Airline alliance improvements for business travelers often mean worse service for vacation fliers.
You may have read stories about international airline alliance improvements for their passengers. However, the “improvements” are focused on business travelers. For non-alliance travelers attempting to save money, travel has gotten more complicated. This past summer, luggage delays and flight cancellations have demonstrated that airline alliances are not ready for prime time. Hopefully, the coming winter season will allow airlines to reset and operate correctly.
Stopping the masses of tourist and coach passengers from saving money and not allowing them to connect and transfer luggage on flights outside the alliances has been successful. So, rather than operating a system for the general public, airlines have focused on creating mini-monopolies at alliance gateways. Airlines have discovered ways to squeeze travelers for more and more money when traveling internationally. The original airline alliance improvements envisioned when alliances were created have disappeared.
International airline alliance improvements make travel better for business travelers, not leisure passengers looking for a deal.
Airline alliances today focus on business travelers collecting frequent flier points for status and the ability to share lounge access.
Now Star Alliance, Oneworld and SkyTeam say they are finally investing in technology that will make simple travel functions possible across their networks. Some baby-step changes have already happened, like the ability to use United’s app to get seat assignments on Singapore and Air Canada flights. Travelers may start seeing a lot more changes by the end of this year.
Travelers like how alliances let them earn and redeem their home airline frequent-flier miles on multiple carriers around the world. Other perks include shared lounge access and status recognition.
These airline alliance improvements for those looking for convenience over price and frequent flier status over the choice of airlines are for the 13 percent of fliers who pay full fare and use business class.
Airline alliances have for years been touted as a beautiful saving for travelers. However, they have not delivered for business travelers regarding convenience or for coach travelers in overall savings. Business travelers cannot easily maintain their frequent flier (FF) programs, guarantee that they are getting the correct FF mileage on flights, or receive a single boarding pass for travel. The alliance computer systems cannot handle the complexity of these airline partners.
Coach travelers have been left in the dust and are getting less service and more problems.
Tourist-class travelers suffer while airlines work to build business traveler satisfaction.
Coach passengers are held captive by an oligopoly of three airline alliances — SkyTeam, Oneworld, and Star Alliance. The three alliances were allowed to grow under DOT protection and used their power only to restrict travel choices for years, prop up high airfares, restrict capacity, and limit new routes.
Before the advent of airline alliances, interline airline agreements allowed airlines to transfer baggage from airline to airline. They guaranteed passengers the ability to fly on other airlines if their airline could not get them to their destinations. Sadly, many of these interline agreements have been abandoned in favor of ways to squeeze more money from passengers.
Shrinking airline benefits for tourist-class travelers are part of airline alliance improvements.
The alliance benefits are few for hoi polloi travelers who are intent on saving money and choosing low-cost connecting flights.
- Passengers can no longer get a single boarding pass for flights across alliances.
- Travelers can no longer check bags across alliance airlines. This means, for instance, baggage checked with Delta Air Lines cannot be transferred to Lufthansa or British Airways.
- Interline agreements for flight problems have been all but eliminated. No longer can many coach passengers be moved efficiently to their destinations on other competing airlines.
- Seat reservations are not possible across airline alliances.
- No alliance airline will transfer baggage to low-cost airlines.
- Families need to fight to get seats together. These battles take place during boarding.
The interline system is not broken. It is being dismantled to strengthen alliances.
The growth of airline alliances and their anti-competitive activities must be purged from our aviation marketplace. However, the Department of Transportation (DOT) that controls these monopolistic arrangements seems unconcerned for the average traveler. Alliance rules can make flights cost more, not less.
Charlie Leocha is the President of Travelers United. He has been working in Washington, DC, for the past 14 years with Congress, the Department of Transportation, and industry stakeholders on travel issues. He was the first consumer representative to the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protections appointed by the Secretary of Transportation from 2012 through 2018.