Travel Companies Unite Against American Airlines

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A group of 117 travel companies and organizations are banding together to oppose the type of "direct-connect" strategy that has led to disputes between American Airlines and online travel agencies.

Members in the new "Open Allies for Airfare Transparency" includes prominent travel agencies such as Valerie Wilson Travel, Ultramar Travel Management, Colpitts World Travel and BCD Travel, all powerhouses in the business travel arena.

Some of those companies have had very close business relationships with American.

The group also includes the American Society of Travel Agents, the Business Travel Coalition and all three of the companies that process travel agency transactions in the U.S.: Amadeus, Sabre and Travelport.

American has shaken up the travel industry in recent months with the strategy, which involves building a new technology link between its reservations system and the companies that distribute or sell its tickets.

It has said it will not provide access to its ancillary services to any agency that does not connect directly.

Those services are anything not included in the basic ticket, such as checked bags, priority boarding, inflight Internet access, admission to airport lounges and other services.

Orbitz and Expedia, both members of Open Allies, have refused to connect via the new link, and they no longer sell American tickets.

Priceline, on the other hand, recently struck a deal with American to connect directly.

American also is locked in court battles with Sabre and Travelport, the two largest distribution systems in the U.S.

Although American is leading the charge, other major airlines have indicated that the direct-connection idea is appealing to them.

American, Continental, Delta, United, US Airways and Air Canada have all joined Open AXIS, a group formed to promote XML – a computer language used by companies to communicate with their trading partners – as the preferred way to connect with the airlines.

However, American is so far the only airline insisting on the new connection.

Open Allies says direct connections are a threat to comparison shopping and will result in higher airfares.

The group notes that the Transportation Department is considering rules that would require airlines to provide visibility into their airfares, including common ancillary services, wherever they are sold.

In a statement, American says it is "interested in making its fares and optional services available to travel agencies with or without legislative or regulatory changes."

It adds, "We do not believe any regulation should dictate the systems or the vendors that American uses to distribute any of its products."

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