American Airlines Inc has won a court order temporarily blocking Sabre Holdings Corp
The order by a Tarrant County, Texas judge followed Sabre's January 5 decision to drop American flights from its Sabre Travel Network by August, one month earlier than planned, and change how it displays the carrier's fares to ticket buyers.
American, a unit of AMR Corp
The carrier said this threatened irreparable harm by eliminating countless sales that American would have earned and by misleading the public into believing that American's services either no longer exist or are not competitive.
Monday's order blocks the change while AMR seeks long-term relief, including punitive damages, the carrier said.
Nancy St. Pierre, a Sabre spokeswoman, said the company is confident that the court will affirm Sabre's contractual right to protect our customers' interests and support airlines that value transparent and efficient comparison shopping.
Sabre was spun off by AMR in 2000 and bought in 2007 by private equity firms Silver Lake Partners and TPG Capital. It also owns the Travelocity.com website.
AMR has developed technology that informs ticket buyers of various services it offers for a fee, such as extra legroom or priority seating, rather than steering them toward tickets on the basis of price or schedule.
But this could disrupt the ticket selling model now favored by Sabre and online agencies such as Expedia Inc
In court papers, American had also accused Sabre of more than doubling its fees to distribute data, potentially boosting the carrier's annual distribution costs by $157 million.
Such costs, which include commissions, booking fees and credit card expenses, totaled $853 million for AMR in 2009.
American said more than $7 billion of tickets on its flights are booked annually through Sabre's system, accounting for close to half the airline's ticket revenue.
Sabre is one of several global distribution systems, such as Amadeus and Galileo, that act as pipelines to provide fare and flight information to travel agents.
The showdown between American and third-party sellers followed a December court decision letting the carrier stop selling tickets on Orbitz, which had refused to adopt the carrier's direct connect technology for ticket sales.
Expedia also objected to the technology and dropped American's fares at the start of the year.
In the last two months, Delta Air Lines Inc
AMR is based in Fort Worth, Texas, while Sabre is based in Southlake, Texas. AMR shares closed down 6 cents on Monday at $8.79 on the New York Stock Exchange.
The case is American Airlines Inc v. Travelport Inc et al, Judicial District of Tarrant County, Texas, 67th Judicial District, No. 067-249214-10.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Additional reporting by Karen Jacobs and Kyle Peterson; editing by Andre Grenon)