ASTA issued the following statement on Wednesday in response to Sabre Holdings’ announced plan to “de-preference” the information of American Airlines in some of the systems it serves:
"ASTA has been a longstanding advocate for assuring that consumers and the travel agents who service them have full and timely access to comparative fare and schedule information so they can make informed decisions when buying air travel. To that end, ASTA has filed comments in the Department of Transportation (DOT) rulemaking on enhanced passenger protections, arguing for a rule that would assure airlines provide travel agents with timely and transactable information about ancillary fees now being added to the price of most air tickets. ASTA also worked to facilitate input from consumers, which led to the filing of a petition with DOT by more than 50,000 consumers supporting full price transparency.
ASTA believes the technology is available to accomplish the newest airline marketing objectives without sacrificing comparative price transparency and without imposing new costs on travel agents, and ultimately on consumers. The Airline Tariff Publishing Company, through its filing with DOT, and the Airlines Reporting Corp., through its work on the Electronic Miscellaneous Document, both owned by the airlines, appear to agree.
We have been watching with deepening concern the evolving conflict between American Airlines and the online travel agency community regarding American’s Direct Connect program. This program is claimed to be necessary to enable the marketing objectives of American, but, based on the limited information available regarding the program, it threatens to produce expensive and complex 'de-integration' of efficient information flows that have benefited consumers of air travel for decades.
Our efforts to obtain information about the program from American have largely been rebuffed. And, there is no tangible evidence that the claimed benefits of Direct Connect have been accepted by either customers or travel management companies.
The underlying concerns that have led to the open conflict between American and the online agencies thus appear to be valid and very serious. It was probably inevitable that the next logical step would be the extension of the conflict to regular travel agents. Travel distribution is not a spectator sport, and no one will be spared if an appropriate resolution is not reached that recognizes the burden that this so-called innovation in distribution will produce.
Travel agents generally have benefited from technological innovation over the years, and ASTA squarely supports innovation that produces true efficiencies. But technological change that simply moves costs from one party to another is just a solution looking for a problem to solve. Any firm that would reverse the beneficial process of information integration and comparative pricing for consumers has a huge burden of persuasion. While much rhetoric has been expended in promoting Direct Connect in the media, ASTA has seen no convincing evidence that it will contribute to more optimal buying by consumers. We hope that other airlines will think very carefully before going down a similar path.
The mission of the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) is to facilitate the business of selling travel through effective representation, shared knowledge and the enhancement of professionalism. ASTA seeks a retail travel marketplace that is profitable and growing and a rewarding field in which to work, invest and do business."