Case #98174913 of direct flights sucking…

I’ve written a bajillion times about how stupid direct flights are, whereby airlines market a flight as being “direct,” despite an aircraft change and connecting city. While foreign carriers and Southwest use the concept correctly (by having the same aircraft all the way through), US airlines use it in a very deceiving way.

I’m trying to get home from San Francisco to Tampa today, and am dealing with some serious delays that have me misconnecting. My Dallas to Tampa flight still showed as being on-time, so I decided to pull up the inbound aircraft information on The plane is coming from Vancouver and it’s the same flight number all the way through. Cool! Oh wait a second, the flight is 7.5 hours late, and is due into Dallas at 3:30AM.

Believe it or not in my case that would almost be better, given that I’ll misconnect if my Dallas to Tampa flight leaves on-time. But I also have to think of the people that booked Vancouver to Tampa as a single flight number, possibly not even knowing there was an aircraft change. They’ll find themselves in Dallas at 3:30AM without a flight to Tampa.

Yet that doesn’t stop airlines from only issuing miles for the direct distance between the two cities, and limiting upgrades for the entire journey, as shown below:

Right now I have an approximately zero minute connection in Dallas, so wish me luck!


  1. My view is that the “Passenger Bill of Rights” should prohibit airlines from using a single flight number between two points when there is a planned equipment change en route. I consider it false advertising when a passenger is given a single flight number but has change planes.

  2. Keep in mind that even though you have the same flight numbers, you can have different aircraft (another plus of the non direct, direct). Your flight may leave on time, but if it’s the last flight of the night they will probably hold it for you

  3. It’s not false advertising when they also include “equipment change at ###, #:## layover” If you don’t like the practice, don’t fly the airlines that do it. If you don’t like not getting credit for both segments, nobody is forcing you to use an FF program to get miles.

  4. @ Kris Ziel — You don’t think it’s at least deceiving when you’re given a boarding pass at your starting airport that doesn’t even list your connecting airport, gate, or boarding time?

    Don’t fly an airline that doesn’t do it? Well, ALL the legacies do it.

  5. All (2) “direct” UA flights I’ve been on I got two boarding passes, one for each segment. And my point was that everyone does it, it’s not limited to just a few.

  6. I’ve done two of these on AA recently and they both worked out great. On the first, JFK – (DFW) – LAX, I opted to stay on the plane during our short layover. Some passengers got off, others got on, all-in-all it felt like a standard tech stop.

    This weekend on LGA – (ORD) – SEA, I was required to disembark in ORD, but my connecting flight used the same plane and same gate. In the intervening hour or so I picked up some food and stopped into the lounge. I was issued a single boarding pass in LGA to SEA.

    I agree though that in a situation where there’s a plane/gate change in a connection city, it’s disingenuous to call it a nonstop flight.

  7. A lot of it has to do with better GDS display, but another reason for direct flights even if they have a “change of guage,” is fuel taxes. If an international flight continues service with a domestic segment (or vice versa) as long as the same flight number is used (doesn’t have to be the same plane) and there is at least one through-passenger, the airline is able to claim a “duty draw-back” on the fuel used for the domestic portion of the flight.

  8. @ Kris Ziel — Every US legacy does it. International airlines do it properly, where it’s always the same aircraft, you can’t misconnect, etc.

  9. I can’t believe you are still flying AA. I status matched from UA and literally could not take it! That entire airline is a mess……

  10. @Paul – I think the relationship Ben has with @AmericanAir on twitter is the icing on the cake! 😛

  11. “Yet that doesn’t stop airlines from only issuing miles for the direct distance between the two cities, and limiting upgrades for the entire journey, as shown below”.

    For AA GLD & PLT fliers, this can actually benefit, as AA only charges upgrade stickers based on the mythical nonstop distance, which is often 1 fewer than the two segments upgraded separately.

  12. Kris Ziel, are you a shill for the airline industry or do you have something against transparency? The fact that there is a stop and plane change means that the flight is not non-stop (by any sense of common sense).

    Bottom line: I do not support misleading the bulk of customers who don’t know any better.

  13. @Grand
    If it’s called non stop, that means there isn’t a stop. If it’s called direct, that means it may have stops.
    When selecting direct flights with stops on the United site, it says something like “1 Stop. Time on the ground in Hong Kong (HKG) is 2 hours 30 minutes.” I don’t think it could be any clearer that it isn’t non stop (nor is it marketed as such).

  14. There’s a difference between a “direct” flight where the plane is going A-B-C and you can buy A-C as a “direct flight”, and a flight marketed as “direct” between A and C – as long as the stop is disclosed, that’s not a problem…everybody does it. Southwest does it a lot. As long as the delay is disclosed, that’s fine.

    But if you have to change planes at B, and especially if the B-C leg can leave without the A-C passengers if the A-B leg is seriously delayed, that is effectively a connection and should have to be marketed as such.

    (In the past, most “changes in gauge” were both pretty obvious (trans-Atlantic on a 727 or a DC-9? Don’t think so…) and usually clearly disclosed, at least in the printed schedule. Today, not so much.)

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