Are GDSs fit for purpose? A checklist

In recent months we have seen several airlines ratchet up their rhetoric against the global distribution systems (GDSs), namely, Amadeus, Sabre, Travelport, and Travelsky.

In particular some airline CEOs have spoken strongly against the GDSs — tagging them as, in the paraphrase of Emirates’ CEO, “not fit for purpose”.

Sir Tim Clark (Emirates) and HE Akbar Al Baker (Qatar) have been critical, despite the fact that the significant majority of these two airlines’ bookings come via GDS.

Perhaps it is time to examine GDS claims and evaluate whether or not the GDSs are able to deliver on their promise that they are the best distribution channel for an airline.

To be clear, the question has to be qualified in their role in the supply chain management system for the travel industry. The question could easily occupy a volume of books.

So, for simplicity’s sake, this analysis will focus on seven criteria related to the parts that are valuable to the user community, meaning, airlines and intermediaries like travel agencies.

Criteria 1 – Giving agencies/intermediaries access to all airlines.

In general the airlines do a good job here. The percentage of airlines who have some presence in the GDSs is very high by various measures. Some airlines that had spurned the GDSs, like Ryanair, have lately come back into the fold.

That said, there are many airlines who are quite sizeable who do not publish their content at all in the GDS, such as Southwest Airlines — one of the largest US airlines by domestic passenger volume. It is important to recognize that “participation” is no guarantee of quantity or quality of the content provided.

Conclusion: Mostly TRUE.

Criteria 2 – GDSs show airfares correctly

To assess this question we have to make a few assumptions. Each GDS charges differently to its airline customers (i.e. the people who pay them). Each airline can choose from a bewildering array of charging mechanisms.

The Company Dime’s reporting from the Sabre/US Airways trial in a New York court suggests, by way of example, that in 2012 Sabre was charging as much as $9 per ticket, of which an estimated $4 was passed along to agents as incentives. Indeed I believe Travelport has a similar number for its international segment charges. It is rumoured that Amadeus charges at least the same to some of its customers.

The airlines agree – under their standard participation agreements – to guarantee the fare sold via each GDS is 100% accurate. That guarantee is then passed onto the travel agent.

A simple review from each GDS of fares shows that each GDS uses different logic, and the prices returned from each of them is different the vast majority of the time. This is not to say one is best at delivering the lower price, as individual GDSs sometimes claim. The fact is that the prices are different and thus there are multiple versions of the “truth”.

Conclusion: Somewhat TRUE.

Criteria 3 – GDSs provide full access to all products (fares, ancillaries, etc.) that an airline can offer.

In comparing the airlines’ own products, as represented via their websites and versus what is in the GDSs – clearly the latter cannot provide the same level of products and information. For example, is there a “green screen” (standard travel agency display) that shows the airlines’ price per seat on that screen?

GDSs tout the number of airlines who have signed “Full Content Agreements” (FCA). But this is a misnomer. Some airlines withhold some content, some do not have the technology to fully share their content via the GDSs the same way they do on their own channels, and GDSs do not have the technology to display airline content as the airlines would want it, a common refrain from the airlines.

In short, GDSs do not have all the content and the content they do have is not displayable via all GDS outlets.

Conclusion: Somewhat FALSE

Criteria 4 – GDSs are the most cost-effective channel for airlines to distribute their product

Clearly the airline’s own internal channels are cheaper. As per the above example, the US Airways case states estimated its cost of direct distribution was about 50 cents per ticket plus any incentive fee it might give to agents to compete with GDSs, which would add about $4 at ticket – compared with $9 per ticket Sabre allegedly was charging.

Lufthansa’s happy commitment a year on to adding a Euro 16 fee to tickets booked through GDSs shows that the economics of direct distribution can be favorable.

Recently we have seen a number of GDSs – attempting to divert attention away – point to Google as the bad boy of distribution (meaning the most expensive channel).

GDSs are expensive and their prices are continuing to rise. Let us examine one particular case to see if that is true. If we take Travelport’s latest numbers (2016 Q3 Travelport financial reports), an international connecting itinerary (four segments) will generate an AVERAGE of $24.81 per reservation.

Perhaps another interesting question arises as to why the price for the product has to be the same if one channel is more expensive than another? Clearly this has been the logic that drove Lufthansa to implement its Distribution Cost Charge (DCC), and the German flagship carrier is not alone – several other airlines (EasyJet, Norwegian, and Gol) already did this before LH’s DCC debut.

Criteria 5 – GDSs are easy to use whether via an agent terminal or via an API.

This is a big fail. The access to the content via the GDSs’ APIs is just not there.
It is impossible to gauge the extent to which the content is available but I estimate this to be less than 60%. It would be a good challenge to pit a good travel agent against the API of any GDS.

Good agents have the ability to make the GDS sing. However good agents are retiring in faster numbers than they are being replaced, and there has been a huge attrition of agencies who have just gone out of business.

Today the majority of GDS bookings now require an agent to interact with a system outside of their basic GDS, either with the airlines’ websites or an independent source of information and content.

Conclusion: FALSE

Criteria 6 – GDSs are ideal for complex itineraries such as interline and code-share bookings.

This has been the bastion of the GDS defense: they can handle the complexity of the interline itinerary and no one else can.

After nearly 40 years of interline and a little less for the code shares, the products between airlines are not aligned and the services offered by the GDSs do not permit the functions to work well.

To be fair, this is not only the fault of the GDSs. But if you are to serve your customer you need to find ways to deliver the product the way he or she needs it.

Just ask any travel agent how easy it is to get a seat assignment via code shares.

With the airlines now moving to paid-for seats, the function is just not deliverable via the GDS channel.

Some agencies may say, the GDSs are the worst option around except for all of the others. They may say that the GDS channel is the ‘least inefficient’ path for handling corporate bookings and complex itineraries like interlining.

It’s true that agencies use GDSs in part because the platforms shave off the labour-cost-per-booking, versus other methods avialable today. But it’s a Catch-22. The alternative paths available today are inadequate because of GDS dominance discourages their development.

In other words, saying that the GDS system is the lesser of several evils does not prompt the GDSs to fix their problems.

Frankly, GDSs should be embarrassed of themselves. The GDSs are making enough money by using the captive system of paying incentives for agencies and airlines not to move (or complain publicly) that they could afford to innovate. Instead, their model keeps the industry in stasis.

