’s sort of monopolistic, but without alliances booking international multi-airline journeys would be almost impossible.

    This leads to fun like Toronto’s Pearson’s get-bags-clear-security-catch-bus-change terminal-check in-do security all in 45 minutes run to get from an Air Canada (Star Alliance) international flight to a cheapo WestJet domestic.

  • tweedledopey

    Thinking about this very quickly, I can come up with a few good reasons:
    1. Security. I’m not sure how it’s done in the EU, but if each airline is responsible for the luggage on board, then Luftansa may not want to have Iberia transferring luggage willy-nilly onto their planes.
    2. Lost luggage. Suppose your luggage got lost in Frankfurt. Whose responsibility is this?
    3. Incompatible luggage tag systems. This is probably not true. But it may be that the separate airline alliances have different luggage tagging systems.

    As far as why the competition authorities would allow it, I’m not sure that it’s anti-competitive. It may, as in case 1, have to do with legal agreements for responsibility made between airlines in the alliances. But all of this is speculation.

  • Fiona

    Here’s a good article on code sharing and its many problems. Here’s testimony about consolidation in the airline industry before the Subcommittee on Aviation Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation which gives a good overview.

    Code sharing can be good and it can be bad. Often, airlines refuse to recognise each other’s frequent flyer points. On the plus side, you can sometimes get to more destinations with one ticket – I have used both the Lufthansa ’round the world’ (which includes United, Air Canada, JAL) and the United Airpass, which includes Air Canada.

    If you had booked your two flights on the same airline but on a different ticket they probably wouldn’t have transferred the bags either. To have bags transfer, flights must be ticketed at the same time, with a connection of no more than 12 hours. Even then, if you are flying from, for example, Sydney to Orlando as I did, you have to transfer the bags yourself at LAX.

    I mostly fly Star Alliance internationally (but Qantas domestic) so if I want to find out who operates a flight, I use the Star Alliance Mileage Calculator as there are some airlines I’d rather avoid.

  • Branko Collin

    Perhaps the competition authorities do not act, because they do not know about it, or because they do not consider the practice anti-competitive. After all, you have a choice which kartel you fly with.

    The Dutch competition authority, NMa, stresses that a procedure starts after tips or after they themselves notice a certain behaviour in the market place, but they don’t seem to actively seek out anti-competitive behaviour (which would undoubtedly lead to complaints about witch-hunts):

    Which investigations will the NMa execute?

    The NMa has different methods of maintaining the ban on kartels and the ban on misuse of an economic position of power.

    1. The NMa receives complaints from businesses or consumers who suspect a breach of a ban. A complaint can form the starting point for an NMa investigation.

    2. The NMa can decide on its own to start an investigation into a breach of the competion law. This can happen for instance after it notices/receives [Dutch text unclear] signals about such offences.”

  • Abhay Raj Kumar

    I remember this being an issue even before the modern super alliances were formed. My father and I were travelling to India from New York (via Chicago, Frankfurt and Abu Dhabi). This was 1994 and we were flying American Airlines and Gulf Air. The AA staff at LGA refused to check our bags through to New Delhi. Unfortunately, we were not as lucky as you were with Lufthansa and had a “fun” time in Frankfurt.

  • Ann Bartow

    I had a similar experience last June flying from Dublin, Ireland to Charlotte, NC through Philadelphia, even though both legs of my flight were on USAir. We had to wait for and claim our baggage in Philadelphia, then re-check it and go through security again before baording the flight to Charlotte, which took a large chunk of a three hour layover. Supposedly this was a “security measure,” but being quite cynical, I suspect it is a way for airlines to reduce baggage handling costs by delegating the sorting and movement of suitcases to fliers themselves.

  • Satish Bhardwaj

    I’m not interested in Code sharing Airlines. I’m not interested in the intervention of RIAA in the fMusic piracy because it is not acting to present to the people an alternate method of surfing the web. RIAA has money. It should use the money to fund the development of server side browser that does not send files to the clients but processes the data received from the clients itself.

    People would use this internet surfing method because they would not have to carry their bulky laptops to wi-Fi Hot Spots. They could use their cellphones to surf the net. Only they would not be able to download any music. This is what RIAA wants. Isn’t it.

    Larry Lassig said in a blog that RIAA suits are a good thing as they would spur the congress to act. Larry does not allow comments on that blog forcing me to comment on that prospect everywhere forcing Larry to open up comments on that blog and state that he was wrong on the need for Congress to act. There is no need for Congress to Act. Only RIAA should Donate $50 Million for the cdevelopment of server side browser and its promotion as discussed at

  • ellen

    I had a similar experience. I was in Spain and had to fly through Barcelona to Frankfurt and visa versa. Our luggage never made it. My daughters bags are still in ‘Barcelona” according to IBERIA. We flew Luf. to Iberia and did not know about the check bag thing.

    I don’t know if I will ever see my bags again. It’s a shame considering you are only covered for $9 euros per pound for international lost luggage. Who does this benefit and what is the airline incentive to return your luggage?

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