If British Airways strikes, will anyone fall into the “codeshare gap”?

ba3Looks like British Airways may be shut down by a strike — just in time for the holidays. I’ll let the beat reporters dissect this story, but there’s one angle that appears to be getting overlooked: What’s going to happen to passengers with “codeshare” reservations?

Codesharing the practice of selling seats on another airline but claiming them as your own. The problem is, there are passengers with seats on one airline that are actually booked on a British Airways flight. (Codesharing arrangements must be disclosed by law, but who pays attention to the fine print in a reservation?)

Reader Shruti Desai is concerned. She explains:

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Generali Global Assistance. Generali Global Assistance has been a leading provider of travel insurance and other assistance services for more than 25 years. We offer a full suite of innovative, vertically integrated travel insurance and emergency services. Generali Global Assistance is part of The Europ Assistance (EA) Group, who pioneered the travel assistance industry in 1963 and continues to be the leader in providing real-time assistance anywhere in the world, delivering on our motto – You Live, We Care.

My family and I are flying to India and one of our legs is on British Airways.

The problem here seems to be we are falling in the codeshare gap. My father, mother and brother are booked on American Airlines from Minneapolis to London; my husband and I are booked Continental from Philadelphia to London.

My husband and my tickets were purchased through Orbitz but we have not contacted them yet. The ideal resolution for us is not for a refund of money; we need to be in India by Dec. 27 for an event (the original itinerary gave us 48 hours before our event).

British Airways last went on strike in 1997, which stranded 25,000 passengers…I don’t want to be one of them this year. There are many of us in this situation–so what does a strike mean for passengers? Should we be trying to rebook well in advance?

The airlines don’t seem to want us to, which I understand–if the strike ends before the rebooked flights, they would be out double the money. But in the meantime, we have plans, vacations and reservations!

I contacted British Airways, Continental Airlines and American Airlines to see if we could get this sorted out. Only American has responded so far, saying it still needed to iron out some details with BA. (American has a codeshare agreement with BA through the Oneworld alliance.)

We are currently working with BA (especially since they are oneworld partner) to come up with reaccommodation details, both for their customers, as well as our own AA customers flying on BA. We should have it finalized and posted soon.

(And never mind the “codeshare” gap; what happens when you have one leg of a flight booked through a travel agency?)

Meanwhile, British Airways has posted some useful information to its site.

Customers who are booked to travel between 22 December 2009 and 2 January 2010 and for 48 hours on either side of those dates who would
like to take their flight at a different time can change to another BA flight departing in the next twelve months at no charge.

If a customer’s flight is actually cancelled because of industrial action, we will offer them the option to refund their ticket, rebook on to a different flight or reroute their journey on another BA flight.

An “industrial action” would be a strike. No mention about codeshare partners, unfortunately.

I asked Bill Miller, the senior vice president of operations at CheapOair.com, about the prospects for a strike in general and the codesharing issue in particular.

Customers should first call the source of where they booked their flight(s), whether it’s British Airways directly, a travel agent, an
online travel site, a tour company, etc. They are the ones that are supposed to provide you customer service for your purchase from them.

In other words, Desai’s family should contact American Airlines and Continental Airlines respectively or the agent that booked their ticket.

Will the BA’s workers actually go on strike?

As I recall, the last strike was in the summer of 1997 and lasted a few days before both sides settled. Most strikes do get settled before any labor action is taken. In reading some comments from union leadership and company leadership they both are saying they are still willing to sit down to negotiate. That is a good sign.

Desai got in touch with Orbitz this afternoon. It didn’t go well.

I contacted Orbitz and they told me to go through British Airways. BA is just parroting the line they have on their website. My only concern is there is also a line on the website that says it can help folks booked through the BA website; people who booked through travel agents should go through them. Shouldn’t Orbitz then act as my travel agent?

Yes, they should.

Is anyone else getting the runaround on their BA tickets? Please let me know, and I’ll do my best to help you sort it out.

Update (6:30 p.m.): American has released its policy for codeshare rebookings.

British Airways Cabin Crew have voted to strike Dec 20-Jan 4. We will allow customers to make changes as listed below if they are concerned about BA operations during the affected dates. Since this disruption is caused by a oneworld partner there are some important differences from our usual travel notice policies:

Ticket MUST be issued on our ticket stock, 001. All other tickets need to be referred to the ticketing airline or travel agency.
Itinerary MUST include BA segments or AA* segments operated by BA segments.

Revenue tickets: may change to alternate dates up to 331 days, depending on ticket validity, with same inventory and same routing and no change charge applies. OR if customer chooses an alternate destination/routing/inventory, may apply value of old ticket to their new ticket and no change charge applies.

AAdvantage tickets: May change dates to alternate dates up to 331 days-inventory must be available OR may reinstate miles and we will waive reinstatement charge.

In all situations, please review ticket validity-unused tickets are valid for one year from date of purchase and if travel has commenced, tickets are good for one year from first flown segment.

Update (Dec. 15, 9:30 a.m.): British Airways sent me the following statement:

British Airways is commencing legal action in an attempt to protect customers from the massive stress and disruption threatened by Unite’s decision to call a 12-day strike from December 22.

The airline has today written to Unite, highlighting irregularities in the union’s strike ballot, which the airline believes renders the ballot invalid.

The airline called on Unite to call off the industrial action by 2pm today.

The union has not done so and British Airways is now seeking an injunction to prevent the strike going ahead.

Today’s letter was the third sent to Unite, pointing out the balloting flaws, since last Friday. The union did not reply to the first two letters.

As a back-up to the legal action, British Airways managers have been establishing which cabin crew might wish to work normally during the strike period.

Willie Walsh, British Airways chief executive, said: “We are absolutely determined to do whatever we can to protect our customers from this appalling, unjustified decision from Unite.

“We do not want to see a million Christmases ruined.

“Unite was told about the problems with its ballot on Friday. Yet it cynically went ahead with an extreme, highly publicised threat to our customers and our business in the knowledge that it might not be able to carry it out.

“We remain available for talks with Unite at any time without preconditions.”

Unfortunately, this does little to address the concerns of those who are trying to rebook their flights.

(Photo: Drewski2112/Flickr Creative Commons)

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