The line between announcing business plans – a legal act – and price signaling – not so well received – is a fine one in the aviation world. Earlier this month three US Senators asked the Departments of Transportation and Justice to decide if Lufthansa crossed that line during the 2015 IATA Annual General Meeting hosted in Miami, Florida. The request stems from the statement made by Lufthansa Group CEO Carsten Spohr during the CEO Insight panel discussion at the event in which he expanded on the company’s plans to institute a booking fee for GDS-based transactions, first announced the week prior. The Senators believe that the statement made during the panel discussion may have run afoul of the She
arman Anti-trust act and are asking the DoT and DoJ to investigate.
The IATA AGM equivalent of "there is no sex in the champagne room" disclosure. pic.twitter.com/C3oAnOkrLw
— Seth Miller (@WandrMe) June 2, 2016
At issue is whether Spohr’s comments during the panel were intended to induce other airlines to follow his company’s plan of adding such fees, creating collusion rather than simply discussing the company’s plans. And the instant poll conducted during that session, where 75% of respondents in the room indicated they might make a similar move does raise some possibility that the statements were meant to be leading. Or just that 96 people liked Richard Quest’s question. Or that they all were jealous that Lufthansa decided to make a move against the GDS platforms. Or any of a number of other things. And, for what it is worth, I had a voting button available to me during this session, though on this particular topic Quest asked only airline reps to vote so I abstained.
Read More: Can Lufthansa Break the GDS Model??
While Spohr did at one point suggest “I believe others will follow” the decision to implement such fees (they didn’t) that statement did not come during the AGM panel session; it came later, during an investor call where such collusion claims would be much harder to substantiate. Looking over my Twitter timeline from those days I distinctly note an absence of “smoking gun” quotes from Spohr during the panel. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t something juicy, of course, but nothing he said that day seemed outlandish or over the line to me. But I’m also not the person tasked with such enforcement rulings.
Read More: Lufthansa attacks the GDS channel
And then there’s the part where no other airlines followed the Lufthansa Group’s lead on this front. Lack of success does not mean that the effort was not made, but it is a challenging situation for the company. I also find it somewhat bizarre that it took these three senators more than a year to decide that maybe something improper occurred and seek action on it, but I also probably have irrationally high expectations of what is reasonable.
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