Tale of A Travel-Site Tiff
It never ceases to amaze me how established companies will not only attack Web sites that send business their way, but do so when they need all the help they can get. Let's look at one example from a market sector in such sad shape, that it makes the newspaper business look good --the airline industry, and American Airlines in particular.
American is yanking its flight listings from Kayak, a travel-search engine, effective Friday. Its beef with Kayak, as reported at numerous sites, centers on Kayak's practice of displaying fares from both airlines and online travel agents such as Orbitz and CheapTickets.
Kayak says that American asked it to remove those alternate sources from its flights' listings; Kyak refused, and so starting tomorrow, the search engine will only list online travel agents' prices for AA flights.
(A publicist with American's outside PR firm said he didn't have the company's side of the story and referred me to an in-house representative, who has yet to return a call from around 1 this afternoon. I'll update this post when he does.)
Why is this dumb for AA? Because Kayak's flight-search engine is so far superior to anything at its site--or any other airline's. See, for example, how Kayak compares to American's AA.com site in a search for flights leaving from Washington to San Francisco over Labor Day weekend.
American's search-by-schedule option serves up a flat list of flights, sorted by departure time, with prices waiting at least one screen away; its "enhanced" price-and-schedule search puts departing flights on one page, returning flights on another, and fare totals with tax on a third.
Kayak, by contrast, provides a one-page listing that can be quickly trimmed down by clicking the checkboxes and moving the slider controls at the left. You can exclude two-stop, one-stop or red-eye flights; require departures or arrivals within the times of your choice; reject flights at the "wrong" airports (say, BWI here and San Jose in the Bay Area); you can even decline itineraries that include turbo-props or regional-jet aircrafts.
And Kayak doesn't do this for just one airline at a time: You can see fares from a number of airlines, then prune that list to show only fares from the airlines you like, or from airlines in a specific frequent-flyer alliance.
It is a huge waste of my time to muck around with an individual airline's site to find a flight. (I am, however, sorely puzzled to see Kayak trail such inferior travel-search sites as Travelocity and Expedia.) So why would an airline want to make it harder for customers to spot its services on Kayak? It can't be that American is afraid of people finding lower fares for its flights through travel-agent sites, since it already promises to match their prices.
Instead, it's awfully easy to see this episode as yet another of the same self-destructive, "we're too good for the Internet's help" control-freak behavior that has led, for instance, to demanding the removal of downloadable homemade subway maps, newspaper publishers suing Google for indexing their sites and therefore sending more traffic their way, and companies and organizations suing users who have written better Web interfaces for their own services.
Some people would put Hasbro suing the makers of the popular Scrabble knock-off Scrabulous and developing its own, buggier Scrabble Facebook application -- instead of giving its blessing to Scrabulous in exchange for a cut of its ad revenue -- in this category as well.
I'm sure you can come up with some more examples -- please share them in the comments.
What drives companies and governments to this kind of silliness? And how long is it going to take for them to grow out of it?
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