After a several million dollar effort, the Airlines Reporting Corp. says it will be ready in early November to handle airline and travel agency processing of Electronic Miscellaneous Documents for the reporting and settlement of optional services.
This development, coupled with the Airline Tariff Publishing Co.'s completion of fare-filing standards for optional services at around the same time, has been the much-anticipated missing link to getting bag fees, lounge access, on-board meals and Wi-Fi out of the narrow realm of airline-only channels and into the broader GDS and travel agency market.
Some travel distributors, including Sabre and Farelogix, say they are close to being able to handle EMDs, which are an IATA-developed standard.
But for all the expenditures, staff hours, analysis, coding and other development work, only a couple of airlines have committed to implementing EMDs through ARC and a "very limited" number of airlines are testing it, says Mike Premo, ARC's vice president of marketing, sales and customer care.
American Airlines is known to be considering implementation of EMDs for bag fees through Farelogix and this would be the first time that passengers would be able to pre-pay for bag fees on American.
However, even if American follows through on its plan, it won't likely happen in 2010.
Cory Garner, American's director of merchandising strategy, says the airline will not implement EMDs through Farelogix this year.
"We are testing EMDs and have plans to implement them, but our timeline is not, and has not, been the same as that of ARC," Garner says. "We are not in a position to talk publicly about specific optional services or their timing. Suffice it to say that our plans are unchanged and we continue to make good progress toward our launch."
There certainly are remaining technical barriers for distributing optional services to intermediaries and the Open AXIS Group, for one, sees its mission as developing XML standards for airline merchandising.
But there is no huge incentive for airlines to implement EMDs for optional services at this juncture because, as Premo puts it, today they already are collecting fees for optional services from consumers on carrier websites and at airline ticket counters.
The process is not as efficient as it can be and collecting fees for ancillary services in the current manner wreaks havoc with travel management company and corporate expense reporting, but airlines today still are making huge bucks on optional services.
Over the long term, the main impediment to wider distribution of optional services and implementation of EMDs probably is more of a commercial than a technical issue.
Negotiations between major U.S. airlines and GDSs will take place in 2011 and if there is a green light to distribute airline ancillary services through online and traditional travel agency channels, it likely will be the consequence of successful contract talks.