Southwest sues Orbitz over flight information

With a little more than a month left before its official launch, Orbitz LLC faces a lawsuit over fare and itinerary information on a preliminary version of its airfare tracking Web site.

Southwest Airlines Co. Friday filed suit against Orbitz in the Central California U.S. District Court for allegedly posting incorrect fare and itinerary information about the Dallas-based economy airline.

Set to launch in June, Orbitz has the financial backing of United Air Lines Inc., American Airlines Inc., Delta Air Lines Inc., Northwest Airlines Inc. and Continental Airlines Inc.

Southwest has been a notable standout, refusing to participate. Nonetheless, according to the lawsuit, Orbitz has published Southwest flight information.

"This Web site is currently using proprietary information with respect to Southwest's fares and schedules without Southwest's permission," the company said in a statement Friday. "Worse, Orbitz has refused to eliminate false and misleading information from its Web site concerning Southwest's schedules, fares and routes."

"It is with great regret that Southwest must take the extraordinary step of legal action," said Jim Parker, Southwest's vice president and general counsel, who is slated to one day become the company's vice chairman and CEO. "But we were not able to convince Orbitz to cease and desist from its misleading, untrue and harmful representations with respect to Southwest's service, schedules and fares."

According to the lawsuit, Orbitz claimed to publish Southwest's lowest fares.

"Orbitz fails, however, to include in its Web site many of Southwest's lowest fares, such as 'Anniversary,' 'Click 'N Save' and other fares which are oftentimes lower than fares found on the Orbitz Web site and which may be found on Southwest's Internet Web site," the lawsuit said. "Orbitz provides false and/or misleading information concerning Southwest's fares, including fares that are actually higher than the fares offered by Southwest."

The suit also accused Orbitz of publishing "circuitous" routes that would, for example, take passengers through Chicago and Baltimore to get from Detroit to Albany, N.Y.

"We are sorely disappointed by Southwest's position, given that we see our mission to be similar to Southwest's -- providing the best possible service at the lowest possible cost," said Orbitz general counsel Gary R. Doernhoefer.

He said Orbitz will continue to display publicly available fare and schedule information. The information Southwest used as an example in the suit was posted by Southwest to a clearing house. Orbitz pays a fee to access that information, then posts the results on its site.

"Through these same clearinghouses, Southwest also provides its flight information to thousands of travel agents and other travel providers," Doernhoefer said in the letter.

All of the trips are viable fares. The circuitous trip from Detroit to Albany was cheaper than any other airline, according to an Orbitz spokeswoman.

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