Mia Taylor

by Mia Taylor
Last updated: 7:25 PM ET, Tue December 5, 2023

The battle between the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) and American Airlines over the implementation and adoption of NDC booking technology continues to intensify.

At the moment, the two entities are at odds over how NDC is being rolled out and a complaint that’s before the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) about American Airlines withholding a portion of its tickets from travel agencies that have not begun using NDC.

Today, ASTA issued commentary accusing American Airlines of “intentionally misrepresenting its position on NDC to divert attention from the real problem.”

ASTA’s statement goes on to say that “American Airlines only wants one thing—to do away with intermediated comparative shopping.”

To provide some context, NDC is a technology that was created to enable a richer airline shopping experience for buyers. NDC allows ticket sales to be customized and personalized, allowing travel sellers to book seats, as well as premium seating, airport lounge passes, vegetarian meals, and more on a central platform.

Adoption of NDC represents is a significant change in the way travel sellers have been doing business for many years.
In addition, American Airlines had set a deadline for distribution channels to be able to connect to NDC. Several major industry organizations and other parties protested the deadline, but American persisted with the change.

For travel advisors to be NDC-ready they must have the ability to service bookings through the platform, which requires a relationship with one or more aggregators to access and service NDC transactions.

Earlier this summer, ASTA filed a complaint with the DOT alleging that American Airlines has caused significant harm to consumers, travel agencies, and travel management companies with its implementation of NDC.

In the draft complaint filed July 31 with the DOT, ASTA alleges that beginning last April,  American Airlines removed 40 percent of its own fare inventory from traditional or non-NDC booking channels.

“That action has resulted in substantially higher air ticket prices for consumers and frustrated TMCs and their clients in fulfilling the duty of care owed to business travelers,” ASTA said in a statement released at the time.

ASTA further explained in its complaint to the DOT that the travel industry as a whole was, and remains, largely unprepared to fully adopt NDC.

“While NDC may hold much promise for the future of air ticketing, the impact of its adoption on the entire air ticket distribution ecosystem – and in the manner imposed on the industry by AA – can scarcely be overstated,” says the complaint.

Latest Developments in the Dispute

Fast forward to today’s statement issued by ASTA and the organization says that American Airlines is acting in its own “financial self-interest.” 

ASTA’s latest comments on the matter come on the heels of American Airlines filing its response to the DOT complaint. In its response, American Airlines called the ASTA complaint “a frivolous compilation of rhetoric and unsupported allegations.” The airline has asked the DOT to dismiss the complaint. The airline also said “consumers should not be held hostage to old technology by those agencies that are choosing not to make that investment.”

In its filing, the airline also said that NDC “makes it possible for American to offer more options to consumers at lower prices and with better service.”

ASTA had the following to say about the American Airlines response:

“Claiming that consumers asked for NDC is like Apple claiming consumers asked that no wall charger be included with new iPhones. We may have to live with it, but we certainly didn’t ask for it,” says today’s ASTA statement.

ASTA said it believes in letting the customer have a choice in how they shop, (rather than forcing consumers to purchase directly from AA.com), noting that consumers want the ability to compare carriers, and flight options, on value, price and schedule.

ASTA said it does not dispute that significant changes to the merchandizing of air tickets are well underway. But suggested that such progress should not come at the expense of consumers or travel agencies who want “channel parity in fares and servicing capabilities.”

“By driving customers to [the American Airlines] website and bypassing the agency distribution channel, American Airlines effectively denies both leisure and corporate travelers the value they derive from their trusted travel advisors in this increasingly complex travel world,” said the ASTA statement. “Presupposing that all of our shared customers would prefer to purchase their air tickets directly versus through a trusted travel agency or TMC is, simply put, imperious.”

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