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What is a Codeshare Flight?

Mary McMahon
Updated Aug 19, 2015
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A codeshare flight is a commercial flight that is operated by one airline, but marketed by others. This concept can be confusing for passengers, but ultimately it can be a valuable service. As a general rule, a flight will be identified as this type of flight when tickets are booked, for the convenience of the passenger.

The concept was pioneered in 1990 by an agreement between American Airlines and Qantas, an Australian carrier. The two airlines reached a cooperative agreement that merged many of their flights. Essentially, the agreement allowed American Airlines to sell tickets on Qantas flights, and for Qantas to sell tickets on American flights. The result was that each airline could service more areas, without technically expanding its service.

Multiple airlines began to follow suit, and it is not unusual to see three or four airlines all selling tickets on the same flight. The “code sharing” refers to the idea that each airline generates a separate flight code, such as AA125 for “American Airlines flight 125,” so a flight may be identified by multiple codes for passengers, depending on which airline they booked tickets through.

The airline that actually runs the flight is called the “operating carrier.” This carrier is responsible for all service provided, and when people check in for the flight, they are generally expected to go to the desk of the operating carrier, regardless of which airline sold the original tickets. Air traffic control identifies the flight by the flight code of the operating carrier, although airport status screens such as arrival and departure boards may list multiple flight codes for the same flight, reflecting the codesharing agreement.

Carriers that sell tickets on other airlines are known as “marketing carriers.” Many passengers prefer to stick with one marketing carrier, so that their frequent flier miles and benefits are consolidated. In many cases, a marketing carrier has multiple codeshare agreements, to ensure that customers will get the flight service that they need.

For airlines, this type of agreement is a very useful service, because it allows them to easily network with other airlines. Passengers also tend to find codeshare agreements useful, although they can get frustrating. Luggage can be easily transferred between multiple airlines on a flight that has more than one leg, for example, and passengers can also keep one frequent flier mile account, rather than multiples. The service also allows passengers to travel to areas that their preferred carrier does not normally cover.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WikiMotors researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By Elzear — On Nov 15, 2013

I seem to remember that the airline that did the longest leg of the journey, had pre-emption on the the other airline's services. As an example, PER(QF)SIN(JL)TYO on code share, I cannot chose my seat on QF under the pretext that I have a 'cheap' economy ticket, but JL will let me chose. I see here a lower service quality provided by QF. How can that be?

Yet, another example is on a PER(QF)DXB(EK)NCE journey, where QF has the longest flight sector, it enforces Halal cooked meal as does EK, even though I do not ask for this type of meal.

What are my (passenger's) rights? Are there written regulations such as used to exist when IATA was the only airline authority?

By anon301476 — On Nov 04, 2012

The codeshare agreement is really confusing!

By anon296176 — On Oct 10, 2012

Can a multileg flight have a different codeshare for each leg?

By anon213380 — On Sep 10, 2011

Answer to post (anon43943 Post 3): The only time (usually) luggage would have to be picked up and re-checked in is when the airline ticket was split into two separate tickets whereby each ticket is treated as a separate contracts; one does not recognize the other, nor either would be contingent on the other in case of a schedule change/misconnect/cancellation. How many ticket numbers were assigned to this round trip between Myrtle Beach and Nassau?

By anon209755 — On Aug 27, 2011

Be warned: legs on an operational carrier do not offer you the same customer service benefits as those of the marketing carrier. Qantas customers traveling on Qantas operated flights are offered accommodation in the event of unexpected delays, but not if the delay is for an operating carrier leg, where they are at the mercy of the operating carrier's policy.

By anon180123 — On May 25, 2011

if you book a Qantas flight (marketing carrier)but are actually on a BA flight (operational carrier) you cannot buy emergency exit seats in advance. This disadvantage is frequently omitted in information to potential customers at time of booking. So be warned if you are tall and are booking a long-haul flight.

By anon89303 — On Jun 09, 2010

There are three types of code sharing that can be identified.

1. Operating airline and the marketing airline from the same country (own country or own party code share).

2. Operating airline and the marketing airline from each other bilateral partners (other country or other partner code share).

3. Third party code share - operate the rights granted through a bilateral agreement of which the code is shared between an airline of the bilateral partners and an airline form a country other than the bilateral partners.

By anon84522 — On May 16, 2010

I want to know the difference between Bilateral Code Share and Third Party Code Share. If possible, I would like to know about code share processing of airlines to airlines.

By anon43943 — On Sep 03, 2009

I have been told by Spirit Airline that a connecting flight booked with them doesn't cover my bagggage at the connecting airport. Told I had to pick up my luggage and recheck it in for the connecting flight. The trip was booked through Orbitz as a round trip Spirit Flight. Also they are trying to charge me for two legs for baggage on returning flight. This is all new to me as I have traveled this route (Myrtle Beach to Nassau, Bahamas) several times and have never had to touch my bags at Fort Lauderdale. Any suggestions?

By anon32979 — On May 30, 2009

The Explanation of Codeshare is excellent. I really understand the matter now.

By anon18430 — On Sep 23, 2008

What is the difference between interline agreements and code share agreements?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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