Code Share: What You Should Know

Thought you were flying United but the flight at your gate says Continental? Did you walk up to the American Airlines counter to check in and the agent tells you that they don’t have a flight that goes to your destination even though you’re holding a confirmation? No, you haven’t lost your mind; it’s called a ‘code share.’

As if flying isn’t complicated enough, now you have to remember to look beyond the simple airline flight number listed on your itinerary in case you might be flying on a code share.

‘Code share’ indicates when one airline sells seats on a partner airline flight and puts their own flight number on it. There are benefits with code share flights such as lower fares and the ability to acquire frequent flyer points with the airline it was sold as, but there’s also the risk of confusion. The biggest confusion for a traveler is which airline to actually check in with.

Airlines will want you to check in with the carrier actually operating the flight. The easiest way to identify who operates the flight is by looking on your itinerary or e-ticket for the words ‘operated by.’

Itinerary shows AA1234 operated by United – check in with United (even though the flight number indicates American Airlines).
Itinerary shows DL2234 operated by Air France – check in with Air France (even though the flight number indicates Delta).
Itinerary shows US3345 operated by Continental – check in with Continental (even though the flight number indicates US Air).

Another way to know if you’re on a code share is to take a look at your flight number. If a flight number has four digits following the two letter airline code, it is usually a code share operated by a different airline. Airlines tend to use only three digits in their own flight numbers.

Code shares can cause confusion beyond just knowing which desk to go to. What happens if your flight is cancelled or there is a problem en route? Do you turn to the ticketing airline or the one you actually were flying on?

Technically, the airline that checks you in is responsible to get you to your final destination, regardless of whether the flight is a code share. Sometimes this becomes a challenge between the two carriers and leaves you stuck in the middle while the two airlines try to work it out.

Code share: Yet another great reason to book your flights through your travel agency!

*A special thanks to Michelle Reese, one of our in-house travel agents, who contributed this post.

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