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There are a few questions about airline insolvency, however none of them address codeshares.

Given the increasingly likely scenario of one or more airlines folding in the next year, what would happen to ticket holders where a codeshare is involved? Say for example this scenario:

Buy flights through hypothetical Airline ZZ, market as flights ZZ001 outbound, ZZ901 inbound. ZZ901 is really a codeshare operated by Airline YY, flight YY123. Between booking and departing on the outbound leg Airline YY files for bankruptcy. Clearly there's a need for (good) travel insurance to be sure, but given the way that code share was sold is it reasonably to expect airline ZZ to honour the original booking albeit on an alternative routing?

Is this something that's carrier agnostic within a given market, or do some carriers try and stuff the Ts & Cs full of weasel words to try and claim they have no contract with you on the codeshare flights?

  • They quite obviously have a contract with you and, in fact, I believe they still have your money too. It's only after the fact that it would change hands between ZZ and YY. – Relaxed Sep 2 at 16:05
  • I guess I'm just cynical - I was expecting they'd try and claim not their fault etc. – Flexo Sep 2 at 16:20
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    Well, keep in mind that if it was ZZ that bankrups, YY would not be obligated to fulfill your contract with ZZ (they might, after all ZZ could have already "purchased" YY your seat). It goes both ways. – Ángel Sep 3 at 0:37
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Simple: because the flight was sold to you by ZZ, this is now ZZ's problem and they will have to find a way to make you whole, either by rerouting or refunding you. That fact that YY happens to operate the flight isn't really more relevant than that Boeing happens to have built the plane.

Note that if YY's collapse is sudden, a lot of people will be in the same boat as you and arranging alternative flights will be tough.

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    An example of this in action: pro.delta.com/content/agency/us/en/news/… – gparyani Sep 3 at 4:14
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    Can you give some supporting evidence for this answer? It seems plausible, but to me it seems equally plausible that the codeshare ticket is a contract with YY, which ZZ merely helped set up. – Nate Eldredge Sep 3 at 13:29
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    @NateEldredge The section on codeshare on this site is interesting. – Spehro Pefhany Sep 3 at 15:57
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    @NateEldredge , if you paid your money to ZZ, they are responsible for fulfilling the contract. They can't just say 'we gave your money away, too bad'. There will be no explicit evidence for that as it is basic contract law. – Aganju Sep 3 at 16:38
  • "Simple: because the flight was sold to you by ZZ," <= oh if the world would be so simple... Let me write this up. – chx Sep 7 at 9:03
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The issue is extremely complex and it might need a court decision.

To begin with, now that you no longer get a paper ticket most people have no idea about who their issuing carrier (also known as validating carrier) even is. And your issuing carrier is the only one who can help you. (With an emphasis on can, not must, read on.) If you look at a paper ticket you can see the upper left corner have featured the issuing carrier quite prominently. (Image from E-Ticket vs Itinerary vs Booking Reference )

You need the full ticket number which starts with the three digit airline code (then a four digit form number, a six digit serial number, and sometimes a check digit). Most of the time, you can find this in the confirmation email you've gotten:

enter image description here

Then head over to the IATA members list and ... realize you can't search by number so you need to guess it or page through. Thankfully Cathay has a better tool which does allow you to search by number. If that link dies, try this Google search maybe you can find a useful PDF and then you can search inside that. The ticket I posted starts with 182 so now you know that was a MALEV flight from very very long ago (the airline went bankrupt in 2012) because I'd hate to accidentally doxx myself :) Also, as I was picking an email for the screenshot from the flight reservations folder I found sometimes airlines actually do not include this number, bad airline! If you received no e-ticket number, begin to poke around at the Manage reservation section of their website or at worst call them (shudder).

Now you have an issuing carrier. In the best case, this is not the bankrupt airline. Note bankrupt airlines do not necessarily just cease operations, in the USA for example it's almost routine for the large three to enter bankruptcy from time to time. And when that happens, it's rote to include "the Debtors submit that authorization, but not direction, to continue the Customer Programs in the ordinary course of business and to perform and honor the Customer Obligations as they deem appropriate in their business judgment" in their filing (emphasis mine) so a bankrupt airline have saved you a tour to the court as they already requested to do whatever they please -- and usually receive permission -- from the (bankruptcy) court.

Anyways, let's hope your issuing carrier is not in bankruptcy. If you are even remotely lucky, you actually have a contract with them which they will honor and arrange transport. If you are unlucky enough they will claim they acted as an issuing agent and disclaim all responsibility. Semi-obviously this can only happen if your issuing carrier is not the marketing airline. In this case, your only avenue is to sue them in the relevant jurisdiction (figuring that alone can be a tremendous lot of fun) and then let said court decide whether they were agent-y enough.

Suing anyone but the issuing carrier is usually utterly pointless -- let's not forget we started with the operating carrier being bankrupt -- unless of course your lawyer recommends doing so.

This sort of contrived arrangement happens in two cases, typically: a) more complex itineraries especially when multiple stops are involved b) ... what's a polite word here? ... more interesting booking sites. This whole ball of wax is just another reason to try to stick to the website of an least somewhat relevant airline.

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  • This seems like a great answer to a different question? The OP is asking specifically for what happens when it's not the issuing carrier that's gone bust. – lambshaanxy Sep 7 at 11:08
  • @lambshaanxy: As I read it, the problem is that we don't know from OP's description which of the two carriers is the "issuing carrier". It's not clear to me that it's necessarily the one that they "bought the tickets through", whatever that means exactly. – Nate Eldredge Sep 7 at 16:50
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    The problem is that issuing carrier can be a third! Issuing, marketing, operating -- these all can be different. The blind mass upvoted answer is simply wrong, just because you have a flight with the marketing airline does not mean the marketing airline is the issuing carrier. People will upvote anything. – chx Sep 7 at 18:47

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