Sabre downgraded American Airlines information in its U.S. displays and is taking steps to renegotiate its distribution agreement with the airline.
In a notice to Sabre subscribers Wednesday morning, the GDS said, "We have provided AA notice that accelerates the termination date of our current agreement to the extent possible, culminating in early August. We are seeking a new agreement with AA that provides our customers long-term assurances of efficient comparison shopping."
Sabre did not describe in detail the extent of the changes in its display of AA content, but notified subscribers that the changes "alter the order in which some of American Airlines' flights appear in availability and shopping displays." The message said displays will not be revised in the E.U. or Canada because of GDS regulations in those markets.
American Airlines responded, "Sabre has taken a set of punitive actions against the airline and its customers, despite the fact that American has met all its obligations and continues to work in good faith with Sabre. The actions, which include biasing its shopping displays, are anti-consumer, anti-competitive and harmful to its subscribing agents."
Sabre's notice to subscribers, signed by Chris Kroeger, Sabre’s senior vice president for marketing, advised agents that "AA's stated plans regarding its 'Direct Connect strategy,' backed up by its recent actions, are an attempt to impose a costly, unproven and unnecessary system that would make it harder and more costly for you to operate your business."
Click here to read the full text of Sabre's letter, as relayed to Travel Weekly by a Sabre subscriber.
In response to Sabre's action against American, ASTA said, "The underlying concerns that have led to the open conflict between American and the online agencies 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 [American's direct-connect solution] will produce."
Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition, said the "future of low-cost travel distribution is at stake."
"Single-supplier direct-connect proposals, like the one advanced by American Airlines, can significantly increase costs for all distribution participants and cause massive fragmentation of airfares and ancillary fees, depriving consumers of the ability to compare the total cost of air travel options across all airlines," Mitchell said.
The BTC said the Sabre action "puts to rest that this battle, which began with AA’s unprovoked assault on Orbitz late last year, is not a skirmish between AA and online travel agencies, but rather an all-out war for the future of both airline and all travel distribution in the U.S. and around the world."
After winning a court decision against Orbitz, American removed its fares from Orbitz on Dec. 21, saying that Orbitz's distribution technology was inefficient and outdated.
Expedia soon followed by burying American's fares on its website, then removing AA's fares altogether on Jan. 1. Expedia said it stopped offering American’s fares because it objects to the airline’s direct-connect distribution strategy, which Expedia called "anti-consumer and anti-choice."
The report was edited early Wednesday afternoon to add reactions from ASTA and the BTC.
The report was edited late Wednesday afternoon to add American Airlines' response.