Airlines push for system to sell more than just a seat

A trade group for the world’s airlines is pushing to modernize a decades-old booking system to help speed along the latest airline trend: the sale of customized fare packages.

Behind the effort is the International Air Transport Assn., the trade group for about 240 of the world’s largest airlines. The group filed an application with the U.S. Department of Transportation last week to upgrade the computer system used by travel agents and online travel sites such as Orbitz and Travelocity.


The group wants the ability to sell more than just a seat on a plane. Most airlines can now offer, through their own websites, customized packages that include such extras as upgraded seats, early boarding and onboard drinks for one total price.

The trade group says the 40-year-old computer system used by travel agents and travel websites is so antiquated, it can provide only simple flight schedules and fares.


The proposed upgraded system would also let airlines identify ticket buyers through loyalty reward numbers or other information in order to sell personalized deals.

“If you are an airline, you don’t know what your customer is buying until after the purchase is done,” said Perry Flint, a spokesman for Geneva-based IATA.

The existing system cannot, for example, offer American Airlines’ special deal called Choice Plus. The deal includes an economy seat, one checked bag, a drink, early boarding and no charge to change flights.

American Airlines offers the deal through its own website.


Critics of the proposal worry that it will require passengers to give up personal data and make it harder to easily compare fares between airlines.

Kevin Mitchell, president of the Business Travel Coalition, an advocacy group for business travelers, called the proposal “nothing less than an ill-considered public- and government-relations nightmare.”

Flint disagreed, saying passengers would still be able to compare fares and would not be obligated to give personal information.

“This is a standard that we are putting out,” he said. “It’s up to the market to put it in use.”


IATA hopes to begin testing the new system next month and, if all goes well, have it offered on a widespread basis by 2016, Flint said.


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