The IATA director general called for open borders and for governments to not interfere with how airlines distribute their products ahead of his first meeting with the new US transportation secretary.

IATA CEO and director general Alexandre de Juniac addressed the US Chamber of Commerce Aviation Summit in Washington DC Thursday morning. Later the same day, he was scheduled to meet with Elaine Chao, who was confirmed as transportation secretary at the end of January.

At a press briefing after his March 2 remarks, de Juniac declined to discuss the issues he planned to discuss with Chao, but topics raised during his speech likely indicated his priorities. He began by saying that IATA was an advocate for open borders for people and trade. “We are deeply concerned at recent developments that point to restricted borders and protectionism,” he said. “It’s undeniable that in totality the world has grown more wealthy through open borders.”

De Juniac also talked about how the airline industry was on the cusp of a fundamental change in how it markets and sells its fares and products to passengers.

“Airline websites offer a lot of choices. Passengers can buy fare packages and ancillary products. If they choose to identify themselves with their frequent flyer number they often receive information on special services reflecting their loyalty. They can complete their transaction with a clear picture of what they will get for their money,” de Juniac said.

“But it is a different—and less transparent—experience when buying through a travel agent. Schedules and fares can be compared efficiently. But not all the options. Why not? Because pre-internet technology is still prevalent in distribution through travel agents. And the data standards on which that is built simply cannot convey and compare all the information that is available on an airline’s website.”

De Juniac explained that the IATA-led The New Distribution Capability (NDC) will bring greater transparency when using a travel agent, but there was a problem in the US because of new rules proposed under the Obama administration.

“An initiative in the last days of the Obama administration could lock consumers into the old and less transparent distribution mode. That’s the unintended consequence of a proposed regulation requiring airlines to display certain ancillary information through the travel agent channel,” he said.  “I hope that Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao will take a fresh look at whether the US government should be dictating to airlines how and where they must display their products.”

In 2016, then-transportation secretary Anthony Foxx announced plans to prohibit online ticket agents from undisclosed biasing of flight offerings on behalf of certain airlines.  Foxx said the rule was needed because “certain agents may be offering flights based on relationships with certain carriers”.

Speaking at the press briefing Thursday, de Juniac said, “It is not the business of governments to regulate what information can be exchanged between an airline and its customers.”

Karen Walker karen.walker@penton.com