In brief, today’s GDSs are not ideal for complex itineraries when one considers how other industries are using today’s technology knowledge to tackle analagous problems.

Conclusion: FALSE

Criteria 7 – GDS technology is improving all the time.

There is now a significant and fast-increasing cost to just maintain the legacy links that sit behind the GDSs, i.e., the links that go from the airlines to each GDS.

These links are, in many cases, also very restrictive because they use legacy technology standards such as EDIFACT when the rest of the world has moved to higher functionality and richer content linking.

In turn, major airlines have upgraded some of their links. In particular, the airlines have had to invest heavily in complex technology infrastructure to link their systems for customer management and advanced ancillary functionality.

Who is responsible for this legacy part of the infrastructure? The trouble is that creating new connections between the airlines’ full product suites and the GDSs will require massive expenditure (on both the airlines’ and the GDSs’ parts).

Then making that available downstream to traditional agents and API users also will require significant expenditure on IT. Is it worth it?

GDSs counter that it takes two to tango, so to speak – that many airlines aren’t innovating on their own sides, limiting the potential for the ecosystem to innovate.

But why do GDSs adhere to the ‘lowest common denominator’ model. Why can’t there be at least two-speeds – one for airlines ready to innovate, and a basic level for the stragglers? Because GDSs want to dictate the terms and not make the changes that need to be taken.

GDSs may counter that they have been creative in handling ancillary upsells and more complex products with airlines that want to experiment, like United and American Airlines. But some airlines privately grouse that the GDS technology is actually failing to keep pace with innovation in comparable SaaS-like industries.

Conclusion: FALSE

It is time we must see that the GDSs have at best a mixed record. Their claim to be the only acceptable fit for airlines is bogus, at least from the technology perspective. (Commercial considerations and airline R&D spend cycles complicate matters.)

As an industry we have a responsibility to do right by the customer. The increasing cost of distribution via the GDS-controlled intermediary channel amounts to a significant tax that the customer is paying, albeit obliquely.

That needs to become transparent, as Lufthansa’s move has illustrated in one possible manner.

We can no longer hide behind the “this is the way it has always been” and “this is the only acceptable methodology as a service to the customer” when that statement is so clearly no longer true.

Thank you for reading.

Editor’s note: This is, of course, just one perspective on the GDS sector… So we would obviously welcome counter points-of-view in the comments below or by emailing suggestions to the usual address.

NB: Image by Alexsnail/BigStock

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Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

About the Writer :: Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

Timothy O'Neil-Dunne is the managing partner for venture firm VaultPAD Ventures– an accelerator devoted exclusively to Aviation Travel and Tourism.

VaultPAD also is the parent company for consulting firm, T2Impact. Timothy has been with tnooz since the beginning, writing in particular aviation, technology, startups and innovation.

One of the first companies to emerge from the accelerator is Air Black Box. a cloud-based software company providing airline connectivity solutions and in production with airlines in Asia Pacific.

Timothy was a founding management team member of the Expedia team, where he headed the international and ground transportation portfolios. He also spent time with Worldspan as the international head of technology, where he managed technology services from infrastructure to product.

He is also a permanent advisor to the World Economic Forum and writes as Professor Sabena. He sits on a number of advisory and executive boards



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  1. Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

    There are several messages here caught up in different threads so allow me to consolidate a few of them here and then let the dialogue continue. Apologies for those who are new to this thread. Its a complex subject. The restrictions in the software we use at TNooz means that after several comments there is no ability to comment further thus i am starting a fresh portion here.
    First I will address the issue of the standard raised by Christian.
    I have to respectfully disagree that NDC is a dead end. There is a crying need to have new far more functional interoperability between partners within the industry. Like all standards it is having a hard gestation and birth. I am equally supportive of the Open Travel Alliance, W3C etc etc. The current standard for inter airlines communications are represented in the AIRIMP manual and this is clearly suffering from lack of functionality etc. The same message sets are used between Airlines and GDSs. The form is either based on old legacy sets or (still quite old) EDIFACT messages. Neither are in my view fit for purpose and they are causing some of the restraint. The other factors affecting the dynamic nature of the products and indeed impeding this is the need to pre-file fares and services in a centralized system which somewhat takes the fun out of dynamic products, like the ones we are used to consuming from Amazon or AliBaBa etc. We desperately need an XML based interaction and thus was born the standard we know today as NDC.
    Allow me now to turn to the issue of Open Distribution which I believe is a misnomer. No one has a given right to another man’s property. Thus must be born a different way to enable open distribution which comes available to everyone. The fact that companies such as Skyscanner (who literally started in a flat in Edinburgh) shows that it is possible to enable significant amounts of distribution not necessarily totally open to all and free. Should the GDSs have an enshrined right to distribute all airlines’ products? Should that be mandated in law? Can Agents and other intermediaries obtain access to content via different channels? These are the types of questions (along with many others that I have raised here) that need to be considered when evaluating the GDSs as being fit for purpose. There is a degree of passion for those who wish to maintain the status quo. I am of the belief (and have long held this position) that we need to have a higher level of distribution technology. In fact I have invested a significant portion of my career in attempting to so do this. It is my considered opinion that we need change that is fair and recognizes the needs of the stakeholders. But most importantly of all it needs to address the needs of the owners of the products and their ultimate consumers. The bits in the middle need to enable not restrict that.
    I would like to thank all who have contributed to this discussion and I wish you all a safe, happy and successful 2017.


  2. inder jit handa

    As usual travel agent are the scape goats.
    GDS and Airlines are becoming greedy.both are doing well,but they keep
    squezing the travel agents.
    Airlines will wish the disappearance of travel agents,in spite of the fact that they are the cheapest source of distribution.
    We have no trouble with the GDS ,but small agencies are getting hardly any
    service from the GDS.
    Travel agent can only survive if they have enough revenues coming from some where .
    Can one imagine a future where there will be no travel agencies.
    Recent research shows that the trend is back to the travel agencies;
    in spite of the best efforts of the airlines and OTA’s
    Successful future for Airlines and GDS ;requires a successful future for the travel agencies as well
    We need an effort,involving the three stakeholders,to find a cheaper and more efficient system.
    Let us hope that we will do it in 2017

  3. Roland Heller

    Well, the GDS can distribute those products only which the airlines can store in their legacy PSS. So while the GDS do have their (serious) limitations, the airline systems are the main cause of the limitations. None of the existing PSS, including Amadeus, Sabre and Navitaire, can manage the full range of products and airline wants to sell. So airlines build product management systems for ancillary revenue around these legacy platforms and then push these additional products out through IBEs and APIs (NDC). GDS do the same – they build solutions around their core (e.g. Amadeus or Travelport Merchandizing) to complement the core products. Some PSS even go as far as having to create super PNRs to find work-arounds to partially satisfy today’s needs.
    So maybe we should address the inflexible and outdated world of PSS platforms first before pointing the fingers at GDS. Yes, GDS are expensive, but all the PSS, Pricing, Integrity, PMS, etc. – which airlines are trying to glue together to emulate some sort of ecommerce – are the source of the problems the industry has.

