Airline Escalates War of Words with Orbitz

Vanguard Airlines (Nasdaq: VNGD) accused Orbitz late Wednesday of making false statements regarding a dispute over booking Vanguard flights, and again recommended that customers avoid using the Internet travel site.

On Tuesday, Orbitz said that Vanguard has colluded with other parties to protect the interests of computer reservations system Sabre (NYSE: TSG), a part-owner of Orbitz rival (Nasdaq: TVLY).

Meanwhile, Vanguard — which says it was one of the original carriers to sign on with Orbitz — has charged that Orbitz has not accurately displayed Vanguard flight information on its site.

“Unfortunately for the traveling public, the response of Orbitz to Vanguard’s complaints appears to be to confound the issue and bad-mouth Vanguard, rather than to admit possible deficiencies in its own system,” Vanguard said Wednesday.

Booking Review

“Until these problems can be resolved, we recommend that Vanguard Airlines customers book directly through their local travel agents or directly through Vanguard Airlines,” the Kansas City, Missouri-based airline added. “Vanguard flights can also be booked using other online agencies, which are not experiencing the same problems in accurately booking Vanguard flights.”

Orbitz spokesperson Stacey Spencer told the E-Commerce Times on Thursday that Orbitz’ position has not changed, adding that “overall, what it comes down to is that we have every intention of working with Vanguard to try to rectify this problem.”

However, both parties continue to disagree over the cause of the dispute, which began earlier this month when consumers experienced problems booking Vanguard flights through Orbitz.

Fault Lines

“Some Orbitz customers have been affected by the fact that Vanguard showed available seats on flights to Orbitz and then rejected those sales after ticketing confirmation,” Orbitz said Tuesday.

“We are trying to set something up with Vanguard to go through what the problems have been on their end and to solve it,” Spencer said Thursday. “We don’t even know the full scope of the problem.”

In its most recent statement, Vanguard shifted the blame.

“Because other Web travel sites and travel agencies have no problem accurately finding and booking Vanguard fares, Vanguard believes the problem is with Orbitz’s own system,” the airline said.

Fees Squeeze

Vanguard has also bristled at the suggestion by Orbitz that the airline “appears to have joined a confederation of parties that have aligned to protect Sabre’s interests in extracting oligopoly rents from airlines in the form of excessively high booking fees,” dating back to April, when Vanguard signed a technology contract with Sabre.

“Frankly, we’re not quite sure what Orbitz means by this statement,” Vanguard said, “but Vanguard is not a party to any alleged ‘confederation.'”

Communication Gap

Orbitz and Vanguard have not even been able to agree on whether executives from the two companies have spoken or attempted to speak with each other.

On Tuesday, Orbitz said that despite repeated attempts to contact Vanguard executives, “Vanguard has been unresponsive and did not inform Orbitz of any ongoing issues. Any statement to the contrary is simply not correct.”

Subsequently, Vanguard made a statement to the contrary.

“Several executives and employees of Vanguard have repeatedly advised Orbitz of the problem and sought Orbitz’s assistance in resolving the problem,” Vanguard said.

Air Waves

Orbitz, which is controlled by five airlines that account for a combined 85 percent of the U.S. airline market, became a lightning rod for controversy long before its June launch.

Competitors in the lucrative online travel market raised concerns that the site will monopolize the sector, and Orbitz had to undergo a U.S. government review that ended without action being taken by regulators.

Orbitz is also being sued by Southwest, which alleged that the site provided “false and misleading” information about Southwest’s flight schedules, rates and fares, and that it is using Southwest’s proprietary scheduling information without permission.

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