American Airlines does not intend to charge travel agents for content as part of its direct-connect strategy, Cory Garner, director of merchandising strategy, said.

Garner said he was responding to "misinformation" about American's distribution plans that are being circulated in the industry.

The issue was raised earlier by Paul Ruden, ASTA's senior vice president of legal and industry affairs, in a telephone press conference held by ASTA, the Business Travel Coalition and the Interactive Travel Services Association, which represents GDS companies. Ruden said American had indicated changes were coming in the pricing of content during meetings with travel management companies late last year  but did not provide specifics.

Ruden said "the implication" was that if a travel management company or a corporation bought American tickets through a GDS, it would have to pay for the content, while it would not have to pay if it accessed the content through "the direct-connect process."

Garner told TTU that the focus of last year's "road show" with TMCs and corporate buyers was to give them "adequate time to prepare" for new technologies that would address one of their major concerns with airline merchandising: how to report on, manage and negotiate for packages of optional services.

"We were out there talking about technology," he said.

During those meetings, American disclosed that it plans to link directly with large TMCs via XML connections; with other TMCs through third-party technology providers such as Farelogix, with which it has an XML connection, and to GDSs via XML. Ultimately, American said, it plans to cut the Edifact link to GDSs .

American is forging ahead with its plans despite a call for the development of technology standards to deal with airline merchandising practices that emanates largely from the GDSs. The Air Tariff Publishing Co. has been working with Amadeus and Sabre to develop those standards.

"To some extent, the standards process has been helpful," notably in the area of the electronic miscellaneous document, Garner said.

Contrary to a statement made by a participant in the Business Travel Coalition press conference that "no airline has committed to using the EMD," American has, and it is participating in ARC's pilot of the EMD.

Farelogix, meanwhile, has developed an "EMD hub" that will function as "a sort of e-ticket engine for ancillary services," according to Jim Davidson, the company's chief executive officer.

The EMD "will help travelers identify the services they have purchased," Garner said, which would help corporate travel managers track their true costs of travel.

But other work on standards is "not as helpful," he said.

For example, ATPCO can publish all the pricing rules and business rules on optional services, but American believes there is an "architectural flaw" in that approach, Garner said.

"It is completely divorced from our customer segmentation systems," he said.

An airline might offer only 20 or 30 optional services, he said, but there are thousands of possible combinations, and "we have no interest in overwhelming the customer" with choices that will not suit their needs.

Even though the standards would offer some ways to narrow down those choices, they would not be based on American's proprietary information on customer behavior, so they "fall short of the goal," Garner said.

American wants to move beyond attribute-based purchases to attribute-based shopping, he said.

For example, a customer might consistently want a fare that includes two checked bags and could store that information in her preferences so it can be incorporated in the air fare shopping request.

In addition, American might discern that customers who ask for a two-checked-bag fare also tend to ask for certain other services, which also could be offered in fare search results.

"The key piece is to have the shopping process closer to the airline," Garner said.