BTC Challenges IATA's Personal Data Claims on NDC

airlineThe Business Travel Coalition (BTC) charged that the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) has issued "continuous misleading claims" and has tried to minimize the radical nature of the change in distribution practices that IATA's Resolution 787 represents.

"One of its most common assertions is that (IATA's) “New Distribution Capability (NDC) will not require personal data.” And stated slightly differently, IATA makes the same substantive claim when it asserts that “anonymous shopping would be protected.” At best, these statements are wholly disingenuous," argues Kevin Mitchell, BTC's chairman.

Mitchell, who has emerged as a principled opponent to Resolution 787,  says that NDC would be forced on travelers and the travel industry - if approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), who is now reviewing IATA's resolution 787.

IATA's position was detailed by Travel Agent (August 16). Specifically, IATA Head of Corporate Communications, The Americas, Perry Flint took issue with the BTC’s statement that under the NDC, “fares would no longer be published and available for any and all consumers to comparison-shop anonymously so they can find the best fares."

“Passengers can choose whether or not to identify themselves,” Flint said. “No one will be required to publish intimate details.” Flint pointed out that airlines already offer customers the ability to identify themselves when booking on their website by inputting their frequent flier number. Mitchell's rebuttal of IATA's position includes: 

"First, the claim that whether or not to hand over personal information is up to the traveler is flatly at odds with the plain language of Resolution 787. Section expressly states that 'enhanced distribution' (the title of Resolution 787) “… will require authentication and the provision of historical data based on previous transactions.” That language is of course mandatory. Then at Section 3.1, the Resolution spells out in intrusive and disturbing detail the exact elements of personal data that all airlines will have the right to demand on an “included but not limited to basis.” 

"The specific items of personal data carriers will all have the right to insist upon before quoting any prices include: name, age, marital status, nationality, contact details, whether the purpose of the trip is business or leisure and the traveler’s prior shopping, travel and purchase history. This mischaracterization by IATA of what Resolution 787 supposedly means now that the Resolution has come under close scrutiny is just one of several examples of the enormous chasm between what the agreement says on its face and what IATA would have the world think it says."

"Second, and even more disturbing, is that an apparent Freudian slip by IATA in its DOT filing of June 21, 2013 seems to betray the real deal the IATA member airlines have subsequently struck as to personal data in the hopes of securing DOT approval for Resolution 787."

"At page 12 of that filing, the assurance that IATA wants DOT and other stakeholders to accept as seeming protection of the continuation of the current right to shop anonymously – a right that affords consumers access to dozens or even hundreds of choices – is stated as follows:

“Approval of IATA Resolution 787 does not constitute approval of any agreement among airlines to require, as a condition of receiving an offer for air transportation, the disclosure by any passenger of personal information of any kind.”

"On the critical question of how the airlines adopting NDC actually plan to treat anonymous shoppers, this condition, which IATA is inviting DOT to accept, would on its face be satisfied if they received one, and only one, offer, even if it were one so high no one would ever pay it. "

"IATA might try to argue that this literal reading of the condition it is offering to DOT gives too much importance to the words, 'an offer.' However, a later restatement by IATA of this condition in the same filing leaves no doubt that this is precisely the arrangement IATA-carriers have agreed upon and that IATA wants DOT to bless. That statement appears at page 33 of IATA’s submission and restates in slightly different and more revealing wording the condition it wants DOT to accept as the 'safeguard' for the consumer’s right to shop anonymously for airfares in an NDC world:

'Approval of IATA Resolution 787 does not constitute approval of any agreement among airlines to require, as a condition of receiving at least one offer for airline transportation, the disclosure by any passenger of personal information of any kind.'

So, Mitchell argues, we now know to a certainty that when IATA says “anonymous shopping will be supported” and when it says “NDC will not require personal data” in an NDC world, it does not mean to live up to those promises by assuring that the present robust system of comprehensive, published prices any consumer can view anonymously will be operated in parallel with NDC.

"Rather, if NDC were approved with this condition, IATA could say its assurances about NDC had been honored if the carriers queried for offers on behalf of anonymous shoppers responded with 'at least one offer for airline transportation' – even if the offer were set at punitively high rates. "

"Given all this, the claim by IATA that anonymous shopping would be protected if Resolution 787 were approved by DOT is wrong – in fact, dead wrong - in real-world terms. In an NDC world, any consumer who wants to fly at reasonable rates with the ability to choose among a number of options would frequently have no practical choice but to surrender his/her personal details, details that can be used to target with higher fares those consumers believed to be less price sensitive, such as business travelers."  

In sum, Mitchell says, "consumers should not take any comfort from the expected assurance from IATA that they can always count on “vigorous competition among many airlines to assure them of a wide range of reasonably priced options” in an NDC environment."

"As the U.S. Department of Justice’s lawsuit of August 13, 2013 to block the merger of American Airlines and US Airways documents in detail, using the airlines’ own words, the airline industry has become uncompetitive and cozy, with airlines playing “follow the leader” in hiking prices, adding fees and cutting service, all to the detriment of consumers."



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