Southwest Airlines has filed a lawsuit in California against the Orbitz online ticket website, asking it to "cease and desist from its misleading, untrue and harmful representations" of Southwest's service. Southwest has long opposed Orbitz, operated by five of its major competitors, American, United, Delta, Northwest and Continental Airlines. The service is now entering the testing phase.

Low-cost Southwest, and the American Society of Travel Agents, protested against the site's start-up and claim it is anticompetitive. They say it could potentially dominate on-line airline ticket sales, and even lead to greater airline industry consolidation.

The US Department of Justice has been studying potential anticompetitive implications of the site, though the Department of Transportation has concluded that it could increase competition in the online travel business.

Noting that the carriers that control Orbitz "share 85% of the total US air market," Southwest claimed that the site is "currently using proprietary information with respect to Southwest's fares and schedules and without Southwest's permission. Worse, Orbitz has refused to eliminate false and misleading information from its site concerning Southwest's schedules, fares and routes."

Southwest complained that Orbitz was listing flights that were actually "misconnections" or connections involving an overnight. "These are misleading flights that we would never offer our customers," says the carrier.

Orbitz said Southwest provides fare and schedule information to industry clearing houses and that the site pays a fee "to license this data with the right to offer it online". Through these same clearing houses, Southwest provides its flight information to thousands of travel agents and other travel providers, it adds. "We think it is unfair and improper for Southwest to single out Orbitz and prevent this information from reaching the travelling public through our site. Furthermore, there are no legal restrictions on the use of this public information on the Orbitz site."

Source: Airline Business