Code Sharing – When the Traveller Becomes a Mistress

Aircraft at Perth International Airport

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Now we all know the battle for survival in the skies has been long and hard, some famous, seemingly invincible names have disappeared forever – Ansett and Pan American instantly spring to mind. I vividly recall flying out of Sydney to Perth with Qantas on the morning of the 9/11 atrocity, the day became even more surreal, as Air New Zealand had finally pulled the plug on the fatally haemorrhaging Ansett. Our lives would never be the same and nor would air travel, the glamour gone, replaced with hours standing in security queues, often treated as offending prisoners. Yes, it’s sadly necessary, even more so these days, but it’s not an enjoyable experience.

And from that fateful day, airlines across the world appear to have struggled, with the notable exceptions of the Arab airlines, in particular, Emirates and Etihad and to perhaps a lesser degree, Qatar. There have been shrieks of protest from older players that these airlines have been getting fuel deals not available to anyone else. Whether there’s any veracity to the argument, I have no idea, but one thing is for certain, these Arab airlines have changed the game forever, offering brand new state of the art aircraft, with individual entertainment screens, USB and 240 volt charging for economy passengers, let alone those at the pointy end of the aircraft. Even today, the difference in stepping off an old world aircraft and on to an Arab airline aircraft is jarring, with the exception of Air New Zealand, who seem to have found their mojo about the same time Frodo found the Ring. Earlier this year, I flew to Amsterdam, the first leg to Abu Dhabi with Etihad, the second leg, Abu Dhabi to Amsterdam with KLM. Whilst I’ve always loved the 747, it was obvious the KLM plane was twenty years older than the Etihad 777, which segues into code sharing.

I had booked the entire Perth return flight with KLM, however it turned out they code share with Etihad out of Perth Western Australia and I discovered a code share passenger from another airline, is welcome but not in any way privileged. Yes, you may be a Frequent Flyer with one of the airlines, but that counts for nought with the code share partner. It can be quite infuriating, either way! In my case, I found KLM are anal about luggage weight, at their Schiphol terminal, the passenger does all the work loading suitcases into very accurate weighing machines and woe betide anyone with a suitcase more than half a kilogram over, a machine voice orders you to a counter, where the bag and weight docket is assessed, yet you know your 23.5kgs will be perfectly acceptable to the code share airline, Etihad, who allow each passenger 30kgs. Yes, of course, flying an aircraft is all about weight, but if one airline manages, how come the other can’t?  The KLM luggage debacle felt suspiciously like a budget airline trying to gouge as much extra money as possible,

Sometimes the code sharing is between two airlines, who are in fact the same company – Air France and KLM being the classic example, which makes it easier in terms of frequent flyer point allocation – you’re Flying Blue, regardless of the logo on the tail. Then there are the issues of  seat room in economy and the availability of Premium Economy, you might be on a code share flight with two airlines running the same planes, but one will have seating designed around the majority cast from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, while the other airline will have seats where you can actually put the food tray down and there’s space between your knees and the seat in front. It gets worse – with ‘your’ airline, you can book and pay for a seat with extra legroom – I usually do this if I can’t get Premium Economy, but you’ll find that benefit is not available on the code share airline, ditto with Premium Economy.

For some reason, the Arab airlines don’t seem to do PE, although I’ve heard a whisper that Emirates might be converting some aircraft in 2016. I think airlines who don’t offer the option are missing out, in my experience, there are a lot of regular travellers like me, who no longer have the good fortune to have a company paying for Business Class and can’t justify or afford the extra cost, but will very happily pay for PE on long haul flights.

Qantas is a weird player here, especially for travellers domiciled in Western Australia, Perth is purported it be the most isolated city in the world and we have nothing but long haul, yet they don’t offer PE out of Perth?  In fact only one airline does, Cathay Pacific, but that’s via Hong Kong. Otherwise you need to fly up to Singapore or Bangkok and join an airline offering PE to Europe. It’s not bad way to go, as you can hop a budget airline such as Air Asia to Singapore, there’s a great lounge with excellent shower facilities for about AUS$12.00, or you can hire a hotel room for AUS$50.00 – $80.00 to rest between flights and the whole return trip out of Perth to Europe will usually cost around AUS$3,250.00. There are two traps to this – firstly PE will allow you to have two suitcases, but the budget airline will charge like a wounded bull for anything over 15kgs with the first suitcase and gut your bank completely for a second case, then there is the time factor – you can be looking at a total travelling time of 36hrs to get from Perth to Europe.

I’d love Qantas to offer PE and fly out of Perth to Europe, but they don’t, what they do do, is code share with Emirates and I’m just about to discover the full intricacies of the deal as even the budget airlines are charging top dollar for flights to Singapore over December and January. The price added to PE out of Singapore was getting perilously close to the price of Business Class (about AUS$5,500.00) and Cathay didn’t have anything available. Qantas offered a good price for a return economy flight from Perth to Frankfurt, so I bought in and discovered I won’t be anywhere near a Flying Roo, it’s all Emirates.

Now unlike many people, I’m an Emirates virgin (remember they don’t offer PE), people tell me it’s an excellent, though increasingly expensive airline. My wife regularly flies with both Emirates and Etihad, she reckons there’s more food on Etihad and last week, after a hiccup with a rude check in staff member at Perth, they upgraded her to Business (she’s a FF with both airlines), she says she’ll probably stay with Etihad after the experience. I flew with them for the first time in June, but found they didn’t like serving any more than one small glass of wine – I’m not a lush – well, statistically I may be! – but two to three glasses of wine with the meal, followed by a scotch on ice and nobody hears from me again till we land ten or twelve hours later. KLM, (like Qantas and Air France), understood the etiquette of it all far better, more civilised from my perspective, regardless of the older fleets.

My voyage of discovery as a code sharing passenger with Emirates has already begun. When I purchased the ticket on the Qantas FF site, seat options were offered, although they were limited, but at least I could choose from several aisle seats – I’m just average height, but as an old rugby union player gone to seed, I do need some leg, bum and most importantly, shoulder room. If it had been a Qantas flight, I could have chosen (and paid for, no problems with that, I’m a marketing man, I understand) an Exit Row seat, but as it’s not Qantas and I don’t ‘belong’ to Emirates, there was no way I could book such a seat. Interestingly, as it’s an Emirates flight, I’m allowed 30kg in one suitcase, whereas if it had been Qantas, I’d have been back to 23kg, although I’ve always found Qantas to err on the side of generosity.

But four weeks later, (last night), I thought I’d do the online check in, only to discover my chosen seats weren’t allocated and I had to repeat the process on the Emirates website. Again, seat options were very limited, with large swathes of the aircraft blocked off and various options simply not available to me. I also discovered that although Qantas has all my details, including passport information etc, none of it transfers to Emirates; it was necessary  to fill out their online form.

At this stage, I thought I’d join their FF programme, after all, if they are going to kick off a PE service out of Perth, Emirates and I could become firm friends. All went well, until I inputted (is that a word? – must be, Spell Check seems happy) my email address. Then a flashing warning in red script came up that that email address was already allocated to somebody else on their system. So I couldn’t join!

So here I am, much like the mistress, acknowledged but not really in favour, quietly granted some things by the wayward husband, but he’s not really in control! Will I be well fed, will I be well watered, will I be comfortable, will I be welcome?  The perils of being a code share pax are upon me.

Greg Ross

 

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