The US Justice Department Antitrust Division's probe of the global distribution systems is apparently alive and well -- and travel agencies in North America apparently are getting dragged right into the middle of the fray.
Sabre communicated to its travel agency customers in North America that it is complying with a government subpoena and the discovery process in litigation with American Airlines and US Airways to hand over travel agency contracts and other business information.
Recipients of the contracts and other documents will be the Antitrust Division, American Airlines, US Airways, Travelport and Orbitz, Sabre says.
The communication to agencies has been posted in the eServices section of the Sabre GDS. Sabre is urging agencies with concerns to contact account directors or customer support personnel by May 29. Sabre states:
Pursuant to the judicial discovery process that American Airlines invoked in those [state and federal] lawsuits, Sabre regrets that it must produce to the outside counsel of each of the parties in the American Airlines lawsuits all documents and information that Sabre and its affiliates produce to the Antitrust Division.
The outside counsels for Orbitz, Travelport and US Airways also will get copies, Sabre acknowledges.
The Sabre communication to agencies provides confirmation that the Antitrust Division investigation of GDS business practices is active.
But, it also is a quandary for travel agencies, ranging from mega travel management companies to mom-and-pop locations, as well as the GDSs and airlines, too.
If you are a TMC such as American Express or Carlson Wagonlit Travel or even just a small Main Street retailer, you may shudder at the prospect that Travelport and Orbitz would get the details of your contract with Sabre.
And, Travelport undoubtedly is also forced to produce a treasure trove of agency contracts and business information to the US Justice Department, at the least.
"Travelport continues to cooperate with the DOJ investigation," says spokesperson Jill Brenner. "We do not believe the DOJ would share confidential information among the parties."
Likewise, the fear among agencies may be that US Airways and American Airlines would also be able to take a look at GDS contracts with agencies.
However, Sabre believes adequate protections are in place.
"The documents are only allowed to be seen by outside counsel for the various parties and cannot be used for any non-litigation purposes," says Sabre spokesperson Nancy St. Pierre. "Any documents provided to the DOJ are treated as confidential by DOJ officials."
In its communication to agencies, Sabre sought to ease fears, stating:
Sabre will designate these materials at the highest level of confidentiality available under the operative protective orders in the lawsuits an has requested confidential treatment of all documents provided to the Antitrust Division.