Airlines force OTA’s out of Google Flight Search? Anti-competitive, much?

Something remarkable happened at PhoCusWright a couple of weeks ago. According to Travel Weekly,

“When Google’s vice president of travel, Jeremy Wertheimer, stepped on stage at the PhoCusWright conference here two weeks ago, he surprised many in the audience with his explanation as to why Google’s Flight Search results do not include links to online travel agencies.

If they did, Wertheimer said, the airlines would not participate.

“The airlines said, ‘We will not give you content if you provide booking links to OTAs,’” Wertheimer told the audience.”

I’ve written before about FairSearch and what it means for most businesses. And, while I’m not a huge fan of government oversight of individual businesses, nor, frankly, a huge fan of some OTA business practices, this level of coordination among the airlines and Google reeks of anticompetitive behavior. Actually, it just plain reeks, period.

While Google faces increasing competition for search from apps and mobile tools like Siri (see the Roger McNamee video), for better or worse, Google still represents the guide to the Internet for many people. And a guide that deliberately excludes some content providers due to competitive pressure from other content providers is no guide at all. As more details emerge around deals such as these, Google risks not only the wrath of regulators, but also diminished trust from consumers and businesses.

In other words, whether it’s antitrust or declining trust, Google and the airlines are playing a losing game. I’d expect to see FairSearch and others challenge this move in the very near term and the repercussions to continue for some time to come.

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