    • Glenn Wallace

      What products do the airlines want to sell that Amadeus and Sabre don’t support? They support branded fares and ancillaries (seats, bags, etc). Time to actually put some FACTS down. What is it you are claiming they can’t support on the PSS side? (or GDS side for that matter)

      • Roland Heller

        Glenn, if they would support what airlines want, then companies like FareLogix or OpenJaw would not exist – and is some sense also PROS and Datalex.

        • Glenn Wallace

          You haven’t provided any specifics…. there are many things you need to run an IBE and the GDSs don’t claim to supply every last thing. Farelogix has a great product, FMS2, for fare and product management. I can’t see the GDSs building something like that. Again, what specific products or services that the airlines want to offer can’t be managed, priced, sold, supported by the PSS/GDS world right now?

    • Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

      Thank you good points. It comes to a chicken vs egg problem.
      The original GDSs were offshoots of the PSS world. Now of course there are several elements which have evolved. Selling of Airline Products is not trivial and can be very complex. Whether it is needed to be that way is a matter of open debate.
      Frankly I am of the belief that PSS systems are driven from the same root as the GDSs and thus have the same level of problems. Now what we need is a fresh thinking of how to engage in the selling of airline products. That is something I am very interested in



      • Roland Heller

        That’s true .. but not good enough for an excuse. The world is changing, IT is evolving, yet airline systems still depend on flights, SSRs and booking classes. GDS can’t really do much more than distribute what the systems deliver. Issue we now have is, that some airlines plug-in real time pricing or product packaging (bundling) in a more dynamic way than GDS can handle. So the chicken outgrows the egg – and either there are new eggs or the existing ones need to grow to more open platforms. I think they don’t want to interrupt, as they want to survive, but they want to slow down and control the evolvement so they are not bypassed by new gen distribution channels – and I think that’s the main problem – and that’s why we always have to hear (xmas style): “hohoho – you don’t understand how complex the industry is – hohoho – merry christmas”

        • Glenn Wallace

          There have been dynamic pricing and bundling solutions built on top of the GDSs and GDS based inventory for over 15 years…. no one had to go outside the GDS world to make that happen.

  4. inder jit handa

    Timothy o’Neil,s articles are usualy excellent.
    I am disappointed as this artcle lacks the full truth.
    We have been using Sabre for over 30 years as our main GDS.
    We find that it has served us well..Is it the fault of GDS ,if airlines do not
    provide the full inventory.
    On many occassions we have found that one GDS has the availabilty,whereas the other GDS does not.
    These FALSE AND TRUE statements are PARTIALLY FALSE and PARTIALLY TRUE as none of them is the ABSOLUTE.
    No doubt ,the cost is too high for the traveller as traveller is the one who ends up paying.
    Rather than the blame game ,all concerned parties should try to find the

    • Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

      Thank you for the comments.
      If i may – I would like to take the challenge to the question you have raised.
      “Is it the fault of the GDS if airlines do not provide the full inventory?” Breaking that question into 2 parts. Can the GDS provide the capability for the airlines to distribute their products? That question is increasingly answered – not absolutely – in the negative.
      The next part of the question is whether or not the airlines wish to provide the content via the GDS – assuming that the GDS can actually provide the airlines’ the capability to distribute their products. There are many answers to that question. So rather than directly answer it positively or negatively – the question should be considered in terms of:
      Reach – does it reach the customers the airline wants to reach?
      Cost – is this service provided at a price that is cost effective and one the airlines can afford to pay?
      Contractual Terms – are the terms acceptable to both parties or is the contract one sided?
      Desire – Does the airline want to provide the services to the Travel Agents?
      There are other subsidiary questions which need to be answered and the importance of the questions varies by airline and by GDS and its subscriber customers.
      For a standard agreement to be made for distribution – all these questions must be answered as a yes.
      Hopefully my article has caused some thinking to go on as to whether or not the GDS actually do achieve yeses to these questions.
      In your closing remarks you suggest that there are not absolutes. I agree with you. I have tried to be fair in looking at the fitness across the spectrum. That Sabre has served you well for more than 30 years is a testament to the interaction of 3 forces – The airlines, Sabre and of course your own actions. As to whether the parties should be getting around the table and trying to resolve these issues – I think they do. I have witnessed some of those discussions and participated on all 3 sides over time in trying to make the results better. From my perspective I do believe that the dialogue should be open, clear AND fair. However at the end of the day the key question that have to be answered is as follows: Are the GDS providing services that are fit for purpose for the all the stakeholders? The marketplace will ultimately decide.

      Thanks again for your comment.


    • Glenn Wallace

      I think it would be good if Tim’s position at Air Black Box was disclosed in his TNooz bio. That he has an interest in a company that competes with some aspects of Sabre, and Amadeus should be disclosed. In fact the same article was posted on their web site:

  5. Premani

    I think otherwise, GDS are now geared up to display the content not just fares, seats but ancillaries as well, the APIs are also miving firward with the time… the writer needs to explore more before making coments on information that is outdated, all GDS are pushing to display airline contents, travelport has succeeded and Amadeus and Saber hlare fillowing.
    GDS are expensive for airlines however, distribution through gds has its own bebfits, the service abd training that is received in turn from the gds companies, the products that are being devwloped using central systems have benefited the agency business imensely…

    • Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

      Thank you for your comments.
      If you have some specifics that could demonstrate exactly your points – then please forward them to the editor.



