Court stops Sabre from biasing American Airlines fares

By Jeri Clausing

American Airlines won a temporary restraining order Monday barring Sabre from biasing its listing of American Airlines flights in its GDS.

The order was granted after the airline filed a lawsuit in Tarrant County, Texas, claiming the actions taken by Sabre last week violate agreements between the two parties and harm American, the travel agent community and the traveling public.

"We are gratified that after a contested hearing, the court has granted American’s request for interim relief, to be in effect until the court considers American’s request for longer-term relief," American said in a statement.

The airline is in the midst of a growing dispute with online travel agencies and GDSs over American's attempts to change its distribution model.

American said the court’s order prohibits Sabre from "continuing its recently announced practice of intentionally making it difficult for American’s agents and customers from finding and purchasing American services in the Sabre global distribution system. American intends to vigorously pursue its litigation against Sabre, including seeking damages for other violations of our agreements."

The dispute began when American tried to force Orbitz to use its Direct Connect system. According to OTAs and GDSs, the new system will reduce segment fees and incentives, and reduce transparency of search results.

American pulled fares from Orbitz on Dec. 21. Expedia soon after joined the fray, burying AA fares on Expedia.com then pulling all of American’s content on Jan. 1.

Last week, the stakes escalated substantially when Sabre joined the battle against American, downgrading the airline's listings. Sabre also revoked American’s segment fee discounts and stated an intent to renegotiate its contract with American or terminate it.

Sabre said it will vigorously defend its actions.

"Sabre is confident that our actions are well within our contractual rights, and we will aggressively defend against American Airlines’ baseless claims to the contrary," said Nancy St. Pierre, Sabre spokeswoman. "We are confident that the court will affirm Sabre’s contractual right to protect our customers’ interests and support airlines that value transparent and efficient comparison shopping."

The court’s decision to grant the temporary restraining order was applauded by the Association of Retail Travel Agents.

"This is good news indeed for all Sabre subscribers and assures that AA content will continue to be accessible efficiently and without obstacle, said Sally Watkins, ARTA's vice chairwoman.

Bruce Bishins, ARTA Canada's president, said Sabre was "mixing itself into a dispute in which it had no involvement other than to backstop support for other GDSs which moved against AA. The end result, as we predicted, would be that travel agents suffer as a result of GDSs making AA data more difficult to find."

Amadeus has not entered the fray but said it was reviewing its airline contracts in light of the dispute over Direct Connect.

"The 'direct connect' model only promotes fragmentation, raises costs and creates inefficiencies across the travel industry distribution chain," Amadeus said in a statement. "And for travelers, a direct-connect approach will result in higher fares, fewer options and the elimination of true transparency in their air travel."

This report was updated Tuesday morning with comments from Sabre and ARTA.

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