Etihad Becoming More Like American Airlines? Eliminating Through-Checked Bags on Separate Tickets

Etihad will no longer allow through checking bags when traveling on separate reservations for tickets purchased February 1 onward.

Reportedly separate tickets that are sold into the same reservation will continue to allow through-checking of bags. Most separate tickets have separate reservations, but a competent travel agent can manage to include them in one PNR.

So if you book a ticket to fly Etihad to Abu Dhabi, thinking you’ll figure out where to connect from there later, your separate ticket will mean you only get to check your bags to Abu Dhabi — not to your final destination that you’ve made a separate booking for even if that separate booking is on Etihad.

Disembarking an Etihad Boeing 777-200LR in Abu Dhabi, 2015

Making Separate Tickets More Difficult Has Become a World Trend

On June 1 the oneworld alliance (which includes airlines like American, British Airways, Iberia, Cathay Pacific, Qantas, and more) changed its policies so that member airlines no longer had to check bags to their final destination for passengers traveling on more than one reservation on a oneworld airline.

Almost immediately British Airways and Cathay Pacific became the first oneworld carriers to forbid through-checking bags on separate reservations.

On June 10, an American Airlines spokesperson reassured, “we will continue to thru-check bags on multiple PNRs with oneworld carriers.” Yet on July 19, they notified travel agents they were doing the exact opposite.

American will not through-check bags when traveling on separate tickets — even when they are two American Airlines tickets or when you’re connecting from American Airlines to a joint venture partner like British Airways. (The only exception is they’ll through check between an award ticket and a paid ticket as long as both tickets are included in the same reservation and both airlines are part of oneworld — travel on a non-alliance partner like Etihad doesn’t count).

While United and Delta officially won’t through check bags on separate tickets outside of their own alliances,

  1. They will continue to through check bags when traveling on separate tickets as long as both tickets are either on the same airline (two Delta or two United tickets) or within the same alliance (United to Star, Delta to SkyTeam).

  2. My experience with Delta in Sydney was that I had no problem through-checking onto American Airlines despite the policy.

Cathay Pacific admits their American Airlines policy was a mistake and rolled it back January 1.

Etihad on the other hand has decided to be like American, effective with tickets purchased February 1 onward.

Etihad’s Problems Create Bigger Problems for Customers

Etihad is going through cutbacks and is bleeding on several foreign airline investments.

Etihad’s explanation for the change in baggage policy though defies credulity:

“The policy ensures guests have enough time to connect without the risk of missing flights, delaying flights so they can connect, or losing their bags. The changes are designed to ensure that we continue to offer a first class service through our hub in Abu Dhabi.”

This policy ‘ensures guests have enough time to connect’? On the contrary it requires customers to have substantially longer connections. They must be able to clear immigration, wait for checked bags (and if checked bags don’t appear, file a claim), then clear customs. They must check in for their ongoing flight, recheck bags, and then re-clear immigration and security. Instead of simply going on to the next gate.

Security Line Transferring Terminals in Abu Dhabi

This can take a long while, here’s a man sleeping on a baggage carousel.

It’s a problem for passengers who can transit Abu Dhabi but can’t enter the country without a visa. They’ll need a visa just to collect their bags and re-check them. Citizens of India and Pakistan require e-visas, and much of Etihad’s business is focused in that region.

This may come back to hurt Etihad’s business, though no doubt they believe they’ll be able to get passengers to buy their travel in a single ticket. I wonder how quickly an understanding of this change in policy will spread — though there was reportedly an “advisory sent to travel agents” as of this writing the change in policy doesn’t appear to be on Etihad’s website even — or whether it will make Dubai connections preferable.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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