    • Varun Bansal

      But are GDS following any global standards ? NO .. If there are no global standards, airlines will find it tough to adopt for multiple points of sales or have contrainted distribution network .. NDC will not only enable esy movement among content providers but will make it possible to work with many. Many aggregators will give wider range and bigger market

      • Christian Kameir

        NDC has support from less than 10% of the airlines. It is not a standard and is no intended to be one. Airlines operate in the travel industry and not in the airline industry (that’s Boeing and Airbus). The travel industry already has a standard (mainly OpenTravel) which the airlines are not part of (but should).

        NDC is about distribution control – hence the name. This is driven by a small number of airlines (mainly those of ATPCO) who use IATA as a vehicle to push their own agenda. They do not want to compete (on price) with the low cost carriers.

        You can read a more comprehensive review here:

      • Glenn Wallace

        GDSs are following global standards (for ancillaries). Do you know what APTCO OC is? SSRAPAY? EMD?

        All of these standard were developed by….. THE AIRLINES, with input from the GDSs and agencies.

        This discussion has taken a big nose dive in quality — people are making statements and they seem to have little recent experience with the GDSs and their technology.

        One big obvious missed topic: hosting. Sabre and Amadeus host a large majority of the world’s airlines. A big portion of their business is providing IT solutions to airlines. And you can bet they’re going to do so in a standard and interoperable way, to ensure those solutions work with the distribution world too. And there are certainly other companies providing pieces of the solution, primarily for (such as Farelogix, Google etc)

        Travelport is the odd one out. They don’t have any hosted airlines (Deltamatic doesn’t count – they just host the hardware). uAPI represents their efforts to unify many airline booking sources, none of which they host.

        So when you talk about the GDSs, recognize they have airline customers that are pushing them to develop solutions for branded fares and ancillaries.

        Here’s a list of airlines on Sabre doing just that:

        I couldn’t find the Amadeus list but be assured there are plenty of airlines working with them on branded fares and ancillaries too.

        And those products are available in the distribution channel.

        NDC is nothing more than smoke and mirrors. IATA voted to adopt it even though the airlines themselves had designed, and approved standards like ATPCO OC (et al) which the industry has been busily adopting.

        The IATA vote on NDC was really a hopeful vote for disintermediation of the GDS channel. What is the worst that could happen? The agencies might say no?

        NDC was indeed based on the OTA standard. And represents another option to connect from a retail platform to a booking source. However, the language NDC speaks doesn’t make sense to connect GDSs with each other, or GDSs with airlines. Those connections are made with far more subatomic ingredients: fares, rules, schedules, inventory/availability, tickets, supplemental requests, etc.

        But for direct sales from a airline to an agency, or even a GDS to an agency, NDC or OTA or similar schemas work just fine.

        • Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

          Quite clarification – Travelport and Delta agreed to let DL take back its PSS functions. (May 2014). DL is now starting to get into the PSS business on its own – other airlines also feel the same way. I would also suggest that some of Glenn’s statements (IMHO) are not all 100% accurate. Where I will agree with him is that there is a certain mixing of Apples and Oranges here. NDC was originally designed as an airline common standard for distributing products into channels. It has been expanded into additional uses. (EG One of our companies is using the specifications but has repurposed it for different use. That is common practice in technology). I would encourage any reader to go back in read my entire piece and note what I have said is not in absolutes. I am asking that the readers to have an open mind as to whether the GDSs are still fit for purpose. The examination of the claims were/are necessary.
          Thank you all for commenting. please feel free to add to the threads here or bring in new ones.

  6. Uwe Zobel

    Just to be clear – I’m not speaking for GDSs and I’m not promoting single links of the value – quite the contrary. I’m pointing out that future is already in place and that business models have already changed significantly. So let’s focus on the new technical developments and let’s evaluate how we can accelerate innovations with that new basis rather than assessing old technology. Otherwise the travel industry will be taken over by new market entries – first of all travel agents will go away (if they stick to old models) and then other intermediairies.
    However change is painful, but it doesn’t make sense to support people who block innovations – neither in Europe nor in the US.

  7. Uwe Zobel

    Dear Timothy,
    it might be one way to analyze GDS performance, features and other criteria. But at the end of the day I do not think it helps no matter which results the analysis show. They might differ anyhow depending on who is going through the analysis.
    But in reality we are already in the middle of a change period. Companies like Airbnb, Uber and other have disrupted the market. The old business model which has been in place for the last 30-40 years has changed already. Let’s have a look at the travel agencies – being a full-service and product provider in the past they have lost huge parts of their business to the online world. The area left are complex trips which need a certain degree of expertise and advice. However cost pressure has decreased the number of real travel experts in the shops. What a mess.
    Google, Skyscanner, Kayak and other metas are currently the winners, but we do not know how long this will stay. The consumer has gained a lot of control in the past. Products, fares and price have never been more comparable than today. Suppliers are able to sell their products directly, because the metas and search engines are out there, not because they have improved their systems. An hotelier website cannot be found in the jungle, but within a meta it is possible.
    The old manufacturers have gone. Consumers have taken this part of the business model. So why would we need a GDS in future? Airline hosts are becoming smarter and distribution can take other shortcuts. People tell me that travel agents should sell ancillary products in order to get a piece of this cake as well. I doubt that this makes sense – how shall we share 2-5 EUR revenues between suppliers, wholesalers, travel agents and tech companies?
    Having said all of this – GDSs are not dead and they still have time to adopt to new challenges, but the competitive edge of the online giants is becoming bigger – maybe it is already too big to catch-up.
    Unfortunately disruption is not a unique phenomenon in the travel industry. It impacts currently almost everything and lots of people become scared, because there is nobody out there who explains the changes and tells them that there might be positive aspects as well. We are lost in a technocratic world which starts to rule many of our activities and the increase of control in one area also means a loss of control in another area. Even politicians are unable to cope with the changes and people don’t do what they are meant to do (e.g. Brexit).
    However there is hope at the horizon. Surprisingly Silicon Valley kept relatively calm when Trump showed up. But probably he’s a representative of the old economy with its simple rules. So we’ll see how this will change the game or not.
    Bottomline I think there are huge changes in front of the door and we should try to find solutions for the future world instead of looking back and try to find arguments why this or that is good or bad. No matter how much power the current players have. At the end of the day the consumer leads the game.

  8. Varun Bansal

    Great Article Timothy .. Eye opener for All .:) Cheers
    NDC is way ahead.

    • Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

      I would encourage all to read as much as they can on the topic of NDC. IATA has put out several papers that are worthy of reading.

    • Gordon Soukoreff

      Yes! The NDC Berlin Hackathon was awesome. 104 developers participated.

      • Christian Kameir

        Before you do anything with ‘NDC’ – spend a day at a travel agency .. it will be an eye-opener for you.

        • Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

          Thanks for your comments.
          Having spent years working in Travel Agencies – both online and offline – and inside the GDSs as well. I would add working in multiple roles:as an operations people, as Technology and yes even as agents – I think our team in both consulting and in software have a good appreciation for the processes of the agency environment. The question is NOT whether the GDS based solution is fit for agencies and their business processes today. That becomes a self serving argument. It is whether or not they are fit for overall purpose today and of course in the future of airlines providing their product to consumers via the intermediary channel. Hence my article. I have read your piece in Linked in. I disagree with some of the findings specifically that you believe that OpenTravel and NDC are identical. Further the conclusion i believe is not going to move the industry forward. That there needs to be cooperation is true. Further there does need to be a higher degree of functionality specifically in the areas of Ancillaries that OpenTravel nor the GDSs support today in anything but very minor ways. The undustry must break out of its dependency on the legacy world of message based services. Until that happens this argument will rage. Unless you get to the core of solving that problem the politics will overshadow the reality of fixing a very broken set of technologies. As an aside, I do agree however with your commentary on the Welfare system, sadly that is what continues to preserve the status quo.
          Please continue to add commentary here.

      • Christian Kameir

        NDC has support from less than 10% of the airlines. And no support from the travel industry.* – If you want to make a difference in travel join OpenTravel.


    • Christian Kameir

      NDC is a dead-end and keeps the dark channels in place – it’s ONLY about DISTRIBUTION CONTROL not about serving the traveler/buyer. And, that’s also why (outside of about 25 airlines) the GDS are supporting it. This should be pretty obvious by now.

      • Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

        You keep promoting your piece and we have already dealt with this point. NDC is a specification to open up the closed system. Something you also advocate. This is where you seem to be contradicting yourself. I want to be clear. We support OTA and NDC. The latter is a higher quality spec but each has their own set of issues. Each is significantly improved over the current GDS based specs. May I suggest that you use an objective set of criteria that I used in the article above to draw the conclusion of whether or not NDC is fit for purpose.

        • Christian Kameir

          We were actually were bullish about NDC initially and spent a lot of time and resources on it. But there is a an agenda behind NDC and the companies who support it and is NOT to improve the travel industry but it is 100% about CONTROL of distribution .. supporting the old ‘push model’. – This should be very obvious by now.

          We want to enable FREE distribution.

      • Christian Kameir

        Even if that was true that 90 airlines would deliver inventory via NDC (and its likely ‘wishful thinking’) this would still be less than 25% of what’s in the GDS. The later are simply ‘bolting’ NDC on which does not do much for the buyer, agencies or the low cost carriers and absolutely nothing for the industry as a whole. If anything it creates yet another channel.

  9. Christian Kameir

    The core problem of the channels in travel (GDS+OTA) is that their business model has changed: they started as technology providers but are now taking part of the transaction in the channel. Keeping the products (agencies, travelers, payers and airline offers) locked into the channel has therefore become a survival mechanism.

    • Gordon Soukoreff

      Perfect observation. There is a shift that’s definitely OTA driven. Really how does that keep the customer in mind.

    • Christian Kameir

      The ‘overall purpose’ should of course be to create an efficient travel market place that lets buyers and sellers of travel interact as direct as possible – and, ideally without any transaction-based fees. I think we have a couple of great examples in banking now. There will likely always be a need for ‘agents’ but mostly to manage the traveler-payer relationship. And, essentially most TMCs are already expense-management companies. – I agree on the ‘politics’ issue. Although, I think this will sort itself out once other players penalize GDS use.
      I suggest that you pose the question of how ‘similar’ NDC is to the air piece of OpenTravel to the OpenTravel board. Also interesting is a deep-dive into some of the LinkedIn profiles of the original developers.
      My NDC review was just a summary for public consumption. We spent the better part of 2015 on GDS API integration (I don’t know much about WorldSpan. We have focused on Sabre and Amadeus). And, the better part of 2014 was spent creating a GDS data parser. This might seem like a duplication of efforts until you realize that a large portion of GDS data is unstructured. We will open-source the parser after we created an interface for it.

      P.S. Since there seems to be some ‘motivated reasoning’ going on by some participants, let me make mine clear: I want to contribute to an open travel marketplace (lower case) which makes distribution free from transaction costs.

      • Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

        I think we may share some of the same views. I believe that the goal of a neutral marketplace while altruistic is unrealistic. Community led marketplaces are seldom successful and always suffer from restraints driven by the lowest common denominator. The late Bruce Bishins tried to create an agent based marketplace for many years and almost succeeded but for one problem. Chronic funding deficit. Today’s effective electronic marketplaces succeed when the supply side is in harmony with the demand side. The GDSs have in my view not provided that harmony as an honest broker. the dissonance of the supply owners with the retail channels that result from this situation makes it unpleasant for all. The GDSs have a strong vested interest in not changing and keeping the agency community backward. As long as that “welfare state” dependency continues there will never be a happy state. I hasten to add that the causes are not in the debate – the supply side could easily be said to have created this situation with the withdrawal of the funding for distribution. That does not excuse the poor technology that is now visited on the travel marketplace. That needs to get fixed. I hope others will join the fight to enable it. My fear is that if not then the squabble between the current stakeholders will result in someone else coming in and making it all go away. And remaking the marketplace in their form.

