American Airlines And The Online Travel Agency Debate


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American Airlines And The Online Travel Agency Debate

Bill Goldston

January 6, 2010 - American Airlines and the online travel agencies want the American people to be a part of this big debate between American Airlines, Orbitz, Expedia and now Sabre Travel. None of these companies appear to be open and honest with the American people as to what the real issues are and how this will impact travelers. They toy with the American people with press release after press release offering no substantive information, just finger pointing. 

In December American Airlines reported in a press release it had discontinued displaying and selling fares through Orbitz, citing, “failure to reach a mutually beneficial commercial agreement.” American Airlines stated it had ended services with Expedia as a result of Expedia website began discriminating against American's flights and schedules by listing them lower in the search display than those of other airlines.

On Wednesday morning Sabre reported in a press release that for a number of months, American Airlines had taken actions in an attempt to impose a costly, unproven and unnecessary system on agencies and corporations, including withholding fare content from Sabre. 

“We believe these actions are harmful to our agency and corporate customers, as well as consumers, making it harder and more costly to comparison shop. Sabre is taking actions to protect its interests and those of its customers by supporting airlines who value the transparency and efficiency of the proven system we provide.” 

On Wednesday afternoon American Airlines in response to Sabre’s press release earlier in the day stated, “American Airlines today received notice from Sabre that it has taken a set of punitive actions against the airline and its customers, despite the fact that American has met all its obligations and continues to work in good faith with Sabre. 

“The actions, which include biasing its shopping displays, are anti-consumer, anti-competitive and harmful to its subscribing agents. Sabre's actions are discriminatory and patently inconsistent with both its contractual obligations and its professed goal of ensuring full transparency for the benefit of consumers and travel agents.

“In contrast, the actions only serve to protect Sabre's market position and attempt to force airlines and travel agencies to rely exclusively on its legacy systems that only lead to higher fares and fewer choices for consumers.”  


Blah Blah Blah. For now it appears there is no debate, “full transparency”, just kids in wet diapers. To articulate and solve problems the facts need to be clear. Many of our readers are concerned with the number of Americans who will go to bed tonight without having eaten a warm meal, or the number of families trying to figure out how they will make ends meet. These press releases are nothing more than a three-card monte, that is who can shuffle the cards the best and hide the truth. 

One of our readers informed us that they had booked a flight with an air carrier, it so happened to be a flight with American Airlines. For whatever reason the reader was unable to make the flight and later in the day contacted the airline and questioned whether he could get a refund on the purchase price of the ticket. The reader stated that he was told no. “What about the taxes I paid on it, I should at least get that back,” he said to the American Airlines customer service agent. He again was told no. He then asked, “What happens to the taxes that I paid on this ticket?” The reader states the agent could not give an answer.

If you go out on the internet you can find complaint after complaint with the airlines and online travel agencies. One gentleman reported the online travel agency Orbits charge his credit card but did not issue him a ticket. He contacted their customer services and was connected to their India call center. “It should've been easy enough to fix but their India call center manages to screw up even the simplest transactions: none of their representatives has the authority to do anything”

Another gentleman reported he purchased airline tickets for Vancouver, BC - Portland Oregon. Denver, Colorado, Fort Lauderdale, Florida. All were United tickets, but operated by other airlines.

“Our first leg, Vancouver to Portland was operated by Air Canada. The remainder by Frontier Airlines. When we arrived at the Vancouver airport we were told that Air Canada does not have a baggage transfer agreement with Frontier and that we would have to collect our bags at the carousel, check in again at the Frontier desk, go through security again and then board the plane. Our tickets, as issued by Expedia, allowed 50 minutes for this - an impossible task."

Through this non debate, American Airlines and some of the major online ticket agencies may have opened up the door to Pandora’s Box? Has airline deregulation benefited the American people? And What does happen to those taxes collected on sold tickets that are not used or honored? Are those tax dollars going into the coffers of the airlines? Maybe the Department of Transportation and the IRS should launch and investigation.


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