Update: Senate committee delays hearing on airline Web site

The Senate Commerce Committee has postponed a scheduled June 22 hearing on possible antitrust issues related to the soon-to-be-launched online ticketing Web site being funded by the five largest airlines in the U.S.

In an announcement posted on its Web site yesterday, the Commerce Committee said it hasn't set a new date for the hearing into the business plans of the so-called T2 Web site. But Pia Pialorsi, the committee's press secretary, said the committee is now "looking at some dates in July."

The T2 hearing remains a priority for committee chairman Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Pialorsi said. "Competition issues are of great concern to him," she noted. But hearings on United Air Lines Inc.'s proposed $11.6 billion purchase of U.S. Airways Group Inc. are now scheduled to start June 21 and have thrown off the original timetable for the T2 inquiry, Pialorsi said.

Chicago-based T2, which hopes to launch its Web site this summer, today declined to comment on the decision to delay the hearing or on whether the commerce committee's move will have any impact on the planned launch. Officials from the online ticketing venture held a press conference yesterday -- before news of the delay became public -- in which they insisted that the Web site won't engage in any anticompetitive behavior.

As part of the press conference, the T2 executives said they already gave the government copies of all the contracts that the new company signed with its participating airlines. But that hasn't derailed the Senate hearing or a separate Department of Justice investigation, which both came in response to complaints about T2 filed by two trade groups that represent travel agents.

"The documents might say one thing, but how are they going to act in the real world?" asked Sam Whitehorn, senior Democratic counsel to the Commerce Committee, in an interview today. "The words on paper might not tell the whole story."

The T2 site is being funded by United, Delta Air Lines Inc., Continental Airlines Inc. Northwest Airlines Inc. and American Airlines Inc., and Whitehorn said it's incumbent upon the government to look into business initiatives funded by large-scale competitors.

"If it turns out that there's nothing nefarious, then let them go out in the marketplace," he said. "We haven't looked into it enough to determine that yet."

Copyright © 2000 IDG Communications, Inc.

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