Agents welcome American Airlines’ NDC transition U-turn

Agents and travel management companies (TMCs) in the UK and US have welcomed American Airlines’ retreat from its unilateral adoption of new distribution capability (NDC) technology.

The airline performed a U-turn last week with chief executive Robert Isom confirming: “Our approach has driven customers away from American.”

The carrier withdrew many of its fares from global distribution systems last year, making full content available only via online-enabled NDC channels despite many agents and TMCs lacking access to or encountering difficulties in servicing NDC bookings.


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American, US partner of British Airways, planned to increase the pressure by restricting air miles and loyalty points to NDC bookings.

But Isom outlined a wholesale retreat last week after admitting American had lost agency customers, saying: “We’re going to do a lot more to try to bring people along with us and make sure our product is available wherever customers want to buy it.

“We’re reviewing everything on agency and corporate relations – including how we pay agencies.”

The American Society of Travel Advisors (Asta) hailed the airline’s turnaround as “recognition of the essential role travel advisors play”.

President and chief executive Zane Kerby said: “Reversing the decision is testament to the firm position travel agencies hold in airline distribution. We were able to activate thousands of advisors and their customers.”

Kerby said he looks forward “to working with American Airlines on a responsible implementation of its NDC programme”.

Asta had argued American’s NDC technology “was under-developed” and accused the carrier of “anti-competitive behaviour” in a complaint to the US Department of Transportation. Kerby highlighted “problems with basic functions such as comparative shopping, split tickets, cancellations, booking multiple people, and rebooking”.

In the UK, The Advantage Travel Partnership also welcomed the move. Managing director for global business travel Andrea Caulfield-Smith said: “The news will be very well-received [by TMCs]. The acknowledgment of the challenges of servicing NDC transactions is refreshing to hear.”

Speaking at a Business Travel Association conference in March, BA head of distribution Sam Robinson said: “We’re on the same journey [as American] as a joint business. We’re aligned in where we want to get to, but how we get there will be different.”

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