American Airlines Pulls Plug on Orbitz

American Airlines pulled its flights and fares off online travel agency Orbitz after a judge in the Circuit Court of Cook County in Chicago denied a motion for a preliminary injunction to prevent the move.

The carrier is no longer selling tickets at the website.

American said tickets for travel already purchased through Orbitz remain valid, but any changes travelers need to make must be made through American by calling (800) 433-7300.

The move is part of a dispute between the carrier and Travelport, one of the large airline ticket processors used by both online and traditional travel agencies.

Travelport, which is suing American for breach of contract, owns 48% of Orbitz, and the online agency is its largest customer for ticket processing services.

American told Orbitz on Nov. 1 that it intended to pull its ticketing authority in 30 days.

American wants travel sellers to connect directly with the airline's reservations system, rather than use Travelport or its competitors, Sabre and Amadeus.

But Orbitz refused, in part because its service agreement with Travelport does not allow the agency to establish direct connections with other companies.

American says the direct connection is vital for agencies to be able to sell the airline's optional services, which range from checked-bag fees to airport lounge access to inflight Wi-Fi.

But consumer advocates are questioning that reasoning.

Charlie Leocha, director of the Consumer Travel Alliance, says the dispute "has nothing to do with business agreements, legal arguments or distribution technologies."

He says it is "simply a heavy-handed attempt by American Airlines to prevent consumers from easily searching and comparing its fares against those of other airlines."

Orbitz says American accounted for about 5% of its revenue for the first nine months of this year. The online agency says that over the four quarters, it generated $800 million in sales for American.

Most of the lost American Airlines sales will be replaced by other travel suppliers, Orbitz says.
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