Five major airlines are working to bring online next month as a one-stop source for airline reservations. Every other human being connected with the travel industry is screaming bloody murder. The airlines have already squeezed commissions to travel agents and Orbitz looks like an effort to short-circuit the remaining agencies and the online travel services. Now if Orbitz was going to play fair, that might be okay – one more competitor in a field that needs more competition. But it does seem possible to imagine a bit of unfair competition by the airlines – say, prices on the web site that other services can’t match, or perhaps misquoting the fares of the airlines that haven’t joined up. Southwest Airlines sued Orbitz today and asserted that Orbitz was already publishing falsely inflated prices for its flights – even before the official Orbitz launch. It will be interesting to watch this one.

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