With a June 2 tipping point looming, American Airlines filed a request for a status conference with the Texas court handling its litigation with Sabre.
The airline told the court it sent a letter to Sabre May 6 to determine whether the GDS will remove American's flights, bias them or charge higher booking fees starting June 2.
American says Sabre responded May 17, but "declined to specify its plans."
"Absent any assurances from Sabre, American has no choice but to prepare to protect itself from similar actions by Sabre after June 1, potentially necessitating the intervention of the Court," American's status conference request states.
On Jan. 26, after Sabre had biased American's flights in the GDS and American had sued Sabre and won a temporary restraining order barring such actions, the two parties agreed to revert to the pre-January status quo, return to the bargaining table and stay their litigation through June 1.
With that deadline looming and with negotiations on a new full-content agreement deadlocked, all bets are off June 1. And, the current full-content agreement, which actually is an amendment to the underlying and ongoing participating carrier agreement, expires Aug. 31.
Given that American booked around $7 billion in sales through Sabre in 2010, saw its booking fees doubled during the skirmish in January with the GDS, and read a Sabre communication to customers Jan. 5 indicating Sabre had "initiated termination of our global distribution agreement with AA," American is understandably nervous about what will transpire June 2.
Nancy St. Pierre, a Sabre spokeswoman, noted yesterday that Sabre indicated in a May email to travel agencies and corporations "that Sabre had no intention or desire to pull AA's content out of the Sabre system. We have a full-content agreement with AA that runs through Aug. 31."
St. Pierre, however, declined to tip Sabre's hand on any commercial actions it may take after June 1.
"We're not going to speculate on any activity Sabre may take regarding AA after June 1," St. Pierre says. "We're focused on reaching a new distributon agreement with AA as soon as possible."
St. Pierre also declined to spell out Sabre's plans should no new agreement be worked out by Aug. 31.
For its part, American is making contingency plans should Sabre take any punitive actions June 2, says Cory Garner, American's director of merchandising strategy.
Garner says American is working with travel agencies and corporations to ensure they have continuous access to the airline's inventory should Sabre undertake biasing actions or worse.
American has been pushing travel agencies to sign direct-connect agreements before June 1.
And the airline has been working with corporations, as well, Garner says.
Garner explains that American, like Sabre, "won't be restricted by the stand-down agreement" after June 1 and would consider charging travel agencies and corporations a Booking Source Premium, or surcharge, on American flights booked through Sabre if the GDS hikes the airline's booking fees.
With the Sabre-American tiff entering a very fluid stage June 2, American requested the court to conduct a status conference with Sabre in early June.
Meanwhile, the past couple of days have been litigation-heavy in American Airlines-GDS distribution confrontations.
American filed its status conference request late May 24 and early May 25 Travelport filed its answer to American Airlines' antitrust complaint.