So was American Airlines shocked by the vehemence of the opposition to its direct-connect strategy?
Bella Goren, CFO of parent company AMR Corp., said that the difficulty in achieving the airline's distribution objectives was "not a total surprise," although some of the actions taken by opponents allegedly were prohibited by contract.
Among the actions, Sabre and Travelport boosted fees on some American Airlines' bookings, Sabre de-preferenced the airline's flights in the GDS, and Expedia first biased the American flight displays and then removed them outright.
Asked during a conference call Jan. 19 on American's fourth quarter 2010 earnings if the airline might retreat from its long-term direct-connect strategy given the short-term pain, Goren said that is not worth speculating about.
As American Airlines pursues its direct-connect strategy and its bid to build more-customized products and services for its passengers, the airline expressed confidence that things will utlimately turn out well.
Gerard Arpey, the chairman and CEO of AMR Corp., said the airline wants to work constructively with all of its travel agency and GDS partners.
"I think in the end we can have potentially a good result for everyone," Arpey said.
American officials declined to detail the revenue impact of its battles with Sabre, Expedia, Orbitz and Travelport over the airline's direct-connect thrust.
CFO Goren did say that load factors for advanced booking in the first quarter of 2011 are "in line" with load factors in the year-ago period, but as one analyst pointed out, that says little about whether these load factors were achieved with high fares or low fares.
Goren said that the airline has seen a "positive trend" since the disputes broke out in terms of traffic to AA.com.
And, Goren noted that the temporary restraining order barring Sabre from biasing American's flights in the GDS would remain in place at least until Feb. 14, the new hearing date on the issue.
Previously, the hearing had been scheduled for Jan. 24.
Arpey emphasized that American's distribution strategy was years in the making and that in addition to trying to lower distribution costs, the airline is trying to boost revenue by obtaining a more direct relationship with customers and creating customized products and services.
Arpey said the airline wants a closer relationship with travel agents "and the folks riding our planes."
Much is at stake for American Airlines in the current battle.
Goren said the airline's annual distribution costs, including GDS and credit card fees, as well as commissions, are around $1 billion.
For the fourth quarter of 2010, American Airlines recorded a net loss of $97 million, on $4.2 billion in revenue, a 10.5% increase. The net loss in the fourth quarter of 2009 was $344 million.