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ON THE SPOT / CATHARINE HAMM

Code blues

October 26, 2008|CATHARINE HAMM | Hamm is a Times staff writer.

Question: You recently took my daughter to the airport for an 8:50 a.m. flight. Although you did a good job of getting her there -- she was an hour early -- she missed the flight. Her ticket said US Airways (which is in Terminal 1 at LAX), but she actually was on a United flight (which is in Terminal 7). It was a code share. How were we supposed to know? And don't you work in the Travel section? Why didn't you know this? What kind of aunt-sister are you?

Judith Ramsey

Arnold, Md.

Answer: Wait a minute. You think just because you're my older sister (much older, I hasten to point out) you can yell at me and boss me around? Well, listen, missy. . . . Oh, wait. We'll have that discussion later, preferably in front of Mom.

The discussion we really need to have is about code shares, why they can be confusing and what you can do about them.

Airlines use code shares for a couple of reasons, airline experts told me.

"From an airline's perspective, in recent years they have been contracting, yet they want to extend their reach," said Jerry Chandler, who has written about the aviation industry for the last couple of decades, now as a travel blogger for Cheapflights.com.

So if you're US Airways and you want to appear to have a healthy business out of L.A., you may buddy up with United Airlines.

And code shares "combine the marketing muscle of both airlines," said George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com, which researches and lists low airfares on all airlines.

So how can the consumer ensure he's at the right terminal?

When you're looking around to book a ticket, you may notice that sometimes there are two airlines flying the same route at exactly the same time. That's usually a first clue that it's a code share.

If you think you may have a code-share situation, call the airline and ask.

Then scan your itinerary. It should say "operated by."

In this case, it should have said "US Airways flight operated by United."

In this case, it didn't. The itinerary I was looking at (and am looking at for the 10th time since this happened) doesn't say boo about United, so the foul-up really wasn't my fault. Although United did charge a $75 change fee when my niece rebooked, Expedia, which sent the itinerary, gave the buyer's online account a $100 credit.

So, actually, the Ramseys came out $25 ahead. (When was the last time you came out ahead when dealing with an airline? Yeah, I couldn't think of a time either.)

Next time, though, I'll be sure to do a little sleuthing before blithely dropping a kid at the curb (the kid, in this case, is 34 and was fine fending for herself) or blithely checking in for a flight that may or may not exist.

Lessons learned, apologies made and accepted by all parties (except Expedia, which was curiously quiet). So I guess we don't have to call Mom in after all.

Lucky for you.

--

Have a travel dilemma? Write to travel@latimes.com. Be sure to include your name and phone number.

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