Small airlines face being excluding from important interlining opportunities with US majors as the network carriers increasingly move to electronic ticketing.

As it increases its e-ticketing agreements, American Airlines will stop issuing paper tickets by the beginning of 2004. Carrier representatives at the annual Interlining Sales and Marketing Conference (ISMC) held in Jamaica said that airlines without an electronic product will not be able to interline with American, or with other major airlines as they follow suit.

Alaska Airlines sales and marketing vice-president Jeff Cacy calls American's move "not so much an ultimatum as a very clear sign of what is going to happen". IATA manager ticketing services David McEwen says that, "having realised the cost savings of getting rid of their own paper", the major airlines now want to get rid of paper from other carriers. Some passengers, especially those from the Caribbean or emerging nations, "may find themselves having to buy separate tickets".

However, conversion to e-ticketing and interlining is affordable and brings revenue-accounting advantages for smaller carriers, says Mariel Palau of Panama's Copa Airlines.

Chairman of the ISMC event, 6Degrees Consultants managing partner Roger Williams, puts the savings from an electronic ticket as at least $15 per booking. Williams recently left Air Jamaica, after helping to set up electronic ticketing. There have been almost no transition problems, say Air Jamaica officials.

SITA product manager Rob Drotar says electronic interlining bilaterals have moved beyond alliance partners so rapidly that e-tickets are unavoidable for carriers that interline to any significant degree. Interlining accounts more than $60 billion a year, or 21% of total airline industry revenues, IATA interline manager Christopher Staab told the meeting.

IATA and SITA jointly offer "hubware" that will enable carriers to interline e-tickets without having to develop their own systems, while Amadeus too offers a competing solution.

Source: Airline Business