American Airlines' mandate that TMCs and other third parties must be connected to the carrier's New Distribution Capability (NDC) channels or risk losing access to up to 40 per cent of the airline’s content has taken effect.
While many in the travel ecosystem have said they would be NDC-ready by now - and that can have many definitions - some travel buyers were looking to find workarounds to ensure access to the fares that American (AA) is pulling from EDIFACT-connected channels from 3 April.
In addition, the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) sent a letter to members on Monday indicating that American did not respond to its request last month that the carrier should delay NDC implementation until the end of 2023.
As a result, the association last week said it sent letters to both the US Department of Transportation and the US Department of Justice alerting both departments to the "serious concerns" ASTA members have about the NDC implementation and the "disruption" they believe it will cause.
The letters cited that most of the key players - global distribution systems, TMCs and third-party booking technology partners - have said they are not adequately prepared to facilitate full NDC implementation.
ASTA added in its letters that this will lead to a “drastic” increase in the time spent servicing American Airlines’ tickets and possibly result in higher service charges for corporates. Changes and tracking unused tickets will also present new problems, especially for business travel.
Meanwhile, the top concern among many buyers has been uncertainty, especially about exactly which fares will no longer be available through legacy channels.
AA has indicated that a fair portion of the NDC-only fares would be basic economy or other fare types that business travellers typically do not purchase. But some buyers are not so sure.
Buyers also expressed to BTN concerns about TMC readiness and servicing, and the potential impact of American's move on their bottom line.
ZS travel and meetings manager Suzanne Boyan said she does not plan to have full access to American's NDC content on April 3, but will "sometime” in April. Boyen added her company and its TMC have partnered to access United Airlines' NDC content since March.
"It takes a significant amount of time from agents as they learn this process and have to implement new technology," she said. "You've incurred costs because of those choices."
One buyer, speaking on condition of anonymity, cited concerns around fare transparency and comparability.
"I don't think you'll get that in this new scenario until the ecosystem catches up," the buyer said during an interview on Friday. "We may be able to access NDC content in the near future, but the concern comes on the serviceability once the ticket is booked.
“As for today, the TMC side is not ready. They're prepared to service in an offline environment, which will cost more to travel buyers."
Another buyer said that there would be significant financial disadvantages for companies not using the NDC channels.
“I believe we are going to be able to measure that very quickly, and the price differentials will be significant when you are talking about the volumes that corporates spend," said Cathy Sharpe, ITW’s director of global travel and expense management.
“$100 on a segment, or even $20 - that is huge money out the door if you are not using an NDC channel. I think that is a concern."
The move by airlines towards NDC-based channels is also a concern for European buyers – with the UK’s Institute of Travel Management (ITM) this week announcing that it was setting up a taskforce to tackle the subject.