He said he didn't find the grid confusing.
For now, he said, AA Direct Connect displays the same basic price and schedule information as a global distribution system. But in the future, it will look more like American's website, with many options.
"Our website is pointing toward the future," he said.
One day, he said, you may start your online airfare search at sites such as Orbitz by entering not only your destinations and dates, but also options such as checking bags and getting in-flight Internet and priority boarding. Your search might call up, for instance, $215 for an American fare that included all these options and $219 for a United Airlines fare that did the same.
American is not the only airline with multiple fare categories tied to services. Southwest Airlines, which has long withheld its fares from online travel agencies, offers three on its website: "Business Select," "Anytime" and "Wanna Getaway." Australia's Qantas offers up to 12 fare categories covering five types of services.
But American, which has several global distribution systems contracts coming up for negotiation this year, has been the most vocal airline in challenging the traditional ways of doing business, and it sees itself as leader.
"We expect competitors and other folks, as their contracts expire, to probably go through a similar thing," Mikolasik said. "We expect them for now to sit back and say: 'Thanks, American, for plowing the road.'"
At the end of that road lie many unanswered questions, said Douglas Quinby, senior director of research for PhoCusWright Inc., a company based in Sherman, Conn., that studies the travel industry.
"As more airlines unbundle, rebundle and merchandise, how will agents and consumers be able to compare offers, when apples to apples become peanuts to pineapples?" he asked. "Agencies and consumers have good reason to be concerned."