Airline CEO talk worries online travel agents, others

This may seem like an inside-the-airline-business story at first glance, another dispute between those who sell airline tickets and the carriers. But it really could affect the customer before we know it. A storm is brewing in relationships between airlines and  those who now sell the majority of their tickets -- the online travel agencies like Expedia, Travelocity and Vayama and the so-called GDS, or global distribution system, companies. The link is to a trade publication update to a story that first broke more than a week ago.

A little more background: the GDSs are the old "legacy" airline reservation systems, once owned by the carriers themselves but divested long ago over antitrust concerns that they gave the airlines too much market power. GDSs are now independent companies used by traditional travel agents. Both the agents, which for the most part no longer get commissions from the airlines for selling their tickets, and online agencies now have free access to the  inventory of available tickets in the airlines' reservation system.

But as the article says, two airline CEOs have suggested perhaps they should be charging for that access, paying fees that would be passed on to you, the customer. Southwest Airlines already has such an arrangement with one GDS.

What's the airlines' goal here: To get you to shop and book only on their own Web sites, where you may not see all of the inventory available. Watch for more developments on this topic.    

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