For the past month, American Airlines' fares have been absent in Kayak's search results, as the two companies press on with their disagreement about the way Kayak presents fares. American objected to Kayak's practice of sending customers to third-party online travel agents to purchase American fares, and asked Kayak to send those customers to AA.com only. Kayak responded by removing AA from its listings.
The airlines have now traded lawsuits, with American saying Kayak violated agreements and Kayak citing financial damages and alleging American knowingly made false statements that harmed Kayak's present and future business. When this dispute first broke, I came down squarely on Kayak's side, because American came across as an out-of-touch bully trying to control an evolving industry it didn't understand.
However, as our sister site Airfarewatchdog.com points out, those third-party sites to which Kayak directed customers generally charge $5 to $7 more (in booking fees) than the same fare on AA.com. For me, this makes Kayak's claim that American's move was "a step backwards for consumers" a bit hollow.
There sure is an interesting discussion to be had on the legality and ethics of the situation, but what really matters to consumers is that American's prices won't be displayed on Kayak any time soon. The bigger issue, however, and something smart consumers should keep an eye on, is what this disagreement does to customers' ability to compare fares going forward.
Fare comparison has become a big part of the online travel industry in the last five or seven years (I must say our own fare-comparison tool is pretty good), and quite frankly has made the booking process much easier for flyers searching for a deal. If this conflict weakens fare-comparison sites across the Web by dissuading or outright preventing them from showing airline and third-party prices side-by-side, we could be truly taking a step backward. And that is good for precisely no one.