The Interactive Travel Services Association (ITSA) has endorsed the action taken by Southwest Airlines against Orbitz, the airline website owned by the five largest U.S. airlines, to protect millions of consumers from Orbitz` alleged unfair and deceptive practices.
Southwest Airlines filed a lawsuit Thursday in federal court in California against Orbitz.
The Southwest complaint heightens and reinforces many of the concerns about Orbitz raised by ITSA, Members of Congress, 24 state Attorneys General, and virtually all of the nation`s major consumer groups.
Orbitz` gross misrepresentations of Southwest`s fares, routes, and services, in some cases offering flights that are not scheduled, not published, or have been discontinued, destroy Orbitz` justification that it offers “superior technology.”
“If providing consumers with flights that are not scheduled is an example of Orbitz` superior technology, then consumers are in for the ride of their lives,” said Antonella Pianalto, Executive Director of ITSA. Orbitz posts Southwest`s published schedule and fares, but Southwest blocks it from selling the airline`s tickets or displaying Southwest`s online fares.
Southwest charged that Orbitz deceives consumers with its slogan that it offers “always the lowest fares,” because Southwest said it often charges lower fares on its own web site.
“We want to display our lowest fares on our own web site, which we have a significant investment in,” said Ron Ricks, Southwest`s vice president of government affairs. “It`s not in our interest to send customers to someone else`s business.”
Orbitz is based on a collusive agreement that specifically prohibits individual airlines from offering special fares exclusively on their own websites and to independent online travel service providers. “It is nothing but sheer gall for Orbitz to accuse Southwest of being `unfair and improper` by denying Orbitz access to its fares and for wanting to maintain its competitive independence,” said Pianalto.
Southwest sells about 30% of its tickets at its own web site, generating about $1.7 billion annually. Airline officials said they have blocked other web sites, including Travelocity and Expedia, from selling their tickets. “Most observers believe that the airline industry needs to be more competitive. Orbitz is a step in the wrong direction,” said Southwest general counsel James Parker, who is scheduled to become chief executive next month.
He accused Orbitz of making “misleading, untrue and harmful representations” about Southwest.
The American Society of Travel Agents protested that the site was part of a plan by airlines to drive agents out of business, and the Justice Department has been investigating possible anticompetitive implications of the airline-backed web site.
Chicago-based Orbitz has sold more than$1 million in airline, hotel and car-rental tickets since February and has 70,000 registered users although it won`t officially begin service until June.
ITSA will continue to work with the U.S. Department of Justice, the state Attorneys General and the Department of Transportation in their ongoing review of Orbitz. We encourage them to take those timely actions necessary to preserve competition and protect consumers.
ITSA is the trade association for the online travel services industry.