Have you ever bought your air ticket from one airline, checked in with a different one and flew with another? Welcome to plane swapping. It happened to me recently when I was travelling to Northern Kenya. I had a ticket from Freedom Airline, checked in at the Renegade Air desk and flew aboard Dragon! But what would make an airline (or in my case, airlines) consider plane swapping?

Maintenance delays may result in a flight crew drawing closer to their legal duty limit. When that happens, such a crew may be unable to legally complete their flight. That leads to not only the cancellation of the delayed flight but also the return flight from wherever the crew was flying to. In such a case, it makes sense to swap to an aircraft without maintenance. That way, the flight crew can depart before they run out of duty time. Of course, this has its downsides. The passengers whose aircraft is taken, end up being delayed or missing their flight altogether. The argument here is it’s better to cancel one flight than two.

The other reason for plane swapping is passenger backlog. Under normal circumstances, an airline will swap a scheduled flight with a bigger one to accommodate the backlog. For small airlines, however, the luxury of an extra idle plane may not exist. In such a case, swapping passengers to another airline may be the only way out. Most planes plying the Northern Kenya route, it is known, are even co-owned by two airlines. Plane swapping is never fun but it provides a way out to avoid grounding network operations with the least collateral damage possible.

Since plane swapping amounts to a ‘local arrangement’, rather than policy, airlines have no obligation to tell you, let alone compensate you when your plane changes from one type to another. More often than not, you are lucky to get more than a token flight voucher or a fistful of frequent flyer points if you belong to the airline’s program.

So there we were, headed to the Freedom Air check-in desk, only to learn we needed to go to the Renegade Air offices instead. Now I have a new reason to get to the airport early. You never know. You may be a potential plane-swapping candidate!