It’s becoming easier and easier to fly long-haul these days, and there are some great deals to be had on cheaper airfares by connecting rather than flying nonstop. But people often ask me whether a particular set of connecting flights on different airlines are a good idea, and whether it’s better to book connections with the same airline rather than different carriers.
As a general rule: yes, do try to book connections on a single airline if you can. Why? Well, if things go wrong, you want to deal with the absolute minimum number of different airlines. That’s especially true if a travel agent or online website has booked you connecting tickets on airlines that aren’t really partners, or that aren’t entirely BFFs.
Of course, booking connecting flights on the same airline isn’t always possible. It’s a big world out there, and not every airline flies to every destination. So here’s my list of recommendations for smooth travels. The next best thing is what’s known as a “codeshare” flight, where Airline X puts its own airline code and flight number on airline Y’s flights. An example of that is flight BA178 from New York JFK to London Heathrow, which is also American Airlines flight AA6143, Finnair AY5478, Aer Lingus EI8878 and Iberia IB 4618. The airlines do this to expand their own networks, offer perks to frequent flyers, and to pave the way for connections: American Airlines’ travellers from smaller US cities may be changing plane at New York and Heathrow to get to less-frequently served destinations in Europe, for example.
Top codeshare tip for advanced flyers: know the “operating” and “marketing” carriers of your flight, as well as the flight numbers for each. The operating carrier is the one with their name painted on the side of the plane (usually!) and, crucially, is the airline you need to find at the airport for check-in, boarding and any questions while you’re travelling. The marketing carrier is the one that sold you the ticket, who you need to turn to if you have to change your journey or have any pre- or post-flight questions. The difference can be important: make sure you don’t turn up to the American Airlines terminal at New York JFK to fly on American flight AA6143 — that’s a codeshare on a British Airways plane from the British Airways terminal in a separate building, which will be listed most prominently as BA178.
If codeshares aren’t an option, then try to find airlines that are alliance partners, usually within the big three alliances: oneworld, SkyTeam and Star Alliance. These airlines want you to fly on their partners, and they often have computer systems that actually talk to each other (I know! A revelation!) and even helpful dedicated staff to help you navigate cross-alliance connections. Star Alliance, for example, has its Connection Service at eleven airports where the member airlines have a lot of connecting traffic: Heathrow and Munich in Europe, plus Chicago O’Hare, Denver, Houston Intercontinental, Newark, Los Angeles LAX, San Francisco, Toronto and Washington Dulles. And, as always, make sure you have the app from the airline you’re travelling with —and, if it’s a code-share, from the airline you booked with too.
John Walton is an international aviation journalist, follow him @thatjohn.