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Airlines must disclose 'code-sharing' carrier to ticket shoppers

U.S. has given airlines and travel websites 60 days to make changes so that the partner is identified before would-be passengers book flights.

January 17, 2011|By Hugo Martín, Los Angeles Times

Anyone who has flown for business or leisure in the United States in the last few years probably has experienced what the airline industry calls code sharing.

It happens when an airline sells you a ticket but books a portion of your journey on a small regional operator or another large airline, often without telling passengers. Carriers have increasingly relied on code sharing to branch out to new markets without investing in extra planes and staff.

But the U.S. Department of Transportation now wants airlines to identify the actual carriers for an entire route before tickets are purchased.

The DOT announced last week that airlines and travel websites have 60 days to modify their websites to clearly identify the airlines that will serve the passengers under code sharing agreements.

"When passengers buy an airline ticket, they have the right to know which airline will be operating their flight," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement.

The DOT order clarifies provisions of a law adopted last summer after a regional jet crashed in 2009 near Buffalo, killing all 49 aboard and one person on the ground. The turboprop plane was operated by Colgan Air, a regional carrier working with Continental Airlines Inc. Investigators largely blamed crew error for the crash.

Although airline officials insist that pilot training and working conditions are the same for large airlines and regional carriers, backers of the law say passengers should know before buying a ticket on which airline they would be flying.

In December, the DOT fined JetBlue Airways Corp. $600,000 for violating disability access rules and failing to disclose a code-sharing agreement with a regional carrier, Cape Air. DOT investigators discovered the violation by calling JetBlue reservation agents and posing as potential passengers.

Few airports opt to replace TSA agents

Since the Transportation Security Administration added new security measures last year — including more full-body scanners and enhanced pat-down searches — privacy advocates have called on the nation's airport managers take advantage of a little-known law to replace TSA agents with private contractors.

An opt-out clause was included in legislation that created the TSA after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But of the nation's 450 or so major commercial airports, only 18 have opted out.

Last month, the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority board discussed the idea of becoming the 19th airport to opt out. But after airport staff explained the process, the board members lost interest in the idea.

If an airport chooses to opt out, the TSA must select and hire a private contractor to take over security. The TSA must also train the contractor employees and supervise them to follow TSA guidelines for searching passengers and cargo. TSA agents who lose their jobs in the opt out also get to apply for positions with the private contractor.

"Is there a possibility of cost savings if we go with a private contractor," board member Jim Desmond asked during a recent meeting."Not really," replied board President Thella F. Bowens.

With that, the board ended discussion and moved on to other topics.

TripAdvisor offering airline reviews

Before seeing a movie, booking a hotel room or sitting down at a restaurant, you can read a review to get an idea of what to expect.

Now travel website TripAdvisor has added a feature that lets passengers rate airlines and then posts the results. The carriers are rated on such things as baggage handling, check-in experience, in-flight amenities, punctuality, seat comfort and value. For each category, passengers can submit a rating from one to five.

But to ensure that airlines don't skew the outcomes by submitting favorable reviews, TripAdvisor specialists have been assigned to monitor the website and look for bogus reviews. In addition, only TripAdvisor members can add reviews.

Said TripAdvisor spokesman Justine Drake: "We have safeguards to make sure no one is gaming the system."

hugo.martin@latimes.com

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