        • Christian Kameir

          A marketplace can be neutral and open simply by not participating in the transaction. It does not necessarily mean that it will be entirely free – at least not initially. If you maintain a store at mall you expect to pay rent and electricity but not have to pay a tax to your landlord on every sale. And, the initial model of technology provider would still work fine for the GDS if they had actually kept up with technology rather than squeezing the vendors.
          Both Amadeus and SABRE built a house of cards that is dependent on one site on aggregating buying power by aggregating agencies and on the other hand by forcing full-content contracts onto the airlines. Whether or not these agreements will be invalidated by the courts is pretty much irrelevant at this point as the value to the professional seller of travel is access to all inventory. The inability to deliver on that will incidentally also invalidate the agency-GDS agreements (I am putting on my old lawyer hat here). And, it will force professional buyers to expand their already stretched software budgets to keep up. The segment commissions barely make up for the additional cost an agency has to bare dealing with GDS and airline data silos. So, anything that will mitigate these damages will be most welcome – even it it means that for a while more PNRs will show passive segments.
          (I guess at this point I will have lost most readers – feel free to call me for explanation).
          Google could certainly pull the plug on the GDS model with the flip of a switch. And, here again it’s simply a political/legal matter that they have not done so already. But there are solutions already that do not come with a prohibitive query fee of Google’s Matrix Airfare Search.
          Again, GDS (and by extension OTAs) are very fragile houses of cards. At this point the likelihood that GDS channel will lose its taxation ability in 2017 is approaching 100%.

        • Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

          Christian (or reply on your comments IMMEDIATELY BELOW)
          This is where we do agree. The fragility of the GDS model is now being driven by multiple factors. The increasing cost of the technology to support the current GDS technology stack can no longer be supported by increasing GDS incentive payments. So agencies will need to find other ways to fund their technology – most of whom will find this a difficult if not impossible task. There is also a factor that we should consider. Namely that the concept of availability cache (we are really in the weeds here) is totally flawed. The high cost of access to it is ridiculous.


  10. macy

    “here are many airlines who are quite sizeable who do not publish their content at all in the GDS, such as Southwest Airlines ” Where did you get this idea? Of course, Southwest is on GDS (since 2008).

    • Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

      Macy – thank you for your comment.
      To clarify. You are correct in your statement that WN has had a presence on the GDS since 2008. if we are to split hairs actually they were available long before in Sabre’s STIN even before that. They went out and came back in. Today Southwest is only partially available via the GDS. You will find some product on that is not available on the GDS. Other airlines similarly either do not publish all their content on the GDS or have different GDS specific products, or they have different GDS pricing. Let me add a further comment.
      In former times – it was possible to issue Boarding Passes via the GDSs – this is a function that in reality no longer works and Boarding Passes (and boarding QR codes etc) are now provided (almost) only via the airlines direct sites.


      • macy

        Thanks for your comment (and the article). Apparently Allegiant is an example of airline still not on the GDS.

        • Glenn Wallace

          Allegiant isn’t a great example, they run a mix of scheduled service and charter. And it is hardly a brand that consumers seek out. Agreed, that plenty of gaps exist in the GDS content though but as long as they maintain a “good enough” coverage of schedules/routes/prices, consumers apparently don’t mind. There’s always another airline to choose from.

  11. Roy

    Well done Timothy. Glad the brain is still active ! DId you see how much Skyscanner just sold for!!!!

  12. Kevin May

    Kevin May

    @ALL – we are enjoying and grateful for the debate here, but just a gentle reminder, please…

    Thankfully, there are plenty of people that disagree with Timothy, but equally, also many that do see his point of view is one worth sharing.

    We – as a respected publication, as you say, Martin Cowley – think that such views can be given “oxygen” because they can trigger a worthwhile discussion or raise additional issues that may not have been included in the original piece.

    Sure, Timothy has a tendency (and is well-known) to have a bias against the GDSs, but there are always lots of folk that can mount a passionate defence of the other side of the argument.

    We thank you all for doing so.

    But what we ALWAYS insist on is that any punditry left here in the comments is done so in a calm and respectful way, rather than getting close to that border of becoming a little bit personal.

    The last time I saw Timothy he certainly had two eyes, didn’t drink bitter and his attempts at doing the twist were thankfully left in 1970s.

    Thanks, everyone, as ever.


    • Martin Cowley

      Fair call, Kevin, you should almost always play the ball not the man, but I think you know better than most the difference between a forum and a soapbox. This article was an extraordinary rant from a scratch handicap ranter. The article was riddled with hyperbole and exaggeration. Not to mention errors and myths. Completely unbalanced and biased. As pointed out eloquently by others, not just me. It was an epic fail and totally unworthy of publication. I stand by what I said.

      • Kevin May

        Kevin May

        @martin – and that’s why we 1) have a comments section so that people can point out such failings (as has happened here) and 2) invite people to send us their own PoV, which we would publish as a counterpoint.

        Timothy is not a reporter – and has never pretended to be (and thank goodness, some might say 🙂 )… This was an op-ed piece, not reporting.

        The balance comes in the comments below it here and in the countless pro-status quo articles we have run over the years – often, inevitably, triggering accusations of Tnooz being pro-GDS!

        We see our columnists on Tnooz in the same way as editors of the WashPo, Guardian, SMH or any other mainstream media outlet do: opinionated, able to stir debate, not always correct in their outlook, and never popular with 100% of the readership.

        I’ve worked alongside fellow journalists who would tie themselves up in knots when a reader – or readers – would complain about a piece.

        But as I always say: at the end of the day, rather than worrying or complaining about it, the simplest course of action is for the reader to just not read any articles from that writer (and I know a few, in Timothy’s case, who will not).

        Or, better still but less simple, write a passionate rebuke and send it into us.

        Thanks as always for your care and attention. We do appreciate it.

  13. Roland Heller

    5. GDS are easy to use – if you know how to use them. And thousands of travel agents are proficient. Besides that, GDS have web interfaces or another form of GUI, like more modern systems. Any system with plain text entries is difficult to use, but once you know how to use it your much faster than clicking around a website – tests have shown – and for a lot of high-yield passengers speed is everything, coz they don’t want to wait until a travel agent has made all the clicks and marked checkboxes and scrolled up and down.
    6. Interlines: there is an industry standard for interline which is based on edifact and ticketing – well, until NDC interline is established. But no other systems make use of the industry standard than the GDS – and unlike some LCC alliances – allow interline amongst hundreds of airlines in a unified form.
    7. why is EDIFACT legacy? It’s a standard used in many industries and governments. Just because it is old doesn’t mean that EDIFACT is legacy. So XML is legacy too? Or in a few years JSON? EDIFACT can be enhanced as easily as XML and JSON – I’ve done that multiple times. EDIFACT can be read and constructed as easy as XML or JSON, with the right classes – you just need to have them. Of course wouldn’t I use EDIFACT for a web interface, but that doesn’t make it legacy. Oh and as for rich content … you can even pass URLs or BLOBs in a EDIFACT message. No one stops you from it. In fact, looking at the industry, EDIFACT is the only established standard, messages are clearly defined and it is damned solid.
    Maybe GDS are evil, maybe they are expensive and old. But they will be here for the next decade to come. GDS will transform. EDIFACT will exist for another 20 years or more. At the end it’s the combination, optimization and synergies that help the airlines to sell. From a supplier perspective it has to be in my own interest to support industry standards – but that doesn’t stop me from looking at new distribution channels as well.

