American boycott – the latest twist in distribution battle

Leading travel management companies are boycotting sales of American Airlines in an effort to stop the break-up of GDS distribution.

The US carrier is locked in a battle with two of the big three global distribution systems – Travelport, owner of Galileo and Worldspan, and Sabre – and insists: “We need a new system.”

Few TMCs acknowledge they are boycotting American, and their association, the GTMC, insists there is no boycott “official or unofficial”. But former GTMC chairman Maurice Veronique, chief executive of Travel by Appointment, told Travel Weekly: “It is our company policy not to book American Airlines.”

Veronique said: “If we lose full-fare content on GDSs and have to go from one site to another, we lose efficiency.
“If you take away price parity and comparison, we will be back in the Dark Ages. The system works and American has put a spanner in it.”

American confirmed last week that it intends to overturn the system by which agents access fares. A spokesman for the carrier said: “GDSs act as gatekeepers and want compensation for their network. There are other choices.” The airline believes agents should pay to access fares via GDSs.

GTMC chief executive Anne Godfrey acknowledged the alarm among member companies, saying: “Imagine the impact of 163 airlines choosing to implement a direct-connect model. The GTMC cannot recommend a boycott. But has American seen the full impact of its decision? Probably not.”

The GTMC is in regular contact with Advantage Business Travel and the Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association. “We are talking with one voice on this issue,” Godfrey added.

Abta has taken a more relaxed attitude so far. However, Knock Travel managing director Doreen McKenzie, who chairs Abta’s aviation committee, said: “If American sets a precedent, you can expect airlines here to go down the same route. No one has to sell American.”

A senior GDS source said: “If American gets away with this, United and Continental will be next, then BA.” BA and American commence a tightened transatlantic alliance in March, pooling revenue and coordinating fares and schedules.

A BA spokesman declined to comment on American Airlines’ relationship with GDSs but BA head of sales Richard Tams did say: “We have full-content deals with the GDSs and as long those deals make sense they will continue.” BA’s current deals with Amadeus, Sabre and Travelport run out in 2013.

Lawyers for American Airlines and Sabre are due in court in Texas on Monday to contest a restraining order on Sabre which will determine whether the airline continues to appear as normal on the GDS, pending a full legal battle over
breach of contract.

Agents who book an American flight via Galileo or Worldspan can expect automated debit memos (ADMs) to start arriving in February for additional charges on fares imposed since late December. Abta will contest the ADMs through airline association Iata.

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