It's a question frustrated Southwest Airlines passengers have bombarded the airline with in the wake of heavy Max 8 flight cancellations and limited rebooking options during the busy spring break travel season.
"Why can't you put me on another airline?''
The answer: Southwest doesn't do that as a matter of policy.
In airline jargon, Southwest doesn't have interline agreements with other carriers, Competitors American, Delta and United do, allowing them to easily transfer passengers to a competing carrier, though their preference is to rebook passengers on their own flights or a partner airline.
Southwest spokesman Chris Mainz said interlining is not consistent with Southwest's business model of dealing directly with travelers. It doesn't sell tickets through online travel agencies, for example, sending travelers to its website.
"We can't control their experience on another airline,'' Mainz said. "It's a philosophical approach to the customer experience.''
Southwest, like all carriers, offers passengers a refund for canceled flights if they don't like the rebooking options. But the refund generally doesn't cover the cost of a new flight since last minute tickets are airline's priciest tickets.
Mainz said there are "rare, extreme'' circumstances where Southwest will consider putting passengers in on other airlines. He did not provide any examples of extenuating circumstances except to say they would include situations where the airline has run out of options for customers with a dire travel need.
Charlie Leocha, chairman of consumer group Travelers United, said the lack of interlining is not usually a problem for Southwest passengers because the nation's largest domestic carrier has frequent flights on most routes.
"They've got so many flights that they normally can move people,'' he said.
Southwest isn't the only carrier that doesn't have interline agreements. Discount carriers Frontier, Spirit and Allegiant don't interline.
Those carriers say they will put travelers on other airlines as needed, especially when the flight cancellation was the airline's fault, such as a mechanical issue, but policies vary by airline.
"While we don’t have interline agreements, we absolutely put our guests on other airlines if our guest solutions team believes the situation warrants it and we are not able to reaccommodate on Spirit within a reasonable time,'' Spirit spokesman Derek Dombrowski said.
Frontier spokesman Jonathan Freed said travelers whose flights are canceled due to circumstances in Frontier's control sometimes receive a voucher for travel on another airline or a rental car, depending on the circumstances. An email from the airline directs them to a website where they can rebook on another airline, or the airline's customer service agents can handle the rebooking, Freed said.
Allegiant generally doesn't put passengers on other airlines after it cancels a flight but will, on rare occasions, provide vouchers that can be used on another airline if the canceled flight was not rescheduled, spokeswoman Hilarie Grey said.
Consumer groups including Travelers United have been arguing for the return of the so-called reciprocity rule, which allowed for easy passenger transfer between airlines in the case of flight cancellations and delays. It went away when the industry was deregulated in 1978.
Airlines don't want to bring it back, Leocha said.
"They just think that's too much regulation,'' he said. "I don't expect the DOT (U.S. Department of Transportation) is going to take any action. I can pretty much assure you they're not going to do anything.''
Leocha's advice for stranded travelers on any airline: It doesn't hurt to ask to be put on another carrier. It's not as easy as it used to be, and you'll hear a chorus of no's, even on airlines with interline agreements. But it's worth a shot in desperate circumstances, such as lengthy delays that will force you to miss an international connection, he said.
And be polite, not demanding.
On some carriers, Leocha said, "A lot of it has to do with how nice you are to the gate agent or ticket agent.''
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Southwest flight canceled? Here's why the airline won't book you on another carrier