Google allays airline fears over Flight Links has stated it has no plans to expand the Flight Links feature added to its website six months ago.

The shortcut allows users to tap into booking engines belonging to Expedia, Hotwire, Orbitz, Priceline and Travelocity by searching for airport codes or cities with departure and return dates. Users are then able to deep-link to the five websites.

Google’s intent regarding Flight Links has been of keen interest to travel e-commerce players in the US.

Google managing director for travel Jane Butler said: “It’s just chugging along for the time being.”

Butler acknowledged that some people may perceive Flight Links as a hedge against the meta-search engines, but said the intent of Flight Links, the brainchild of Google co-founder Sergey Brin, was to improve the way Google users searched for flights.

Google’s product experts decided to use the online agency and opaque travel sellers because their sites are more comprehensive than airline sites, Butler said.

Google uses the five booking engines in Flight Links for free, Butler said, emphasising that Google has no commercial relationship with them.

The online agencies are not advertisers in Flight Links and pay nothing per click. In fact, Butler said, Expedia is the default booking engine in Flight Links – if a user doesn’t select a specific booking engine – merely because it came first in alphabetical order among the Flight Links agencies.

Northwest Airlines stated: “Northwest monitors Google and other search engine features on a regular basis. We will continue to monitor it and assess whether to address any issues directly with Google.”

American Airlines spokesman Billy Sanez said saw 58% growth in 2005 and the airline continues to push direct sales, including advertising, through Google.

However, American has a multiple-channel distribution strategy, Sanez noted, and realises that some customers prefer to book through travel agencies, including through Google’s Flight Links.

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