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Airlines Push for New Global Booking System

The booking systems in use by travel agents and OTAs don’t give flyers the chance to purchase for-fee extras sold by the airlines. And that needs to change, according to (no surprise here) the airlines.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), a trade group that represents 240 airlines, filed an application with the Department of Transportation (DOT) calling for an improved global airfare-booking system. In short, the group wants to enable travelers to purchase extras and ancillaries—from airline snacks to checked bags—when buying airfare through online and brick-and-mortar travel agencies. IATA calls this new initiative “New Distribution Capability,” or NDC.

When you buy plane tickets on sites like Expedia or Orbitz, you may have noticed that some of the options normally available directly on airline websites, such as premium economy seating, Wi-Fi, meals, or early boarding, don’t appear. This is because the decades-old Global Distribution Services (GDS) systems used by OTA’s don’t have the ability to offer more custom fare packages.

For example, when booking a ticket with JetBlue through the airline’s website, I have the option to purchase Even More Space seats (at $30 each way for a flight from Boston to Orlando) or Even More Speed (expedited security for an extra 10 bucks). These choices and ones like them aren’t available through OTAs.

In a press release issued by IATA, Director General and CEO Tony Tyler gave this statement: “Agents have been unable to easily see important product characteristics such as the availability of Wi-Fi or seat features. And it is difficult to distinguish pricing alternatives like fares with fewer restrictions on travel changes. Consumers can already find all of this on airline websites. NDC will make the same choices—and future innovations—available wherever consumers choose to buy their travel products.”

Not everyone agrees that NDC will help consumers, though. According to a report from Travel Agent Central, Kevin Mitchell of the Business Travel Coalition (BTC) warns that airlines intend to use the modified booking system to cull personal data from passengers and issue prices accordingly. Mitchell said, “The personal information includes—but is expressly said not to be limited to—name, age, nationality, contact details, frequent flyer numbers, whether the purpose of the trip is business or leisure, prior shopping, purchase and travel history and marital status. This information can be used to extract higher prices from less price-sensitive consumers—such as business travelers.” The BTC wants airline executives to rethink the New Distribution Capability initiative.

Do you think the DOT should approve IATA’s initiative?

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