American Airlines ends tie to online travel giant Orbitz

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The Independent Travel

American Airlines has severed its decade-long ties to online travel giant Orbitz, in a move that experts said could shake up the global travel industry if other airlines follow its lead.

For weeks, American has been embroiled in a dispute with Chicago-based Orbitz and its corporate parent, Travelport, after announcing that it no longer would allow its flights and fares to be posted on the popular ticket-buying site.

In November, a Chicago judge issued a temporary restraining order preventing the number-three US airline from canceling its ties to Orbitz.

But on Tuesday, the court allowed the restraining order to expire, freeing American to end the relationship.

Other online travel sites are not affected by move, the company said.

Orbitz said American made up about five percent, some 28.8 million dollars, of the 575.1 million dollars in net revenue it generated during the first nine months of 2010.

Orbitz was one of a handful of Internet travel sites that revolutionized how American consumers shop for flights, by consolidating airfares from several airlines all on one site, allowing passengers to easily shop for the best bargains.

The airline recently indicated, however, that it wants to take greater control of how it sells tickets and other goods and services to online travel agencies.

American hopes to convince future online ticketing clearinghouses to use an electronic pipeline of its own creation, called AA Direct Connect.

Consumer advocates warned that if other airline carriers follow suit in sidestepping the industry's online travel websites - which, in addition to Orbitz include Expedia and Priceline - passengers could lose a powerful money-saving tool.

"This is simply a heavy-handed attempt by American Airlines to prevent consumers from easily searching and comparing its fares against those of other airlines," said Charlie Leocha, director of the non-profit Consumer Travel Alliance.

"American appears to have no idea why we fly. We fly to get from point A to point B in the most convenient and cost-effective manner possible.

"We don't fly to be manipulated by proprietary airline reservation systems that limit our choices, prevent comparison shopping and hide the real cost of travel," he said in a statement.

The criticism was echoed by another travel non-profit, the Business Travel Coalition.

"As soon as the information isn't all there, you can't compare apples to apples - the complete costs of all the offers in the marketplace," said Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the group which represents corporate travelers.

"That will absolutely drive all the fares up," he said.