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I am travelling with China Southern Airlines on an itinerary that looks like this:

  • Outbound: XXX – Beijing (PEK)
  • Return, 14 days later: Shanghai (SHA) – Guangzhou (CAN) – XXX,

where XXX is my home airport outside of China.

For some reason, the first leg of the return trip (SHA – CAN) ended up on the same e-ticket as the outbound flight, while the final leg is on a separate ticket. The flights were all booked at once and the ticket numbers are consecutive, which indicates that they were issued at the same time.

Could I still encounter problems when it comes to:

  • checking my bags through at SHA to my final destination?
  • misconnecting at CAN due to a delayed inbound flight from Shanghai?
  • Did you book this directly with the airline or through some 3rd party? Some 3rd parties (e.g. Kiwi.com) will book separate tickets, which can be a real headache. Is the PNR with the airline or with the booking agent? – Hilmar Aug 18 '19 at 14:33
  • This was booked through a third-party website. As for the PNR: The booking actually also contains some short flights on KLM which I didn't mention, so I got a PNR from KLM which works on KLM's website and shows the whole itinerary. I was also given a PNR that is supposedly for China Southern, but CZ's website isn't letting me manage my booking with this PNR as the ticket wasn't bought on their website. – Mophotla Aug 18 '19 at 21:32
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TL;DR - the ticket numbers are an artifact of historical processes, and you should not encounter any issues with connections. Checking bags all the way through will be subject to airline interline agreements. Get the second airline's PNR from your travel agent to change seats on those flights.

For context, a Passenger Name Record (PNR) is the reservation of inventory on flight segments, and a Ticket is confirmation of payment for flights. Historically, the check-in process was a means of verifying that the reserved inventory with tickets to reconcile that the passenger had, in fact, paid for the flight. The IATA ONE Order initiative seeks to combine these two independent records into one and solve many traveler headaches in the process (if your ticket and PNR ever get out of sync, it is painful to fix, based on personal experience).

At the time of this response in 2020, tickets can only contain up to four flight segments.

I once heard a story that suggested the original ticketing systems constituted paper forms that were printed with space for four flight segments, since at the time (before computers were used to track flight inventories and sales), the vast majority of tickets did not need more than four flight segments. According to this blog, as of 2017, the average number of segments per ticket is only 2.5.

To overcome the four segments per ticket limit, travel agents/airlines issue conjunction tickets, sequential ticket numbers that cover each group of four flights, in order of time. (i.e., the first four flights will fall on the first ticket number, the next four on the second ticket number, etc.) Section 1.1.3.4 of the IATA Ticketing Handbook has some details about conjunction tickets.

As of 2020, most systems are limited to issuing four tickets in conjunction, leading to the common 16 flight segment limit on round-the-world tickets.

Because your flights are booked under a single PNR, the contract of carriage will continue throughout your entire itinerary, irrespective of the ticket number. If you were to misconnect at any connection due to a delay, the airlines involved are still required to convey you to your final destination for those flight segment(s).

In order to handle passengers connecting between airlines, airlines often engage in an interline agreement. If the airlines you are connecting between have an interline agreement, then you will be able to check your bags through. You mentioned you are flying KLM and China Southern, who appear to have an interline, based on the KLM website.

Regarding your question about selecting seats on China Southern, if the airlines in question run different reservation systems (the largest are Amadeus and Sabre), then an additional PNR will be generated for the second airline. If you call your travel agent or issuing airline, you can ask them for the PNR for the other airline, which is often required to change seat assignments, unless the second airline has implemented a method to find their local PNR based on another system's PNR (I generally only see that within alliances).

  • 1
    Thank you for your detailed response. Indeed, we had no issues checking our bags through at Shanghai airport to our final destination, including the KLM flight. One of the bags only arrived one day later, but that was probably not a ticket issue. – Mophotla Dec 8 '20 at 23:28
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    Also, as you said, the OTA we booked through only gave us the PNRs of the issuing airline (China Southern). The PNR for KLM was obtained by contacting KLM's Twitter support (not CZ's or the OTA's support). – Mophotla Dec 8 '20 at 23:30

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