Switching airlines at a connecting city can create problems for your baggage
Imagine checking in for your flight, checking your bags, and arriving at your destination only to learn that your baggage is spinning around on a baggage carousel at your connecting airport. Well it happens more often that you might think and it happens when you switch airlines at a connecting city.
This is going to sound very esoteric and unimportant. But, as more consumers decide to purchase airline tickets online, there is an increasing need to understand some of the rules related to “Interline Baggage” agreements between airlines. These agreements govern how airlines pass or transfer your luggage from one airline to the next during your trip.
Historically, when you checked in at the airline counter, the attendant would ask if you wanted your bags checked through to your final destination. To which you would smile appreciatively and say, “Of course. Thanks.” And it was as simple as that. You'd happily board your flight and reclaim your baggage at the end of your flights.
Some low cost airlines, like Southwest, did not have interline agreements, which meant their passengers had to pick up their luggage, and go to the check-in counter to re-check their bags.
A few years ago, American stopped interline transfers when a customer was using two different tickets (2 different passenger name Records or PNRs). And this is the point consumers need to understand. If you purchase two separate tickets to get From Point A (your starting point) to Point C (your Ultimate Destination) because you want to switch airlines at Point B (your connecting airport), then at Point B (connecting airport) American (Oneworld), United (Star Alliance) and Delta (SkyTeam) won't transfer your bags to your ultimate destination. Nor will any of the discount airlines for that matter.
At your connecting airport (Poing B), you must claim your luggage and re-check in with the next airline - that means going to baggage claim, then to the second airline check-in counter and check-in (pay another checked luggage fee), AND then go through security again. Some ticket agents and some specific airlines will go ahead to check it through, but all three's interline agreements (Oneworld, Star Alliance and SkyTeam) explicitly state member airlines are only required to check bags through to the ultimate destination IF there is only a single ticket (PNR).
Now you are probably scratching your head and saying why would I purchase two tickets? Well, it is becoming more common as passengers look for ways to cut costs. For instance, if you are flying from Denver to Athens, you might find that it is cheaper to buy a ticket from Denver to NYC, and then purchase a second ticket from NYC to
Athens. You can find similar instances flying within the US where it is cheaper to buy one ticket from your home airport to a connecting airport, and a second ticket from the connecting airport to your final destination. In the past, the airlines would have checked your luggage through to your final destination as long as you showed them both tickets (or etickets). Now American, United, and Delta will only check your bag through to the connection where you must reclaim and re-check them. Unlike many baggage fees, these rules apply to members with elite status, and apply even if the second ticket is booked with an airline that is part of the same airline marketing partners/alliances.
If you choose to book with separate airlines for a cheaper fare, be sure to leave enough time at the connecting airport to reclaim your bags, go through the check-in process again, and be processed through security. Or, don't check your bags.
Once again, we see the friendly skies becoming less friendly.
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Blog author. Former travel editor for Compete Magazine, awarded top 25 travel writing blog 2018 & 2019..