    • Glenn Wallace

      The mention of EDIFACT is yet another red herring that is repeated from all of the usual suspects who sell services to the airlines (for the record I’ve never received a cent from a GDS). There are XML messages going between airlines and GDSs, agencies and GDSs etc. Even the EDIFACT availability messages are slowly being replaced by availability calculators. Just because you don’t read about it on Tnooz doesn’t mean things aren’t evolving.

  14. Martin Cowley

    Yet another anti gds rant by the arch anti gds crusader. Not a solution in sight, just the usual bitter and twisted, one eyed rhetoric that we have come to expect from dear old Professor Sabena. This piece is unworthy of even being described as a ‘perspective’. I have no idea why a respected publication like Tnooz gives oxygen to stuff like this. Get over it, Prof, its time to move on. Oh yes and before you start, it’s 5 years since I left Sabre and I’ve sold my shares. I now work with the leeches and parasite of the travel industry without whom airlines would be in an even bigger mess than they are today. Go ask a Lufthansa passenger this week what the airline should be focused on. The answer won’t include distribution costs.

    • Gordon Soukoreff

      Really Martin with a due respect you are being a bit unfair. There are solutions but the gds rather play with their “house of cards” rather than looking for one. That “house” is already showing cracks in ti.

      • Martin Cowley

        Gordon. As Leonard Cohen once said. “There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” I think I’m being totally fair. The Professor has been harping on like this incessantly for too long now. Its a broken record. He has his own agenda to play with. His own axes to grind. The GDS is still the most efficient market place for airline distribution. Full stop. There is no workable alternative otherwise they’d all be using it. There is no queue of airlines lining up to replicate the LH failed DCC initiative. If it was any good they’d all be doing it. Not just GOL, Norwegian and easyjet… LOL, they are scarcely a comparative competitor set with LH. And LH would be able to back up their spurious claims with real data. They haven’t because they can’t. Airlines cut agency commissions- as a result GDS incentives became even more important to agents. Smart move?? I don’t think so. And now airlines don’t like the economics that they created. Go figure. You’re a travel guy, Gordon. Obviously a pretty good one as you’ve been in business for a while. I think that you can see through the hype and propaganda. Until someone comes up with a real- not a piecemeal- alternative that does the work that the GDS and its subscribers do today nothing will change and the airlines and their acolytes, spruikers and fantasists will just get crankier. Too bad.

        • Gordon Soukoreff

          Thanks Martin for the Leonard Cohen moment. I was thinking more along the lines of the sound track from “2001: A Space Odyssey”. And that monolith…ending scene. However, I am still hearing that tv commercial jingle “…hands in my pockets”. Every time one of them commons out with a recurring change for a new and fantastic plugin or add on program. Seems some people have a bit of passion for that blue screen. I am finding that less and less.

  15. Magiel Venema


  16. Glenn Wallace

    Boy Tim, you missed the mark in several places:

    > Giving agencies/intermediaries access to all airlines.

    I don’t think anyone ever agree that was a criteria. For an agency, as long as they can get a “good enough” assortment of product, they’re fine with the GDS. For example, how long has Expedia not had Southwest?

    > This is a big fail. The access to the content via the GDSs’ APIs is just not there.

    What do you think Priceline, Expedia, Orbitz etc use to access product?

    > In brief, today’s GDSs are not ideal for complex itineraries when one considers how other industries are using today’s technology knowledge to tackle analagous problems.

    You haven’t backed this up with any evidence at all….. if you looked at the amount of interlines sold by any of the big corporate or leisure agencies, you’d agree that the GDSs do a great job of offering, selling and servicing interlines.

    > Clearly the airline’s own internal channels are cheaper.

    Lastly, I really can’t believe you are falling for this hype. Go and look at how much the major airlines spend with Google, television, etc on acquiring customers. Look at how much they spend on call centers for servicing customers. The agencies shoulder a large amount of the service and ALL of the customer acquisition costs. This 50c number is so ridiculous (and FALSE) it should never be repeated.

    The ONE question you should have asked, which no one has asked, where the GDSs fall down completely is that they are not an end-to-end automation solution. Every agency has to build or buy a schedule change automation solution, a ticketing solution, back office etc. It adds a huge amount of operational cost and none of the GDSs have done anything to make it easier (with the exception of automated reissue products, which still require automation to drive them)

    • Gordon Soukoreff

      Good points Glenn. However, I don’t think “good enough” assortment of product”. Is good enough. The point is how accurate is it? And are you servicing the customer to the best of your ability with the best choices.
      Your last point “… the GDSs fall down completely is that they are not an end-to-end automation solution.” is indeed a very excellent point. And that is part of servicing the customer.

      • Glenn Wallace

        On the content assortment, they’re always trying to improve it and in some regions their content is sub-par (eg South America), but by and large it is good enough to get people from A to B. Remember despite what many airlines like to think, air transportation is still a commodity business. For example, not having Southwest, it turns out their flights are not always cheapest anyway, so there isn’t a huge impact to the GDS by not having them, except for cases where there is some kind of corporate travel incentive. All of the branded fare and ancillary products do not create differentiated products, they create a different way to merely price and sell them. The actual products (i.e. seating, wifi, on-time performance, quality of service) are the points of actual differentiation. Real reasons a given airline would be a gap in the GDS would be because of schedule (eg nonstop, frequency, connections). Agencies like Expedia and Priceline have been growing with a “< 100%" airline schedule/brand coverage.

        Where is a case you think of where "good enough" is not "good enough"?

        On the fulfillment side: the GDSs should be making big investments in this area. It would be a HUGE point of differentiation, and would also lower the barrier to entry for new agencies.

        • Glenn Knows

          “Agencies like Expedia and Priceline have been growing with a “< 100%" airline schedule/brand coverage."

          "The ONE question you should have asked, which no one has asked, where the GDSs fall down completely is that they are not an end-to-end automation solution."

