American Airlines and Orbitz tangle over fees and booking process

Do you use Orbitz to book flights on American Airlines? Well, your online travel buying habits may have to change. American is getting tough with Orbitz – and other online travel agencies – about how they do business together. For now, you can keep buying tickets on American via Orbitz, but a change could come as early as December 1, 2010.

The rhetoric is already high, as you can see in a recent Bloomberg report. Barney Hartford, the CEO of Orbits, said, “This is a broad attack by American on the travel distribution landscape.” The airline wants the likes of Orbitz to pull flight and fare info directly, rather than through a global distribution system.

So, is this all saber-rattling, or are American’s threats to pull out of Orbitz real. Bloomberg reports:

American can’t afford to pull its content off all the global distribution systems, and its conflict with Orbitz is a “private negotiation that suddenly became public,” said Jay Sorensen, president of aviation consultant Ideaworks and a former marketing director at Midwest Airlines.

Sorensen said he doesn’t “see an agenda here for American to remake the travel industry.” He indicated that this is part of a prudent negotiating strategy but noted that Orbitz may call the carrier’s bluff.

There’s a lot at stake – hundreds of millions of dollars, in fact. American has paid nine-figure sums to companies like Sabre and Galileo to gain access to online travel agencies and wouldn’t mind bypassing them and saving a few bucks, it seems.

So, will negotiations turn into a game of “chicken” as the end of the month approaches? Let’s wait and see how this develops.

[Via USA Today, photo by Deanster1983 via Flickr]