Technology Airlines test system to standardize access to a la carte fees By Dennis Schaal / April 26, 2009 Share 1 -- Amadeus agents, online travel agencies and metasearch engines are slated to get access to some optional airline services like checked bags and premium seats before the end of the year, as the carriers begin filing these products and services in a standardized way with the Airline Tariff Publishing Co.For travel agents, one immediate benefit might be an end to surfing airline websites to arrange for a client’s checked bags or lounge access. More broadly, if enough airlines decide to file their optional services with ATPCO for distribution to the GDSs and other channels, it could transform the way travel agents use the GDSs as well as the way consumers use online agencies and metasearch engines. Officials from ATPCO, the airline-owned entity that collects airline fare data and feeds them to the GDSs, said it finished coding the data after completing standards in December and currently is testing an optional-services solution with 13 domestic and international carriers, one GDS and one airline-pricing system.The feeds from participating airlines will be put into production or go live before the end of 2009, ATPCO officials said.ATPCO executives said they would meet in May in Miami with airlines, GDSs and other distributors to assess the progress of the optional-services tests and to map a strategy for a second solution, the filing of fare families, also known as branded fares.Travel Weekly learned independently that ATPCO and the airlines, which ATPCO declined to identify, are testing the optional services with Amadeus and ITA Software."I think it is a fundamental change in how airline products are retailed, and it affords great opportunities," said Robert Buckman, director of airline distribution strategies for Amadeus North America.Buckman said that in the fourth quarter, Amadeus will begin taking the feeds currently under test from ATPCO and making these optional services available to travel agents using the Amadeus desktop, known as the Amadeus Selling Platform. He said agents in the initial stage would be able to shop for an itinerary and view a "catalog" of ancillary services that carriers choose to make available.And, in the first half of 2010, agents would be able to go a step further and shop by attribute. In other words, when starting the search process for a Kennedy-O’Hare flight, agents would be able to specify whether their clients seek a premium seat, two checked bags or a paid meal and could view the results in a display that shows flights with these options, along with flights on which they are unavailable.Buckman said some carriers participating in the test may file optional services for internal use only, such as for their departure control systems or for reservations agents. Air Canada, for instance, currently can’t display its branded fares to its own res agents the way it can show them on AirCanada.com, and getting the optional-services data from ATPCO may help bridge that disparity, Buckman said. Travelport and Sabre have plans, tooWhile Amadeus is the only GDS testing the system with ATPCO, others plan implementation this year. Jill Brenner, a spokeswoman for Travelport GDS (includes Apollo, Galileo and Worldspan), said the company was doing development work with ATPCO and "expects to be able to take a production feed toward the end of the year."Sabre spokeswoman Nancy St. Pierre stated, "Sabre is actively working on industry standards and to enable this content into Sabre. We’ll share timelines of our plans when we believe it is appropriate."The availability of optional services goes beyond the travel agency channel, because Amadeus can distribute them to partners, including Expedia, eBookers, Opodo and LastMinute.com.ITA Software, in addition to powering airline sites such as Continental, United, American, US Airways and Alaska, can transmit these data to partners, including Hotwire and metasearch sites TripAdvisor, Kayak, FareCompare and Farecast.Gianni Marostica, chief commercial officer for ITA, said metasearch sites would be able to display optional services in a search results grid."It really gets you way down the path of personalized shopping," Marostica said.The advent of optional-services standards and the pending launch of ATPCO’s optional-services filing solution do not mean each GDS, airline or travel website will have to display these products in the same way. Instead, it means that they will have access to the data and each can construct differentiated displays."It’s a misnomer that’s out there that there is a one-size-fits-all," said Jay Brawley, ATPCO’s director of sales and customer service. "It’s a really flexible, robust tool for them [airlines] to decided who is going to get the service, when they get the service and how they get the service."