American Airlines has hit back against the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA).
In a new response to ASTA’s complaint to the Department of Transportation (DOT) over American’s NDC implementation, American said that ASTA’s pushback is not an attempt to protect consumers, but rather an attempt to slow the pace of innovation in the industry in order to protect a small percentage of agencies.
American, which filed the response with the DOT last week, said that its move toward NDC makes it possible for the airline to offer “more options to consumers at lower prices and with better service,” and that ASTA’s complaint is “frivolous” as the move is more consumer-friendly than ASTA has represented.
Consumers are more satisfied with the NDC-enable technology, rather than the older, EDIFACT technologies that have been in use since the 1970s, American said.
“And for good reason: customers who are given more information can select what they value and they understand what they are buying. When products align with expectations, customers are inevitably more satisfied,” American wrote.
The complaint accuses ASTA of slowing the pace of innovation in order to protect agencies who have not yet invested or prepared to invest, in the new technology.
“For them, familiar was preferable to better, in part, because staying with old technologies made it unnecessary to invest in advancing their technology, even if it failed to meet consumer expectations and even as American invested in the technology to meet those expectations. But other, more forward-thinking travel agencies and companies have invested and support American’s drive to improve technology.”
American also specifically called out the differences in information between its NDC channels and the EDIFACTS-based technology, including giving NDC users the ability to tailor a booking by adding amenities, including checked bags or Wi-Fi, or bundling upgrade options.
Background and response
American sprung its move on the industry in April, when it rolled out NDC content on Sabre, despite concerns from the travel industry.
ASTA’s pushback had been that the industry was unprepared for the move and that American’s timeline was akin to bullying its distribution partners. ASTA had wanted American to wait until the end of 2023 to make the move, giving the industry more time in the run-up to the shift.
American, for its part, dismissed that complaint and said that “NDC is not new anymore” and that 80% of its revenue comes from NDC channels, including over 50% of indirect sales from agencies.
ASTA submitted its official complaint with the DOT in August, alleging that American’s move was negative for all parties involved—consumers, advisors, and TMCs—because of the “manner imposed on the industry.”
As part of the complaint, ASTA’s Zane Kerby wrote in a letter to Jonathan Kanter, the Assistant Attorney General, of Antitrust Division at the DOT, and Amanda N. Liskamm, Director of, Consumer Protection Branch at the DOT, that antitrust issues should also be considered with the NDC adoption.
American also hit back on that, writing that evidence, including falling fares amidst record levels of demand, shows the industry is “relentlessly competitive” and that stakeholders, including airlines, should be free to make choices “that respond to consumer demands,” even though it may leave some agencies behind.
“American is bringing a modern e-commerce experience to all its customers, whether they buy direct or through authorized travel agencies. As a result, customers are getting better products and services. These procompetitive efforts are the antithesis of deceptive or illegal conduct. Consumers should not be held hostage to old technology by those agencies that are choosing not to make that investment,” American wrote.
“In a properly functioning market, participants, including airlines and travel agencies, should be free to make choices that respond to consumer demands and expectations. American is bringing a modern e-commerce experience to all its customers, whether they buy direct or through authorized travel agencies. As a result, customers are getting better products and services.
"These procompetitive efforts are the antithesis of deceptive or illegal conduct. Consumers should not be held hostage to old technology by those agencies that are choosing not to make that investment,” it added.
In a statement to TMR on Monday, a spokesperson for ASTA said "we are carefully reviewing AA’s response to our complaint filed at the Department of Transportation. At first glance, there’s a lot to refute, and we plan to do so forcefully in the coming days."