          "Where is a case you think of where "good enough" is not "good enough"?

      • Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

        I think “Good Enough” is clearly not enough for the consumer. Therefore it should not be enough for the stakeholders in the agency channel.

        • Glenn Wallace

          Clearly, there are large swaths of consumers who are satisfied with the selection through the agency/GDS channel… Again, where do you think the gaps are? And why are they critical for customers. And “” certainly has even less of a selection!!!

    • Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

      Glenn let me go for the one bit where we agree.
      Firstly thank you for your comments. From your position (and prior history) you can have a jaundiced view or you can have a proactive view of how distribution can be developed. I firmly believe that the GDSs have not reformed themselves and are now caught in a classic situation where they find themselves forced to defend their turf through legal rather than technological means. But lets agree that there is a truly lack of the lack of end to end solutions via the GDSs.
      Back in the day – that was the rallying cry- you could get all of your agency tools direct at the GDS door: Front, Mid and Back Office. Today that is not true. It is undeniable that agencies HAVE to have automation outside of the GDS in order to provide service to their customers. Depending on where you are in the world that is not just the physical boxes (PCs) but also the percentage of access to the supply chain content and products an agency needs to service its customers. If one looks at both the online and the offline intermediary world, one can see that GDSs now provide far less access than they did even 10 years ago.
      Part of my argument therefore has to be that IF one has to go elsewhere for large percentages of the content why should the GDS be the controlling provider of air content? Relying on the GDS as sole source is not logical. Single sourcing in almost all major business sectors has gone the way of the Dodo. Quality of content (as well as depth and breadth) is but one set of metrics. The owners of the product and content should in my opinion be able to slice and dice it they way they see fit and not be constrained by one channel of distribution. Clearly that is against the one size fits all GDS model and those who depend on it. With Agencies now providing a diminishing share of total travel product distribution there is clearly a disconnect.
      This is what I hope that people will see and read with this article. It is time to ask the question as to whether the GDSs and the infrastructure that supports them is truly fit for purpose. My supposition based on the evidence before me is that they are not.
      I do want to add one caveat. GDSs need to change and reform. So far they have steadfastly refused to do so, Most importantly they need to address the twin issues of reducing their costs which are far too high and improving the quality of the product they offer. They can and in my opinion should have a place as one of many different options for distribution. For the sake or removing ambiguity – that does not mean that they should dominate as they do now.



      • Glenn Wallace

        Tim, I am an indépendant consultant. I hold no financial interest in any agency or GDS or supplier. My reputation as someone who is fair and pragmatic is well known in the industry. I’ve had no trouble calling out agencies or GDSs on their shortcomings. The fact you even bring up my employment history is tragic and speaks to how weak your article is. Don’t be so defensive when someone questions your opinion.

        You keep saying “going elsewhere for large percentages of content”. Which content and where? And why is it important? Schedule? Price? Service?

        In fact the weakest link in the distribution chain is the hosting capabilities of some of the LCCs which don’t support “full servicing” through any API or 3rd party.

        “Back in the day – that was the rallying cry- you could get all of your agency tools direct at the GDS door: Front, Mid and Back Office. Today that is not true. ”

        This is patently false at least back to 1996, otherwise companies like TRX et al would never have existed.

        Don’t get me wrong, you ask some good questions and make some good points, but on several of them you are 180 degrees in the wrong direction.

        “proactive view of how distribution can be developed” — please enlighten us? Who has the best product?

        To single sourcing: I have not suggested anyone should rely on “the GDS” as a single source. There are many reasons to work with multiple GDSs. There are also cases where working with other aggregators may be warranted. Agencies should be free to choose and seek maximum flexibility where they source inventory. But if I were building an OTA from scratch, the first connection would be to a GDS, at least for air and car content.

      • Gordon Soukoreff

        I agree with that supposition. They are a “house of cards” at any moment ready to crash.

        • Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

          If I may actually say – it is tenuous. I don’t believe that it will fail spectacularly. I think it will continue the slow attrition we have seen in recent years with a strong possibility as airlines engage in higher levels of functionality with their partners. As a result the products available via the GDS will continue to decline.

    • Roland Heller

      The GDS don’t have to offer backoffice solutions – some do (e.g. Sabre offers MERLIN in some markets). There are plenty of third party solutions available which seamlessly integrate with GDS (Dolphin, TourOnline, BewoTec, etc.). Gives travel agents a choice – a choice they want.

      • Rod Davies

        And yet they do, in Australia. All GDSs actively promote back office products, as a form of lock-in in fact. And revenue. I am an agent. I spent 15 years working in the GDS industry.

        In my opinion, they generally do a fine job, but the industry AND the consumer, is evolving at such a rapid rate, the GDS has no hope of keeping in front of the wave, they merely surf it to the best of their ability.

        Yes, they have inbuilt legacy issues. Guess what? Any new product delivered today, WILL have legacy issues in years to come also. It’s how best the GDS can evolve and integrate new technology into their platforms that is important.

        And, being an agent now, NO other airline platform or 3rd party platform is or can be integrated into agent work practice as QUICKLY as the GDS. Having to move between platforms and pulling it all together, AND dropping it into our single back office IS an issue. The more we can have, and use effectively in a single source, the GDS, the better.

        The GDS is not perfect. No platform is. They ARE efficient for we, the end user.

        • Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

          Rod – Thanks for the comments. good points to bring out. There appears to be a common understanding that “.. good enough” is OK for now. The question of everything becoming legacy in the end is true unless the products are evolved. An example would be the issue of operating systems. Windows XP is still widely used but no longer supported by Microsoft. Current version of Windows 10 is only slightly ahead of the use of several versions back Windows 7 etc etc. Australia is an interesting market. The evolution of Virgin to a Full Service Carrier has definitely extended the value of the GDS in the market. Cheers

        • Paras Kumar

          Hi Rod, I am a Sydney based travel tech co-founder working on an interesting solution of the problem you mentioned above. Would love to have a chat anytime.

          Best regards

  17. Ginger Sullo

    Excellent article…so well thought out and realistically answered…your articles are always the “go to” for reading Tnooz!

  18. Gordon Soukoreff

    Being in IT before deciding on travel as my “retirement” job I always said most of the above. And in light of all the Sabre issues we’ve had. Thank-you for this article. It was needed.


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