American Air sues Orbitz, citing 'monopoly power'

American Airlines raised the stakes in its battle with ticket sellers by suing travel website Orbitz and distributor Travelport Ltd., accusing them of monopoly tactics.

American says the companies are trying to control the distribution of airline tickets to business travelers and are retaliating against American for objecting.

Orbitz and Travelport denied American's charges. Orbitz said Wednesday that American was trying to grab control over ticket distribution to limit customer choice and reduce competition.

American's antitrust lawsuit, filed this week in federal district court in Texas, is the latest twist in an ongoing battle that led American to pull its flight listings from Orbitz last December.

American officials said Travelport was the primary target of their lawsuit. The airline wants to reduce the cost of distributing tickets by requiring online travel agencies to get flight and fare information directly from its computer system, which would cut commissions that so-called global distribution systems charge for providing the data to travel agencies.

In the lawsuit American said most of its passenger revenue still comes from tickets sold by travel agents who get information from the distribution systems. Travelport owns three of the five big systems, which handled $2.7 billion in American ticket sales last year.

Travel-industry analyst Henry Harteveldt said American's stance would make it harder to compare prices because fare information would be more fragmented. He said that distribution costs are one of the largest expenses that airlines can still control, perhaps explaining why American is playing hardball.

American is seeking triple damages from lost ticket sales and higher fees, plus punitive damages. The AMR Corp. subsidiary has never disclosed the amount of sales it lost by not having its flights listed on Orbitz.

Orbitz said the lawsuit had no merit.

"American Airlines made the decision to play the role of the marketplace bully and pull its fares from Orbitz," the Chicago company said.

This month American, based in Fort Worth, Texas, settled a similar dispute with online travel agent Expedia, which pulled American listings around Jan. 1. The companies didn't disclose terms of the deal.

AMR shares fell 12 cents, or 2 percent, to close at $5.79, and Orbitz Worldwide Inc. shares lost 11 cents, or 3.1 percent, to close at $3.41.