Travel

Ticket-Sale Feud May Lift Airfares

The feud between American Airlines and the travel websites Orbitz and Expedia has business travel managers worried that the dispute may end up making plane tickets cost more.

It all started last year when American Airlines yanked its ticket sales from Orbitz to save on the commissions and fees it pays to sell tickets through travel websites. Expedia jumped into the fray by withholding American Airlines ticket information from its site.

At the heart of the quarrel is a revenue-sharing arrangement among the airline, the travel website and the global distribution systems that dole out ticket information.

The bottom line is that American wants travelers to buy directly from its website, where it won't have to pay a third party and can encourage travelers to buy seat upgrades and extra goodies such as lounge access and fast check-in services. Industry analysts expect other airlines to follow American's example.

But nearly 90 percent of business travel managers expect higher travel costs if that shift occurs throughout the airline industry, according to a poll of 244 travel managers conducted by the Global Business Travel Assn., a trade group for travel professionals. The travel managers say the current online ticketing system makes it easier to compare prices and negotiate rates.

"Business travel buyers have spoken, and they overwhelmingly indicate that the 'direct connect' approach for airfare distribution is a pricey strategy that will result in higher costs for companies," said Mike McCormick, executive director of the association.

American Airlines disagrees, saying travel costs will go down if airlines eliminate the online distribution systems that act as middlemen.

Said airline spokesman Ryan Mikolasik: "The current system already adds unnecessary costs to the business travel industry as a whole."

Upgraded scans show no 'nudity'

Airport scanners that create naked-looking images of screened passengers may soon be a thing of the past.

The Transportation Security Administration announced last week that it is testing a software upgrade that changes the way the scanners depict objects hidden under clothing.

Instead of creating what looks like a naked image of the screened passenger, the new software has the scanners point out any anomaly, such as a foreign lump under the clothes, on a gender-neutral avatar shown on a screen.

If tests go well at airports in Las Vegas, Atlanta and Washington, the upgraded system could be used nationwide within six months, said Tom Ripp, president of L-3 Communications Holdings Inc.'s Security and Detection Group. L-3 developed nearly half of the 500 scanners used nationwide.

Ripp said a similar software program has been used on L-3 scanners in Europe for the last year.

The goal of the new software, he said, was to address complaints that the scanners violate the privacy rights of passengers.

But the upgrade has not appeased the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a Washington nonprofit that sued the TSA in November to halt the use of the scanners. Ginger McCall, an attorney for the group, said she wants proof that the scanners can't record and store "naked" images despite the software upgrade.

Still, McCall said, the upgrade indicates "the TSA has felt substantial pressure, and they feel the need to make some changes."

Is the hotel truly on the beach?

For more than 40 years, Australian John Everingham has made a name for himself as a top-notch freelance photographer based in Southeast Asia.

Hotel owners occasionally would hire him to take photos to make it appear as if their hotels were right on the beach instead of a few blocks away.

Last week, Everingham launched www.thebeachfrontclub.com, a website that uses GPS technology and satellite photos to confirm whether a hotel is directly on the sand.

"I used to be part of the problem, and now I want to be on the outside, making it better," he said in a phone interview from his home in Bangkok, Thailand. The website now includes 7,500 verified beachside hotels, and Everingham said he is adding new hotel data every day.

"Now," he said, "you can use technology to tell people the absolute truth."

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