A senior figure at UK agents’ consortium Advantage has expressed sympathy with both sides in the bitter dispute between American Airlines and Travelport, but said the carrier’s “sledgehammer” approach is “damaging the industry”.
Advantage corporate director Ken McLeod said: “I can understand to some extent where American Airlines is coming from, although I don’t agree with how the carrier has gone about it.”
The battle between the companies over who should pay for the airline’s presence on global distribution systems (GDSs) is poised to go to court in Texas after American filed an anti-trust lawsuit against Travelport and affiliate online agent Orbitz last month.
Travelport owns GDSs Worldspan and Galileo, with which American previously had distribution agreements. The carrier is now seeking to drive bookings through its own Direct Connect system.
American has complained “GDSs act as gatekeepers” and said: “We need a new [distribution] system.”
McLeod told Travel Weekly: “If as a carrier you are presented with technology that offers commercially cheaper options to sell your seats, obviously you have to look at it. However, it should be done through reason rather than a sledgehammer.”
American’s lawsuit accuses Travelport of “anti-competitive conduct” and “illegal actions” that “have harmed consumers”. Travelport has said it will “vigorously defend” itself and dismissed the lawsuit as an “attempt to gain bargaining leverage”.
McLeod said: “The travel management companies are stuck in the middle of an argument that is damaging to the industry - and something has to give.
“The problem is that every IATA agent in the world needs to be provided with the facility to book most airlines in the world, so there has to be intermediary technology. The solution is already there - through the GDS - but the airlines argue the financial model is less than acceptable.”
McLeod said: “If you started with a blank sheet of paper, you wouldn’t necessarily design the current process. It has evolved over the years. However the model isn’t broken, it just needs to be developed.”
He added: “GDSs do need to develop more quickly to keep up with changes such as ancillary fees.” However, he said: “The death of Viewdata in the leisure market was predicted years ago, but it is still sitting there because there is not an adequate [alternative] system to aggregate full content.”
McLeod will host a panel discussion on airline distribution at the Advantage Conference in Madrid on Saturday.
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