Southwest pulls flight data to hinder Orbitz

Southwest Airlines Co. has upped the ante in its fight with Orbitz LLC by withdrawing its flight data from the Airline Tariff Publishing Co. (ATPCO), a company that supplies airline flights and fare information to travel agents, airlines and travel Web sites, including Orbitz.

"We are doing this to send a clear message that Southwest doesn't want to be associated with Orbitz, a site that we feel seeks to eliminate consumer choice through its exclusive agreements with the carriers it is supported by. It seeks to become a monopoly," said a spokeswoman for the Dallas-based economy airline.

Travel agents and Internet travel sites, including Chicago-based Orbitz, use ATPCO for flight and fare information but not to make reservations.

From now on, only the global distribution systems from Dallas-based partner Sabre Holdings Corp., an Orbitz rival, will publish Southwest routes and fares, the Southwest spokeswoman said. Southwest doesn't open its live, proprietary reservation system to anyone, she added, so travelers who want to make reservations online will have to go to the Southwest Web site.

A spokeswoman for Orbitz, the online travel agency developed by the five largest U.S. airlines, said the decision by Southwest would hurt consumers.

"We were not the only people getting [Southwest's] fares through ATPCO. Non-Sabre global distribution systems were getting their fares on the Internet" and then referring customers to book flights directly with Southwest, said Orbitz spokeswoman Carol Jouzaitis. "Southwest's decision will ultimately harm consumers. It will now be more difficult to compare fares with other airlines."

In May, Southwest filed suit against Orbitz, alleging that the flight search engine was giving the airlines that support it preferential positioning on search results and was posting circuitous Southwest flight plans when comparing prices (see story). Orbitz was financed by Delta Air Lines Inc., Continental Airlines Inc., Northwest Airlines Inc., United Air Lines Inc. and American Airlines Inc. and is supported by 450 other U.S. and international carriers.

Orbitz offered to sit down with Southwest and work out exactly how the airline's flights should be displayed, but Southwest refused, said Jouzaitis. She added that Southwest paid nothing to Orbitz for posting its flight information.

However, Southwest is committed to promoting its flight information from its own site, which accounted for 36% of all of its bookings in the first quarter, the Southwest spokeswoman said. She also said Southwest doesn't rely very heavily on travel agents for bookings.

Sabre owns and runs Travelocity.com Inc., which runs one of the leading Internet travel sites and is an Orbitz competitor, but Southwest's fares are no longer published even on Fort Worth, Texas-based Travelocity's site due to booking problems (see story). Flights confirmed with Travelocity sometimes couldn't be confirmed with Southwest, the Southwest spokeswoman said. As a result, a traveler who arrived at a gate with a Travelocity confirmation might not have been booked on the flight in Southwest's system.

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