Air Service 101: Alliances and Codeshares

Today, there’s a flight getting ready to depart for Boston via Aer Lingus and a flight at the same time to Cincinnati on Air France.  Later today, we’ll have an El Al flight depart for New York-JFK and flights to Dallas this afternoon via Qantas. Where am I?  Terminal 2, of course! 

Carriers that don't operate from RDU routinely serve the airport via codeshares and alliances.

Carriers that don’t operate from RDU routinely serve the airport via codeshares and alliances.

How is this possible? The green shamrock-decorated planes of Aer Lingus don’t visit RDU on a regular basis. Neither do the blue-and-white hued widebodies of El Al. The answer is airline alliances and codeshares.

Airlines use alliances and codeshares to expand their reach without placing additional planes in the sky. Alliance refers to the business agreement between two or more carriers to share the same flight.  One carrier is the operating carrier. That’s the company that operates the plane you are physically on during your flight. The others are marketing carriers. They can sell seats and promote the route under their own names.

Codeshare is simply a term to express that one physical flight may operate under several flight numbers. This facilitates the booking, marketing, selling and promoting of routes that are operated by other carriers. The codeshare also allows for a common experience among multiple carriers, such as being able to use airline clubs and having the same boarding practices.

The history of alliances dates back to the 1930s, when several airlines teamed up to provide flights to destinations in Latin America. The practice was small until the 1990s, when Open Skies agreements between the U.S. and the European Union lifted caps on the number of landings per week that carriers could have in each other’s home countries.

Today, there are three major alliances. SkyTeam, OneWorld and Star. Airlines representing all three alliances serve RDU. In fact, we’re one of only a handful of non-hub airports to have airline clubs that serve each of the three alliances.

Passengers benefit from alliances and codeshares via bag handling agreements between airlines, particularly on overseas routes. This means that you could check your bags at your first departure point and not have to handle them until your final destination, even if that means changing terminals and carriers in various countries along the way.

Travelers are also able to choose from a greater range of flight times, routes and aircraft sizes when searching for long-haul routes.  These also result in shorter travel times as alliance partners optimize flight times to eliminate long layovers at airports.  Frequent travelers can also, depending on the carrier, earn mileage rewards from multiple carriers at the same time.

So, the next time you’re traveling through RDU, take a moment and view all of the different airlines represented on our flight information displays throughout the terminal.

About Dave Young

Dave Young is the Director of Air Service Development for RDU. In this capacity Dave acts as the advocate for RDU to the airline industry, promoting the benefits of RDU and the region. As a self-proclaimed “airline guy” Dave has a habit of referring to things in 3 letter codes.
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