Court orders American to list flights on Orbitz

/ Source: The Associated Press

An Illinois court ordered American Airlines to post and sell flights on Orbitz again Wednesday, more than five months after the airline pulled its listings from the online travel agency's websites.

Orbitz's majority owner, Travelport Ltd., said Wednesday that the Cook County circuit court decided it had erred in not stopping American from pulling its listings in December.

Orbitz Worldwide Inc. spokesman Brian Hoyt called the decision a win for consumer choice.

American Airlines spokesman Ryan Mikolasik said the ruling was "the exact opposite conclusion than that of the judge who heard the evidence." He said American was considering its next move but would comply with the order.

The ruling was the latest twist in a fight among airlines, travel agents and middlemen known as global distribution systems over how information about fares and schedules is provided to travel agencies and their customers.

Earlier Wednesday, American and Sabre Holdings Corp., which owns the Travelocity website, escalated their part of the dispute as American added Sabre as a defendant in a lawsuit it filed in April and Sabre responded.

The dispute is between airlines and the global distribution systems, or GDS, which take flight information and provide it to Travelocity, Orbitz and brick-and-mortar travel agencies. The middlemen earn fees when travel agents use the information to help customers book a flight.

For a time, American's flights didn't appear on either Orbitz or the much larger travel reservation site Expedia Inc., but American and Expedia settled their differences in April.

Although many consumers now book flights online, others — especially business travelers — still use travel agents who rely on Sabre and other so-called global distribution systems.

Sabre responded to being added Wednesday to American's suit by saying that American is illegally trying to force travel agents to get flight information from it rather than distributors. Sabre said American is trying to eliminate competition by driving distributors out of business.

American said Sabre and Travelport control more than 90 percent of bookings made by U.S.-based travel agencies and use their power to block competition from the airlines. American filed the amended lawsuit in U.S. district court in Fort Worth, Texas. It is seeking unspecified damages.

The U.S. Justice Department is investigating possible antitrust violations by the distribution companies.