Group Backs Southwest Airlines, Opposes Orbitz
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The Interactive Travel Services Association (ITSA) endorsed Southwest Airlines today in its battle to halt Orbitz, citing consumer protection and accusing the five major airline-owned company of unfair and deceptive practices.
On Friday, InternetNews.com reported that Dallas-based Southwest Airlines filed a false advertising and unfair competition lawsuit against the new Orbitz.com travel Web site, which is sponsored by a consortium of rival airlines including American, United, Northwest, Delta and Continental.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in California, claims Orbitz, which is up in beta, uses proprietary information with respect to Southwest's fares and schedules without Southwest's permission.
In an interview with ITSA, Antonella Pianalto, executive director of the online travel industry trade association, said the Southwest complaint was appropriate and heightens and reinforces many of the concerns about Orbitz raised by ITSA, members of Congress and 24 state Attorneys General.
Pianalto said Orbitz misrepresented Southwest's fares, routes, and services and used the competing airline's logo without its permission to pretend to offer lower rates to consumers.
"It is nothing but sheer gall for Orbitz to accuse Southwest of being 'unfair and improper' by denying Orbitz access to its fares and for wanting to maintain its competitive independence.
The five owners [airlines backing Orbitz] do not have a good history with customer service or of watching out for the consumer. We worry that the consumer will get hurt ultimately," said Pianalto.
Carol Jouzaitis, a spokesperson for Orbitz, disagreed calling ITSA a lobbying front group for Travelocity and Expedia.
"We are lawfully displaying fares and schedules that Southwest makes available. We comply precisely with those rules. We offered to talk with Southwest and they chose to sue. It's clear that Southwest just doesn't want their publicly advertised fares on other sites.
We think consumers should be able to shop and compare. No consumer wants to go to twenty different airline sites," she said adding that Orbitz has stopped using Southwest's logo on its site.
ITSA denied it was "an online watchdog of the travel industry." James Hornthal, ITSA's president, is the vice chair of Travelocity, a competing online travel site.
Pianalto said ITSA continues to work "to educate" the U.S. Department of Justice, the state Attorneys General and the Department of Transportation in their ongoing review of Orbitz, citing the need to protect consumers.
In March the Department of Transportation said it would take a hands-off approach regarding the matter until Orbitz' June launch date.
"We see this as a yellow light," Pianalto said regarding the Department of Transportation's interest in the matter.