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Friday July 6 3:48 PM ET

Southwest Pulls Listings From Orbitz Site

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Low-fare carrier Southwest Airlines Co. (NYSE:LUV – news) said on Friday it had launched a new salvo in its battle with the Orbitz travel Web site by cutting off its flight listings from the rival-owned service.

Southwest pulled its flight information from the industry clearinghouse that supplies Orbitz because, “We do not want to be associated with a site that eliminates independent alternatives for the consumer,” company spokeswoman Ginger Hardage said.

“We just don’t feel comfortable with our five largest competitors providing information about our company,” Hardage said. “We felt everything Orbitz was doing was misrepresenting the true picture of Southwest Airlines.”

Orbitz was founded by UAL Corp.’s (NYSE:UAL – news) United Airlines, AMR Corp.’s (NYSE:AMR – news) American Airlines, Delta Air Lines Inc. (NYSE:DAL – news), Continental Airlines Inc. (NYSE:CAL – news) and Northwest Airlines Corp. (NasdaqNM:NWAC – news). At least 25 other airlines have agreed to join as affiliates.

The move means that Southwest flight information will no longer be available through the Airline Ticket Publishing Co., an industrywide clearinghouse that provides data to travel agents around the United States.

Instead, Hardage said, Southwest will make its listings available through the computer reservation system of Sabre Holdings Corp. (NYSE:TSG – news). Sabre already has a business alliance with Southwest.

Hardage said the absence of Southwest means that Orbitz can not claim that it offers the lowest fares.

“Without Southwest Airlines, Orbitz is a collection of five of the largest high-fare airlines,” Hardage said. “Any claim of being the lowest fares is certainly not the case.”

The decision also will deprive Southwest of some ticket sales outlets because Sabre is available through some, but not all U.S. travel agents. However, another Southwest official predicted the company will “find a way to do business with other agents.”

Orbitz spokeswoman Carol Jouzitis said Southwest’s decision will have little impact on the travel site, since Orbitz wasn’t getting paid for booking Southwest flights.

“The result of this is that consumers will now find it a whole heck of a lot harder to compare Southwest fares with those of other airlines,” Jouzaitis said.

“Is Southwest afraid of having its fares compared to those of other airlines?” Jouzaitis asked.

Jouzaitis also contended that the absence of Southwest flights does not invalidate Orbitz’s claim “that we have the most low fares on the Internet.”

Southwest and other critics, including travel agents and competing Internet travel sites, have charged that Orbitz will reduce competition and cut them out of selling certain low fares.

Orbitz says airline participants must offer the site their lowest Internet fares but competition is preserved as the same airlines are free to sell those fares through their own Web sites or third parties.

Southwest fired its first shot against Orbitz in May when it filed a lawsuit alleging unauthorized and misleading use of Southwest scheduling and fares. It accused the travel site of making “misleading, untrue, and harmful representations with respect to Southwest’s service, schedules, and fares.”

In its lawsuit, Southwest charged Orbitz with falsely promising the lowest publicly available fares when it failed to include many of Southwest’s lowest fares that could be found on the Southwest Web site.

Southwest is asking for an injunction preventing Orbitz from displaying erroneous Southwest information and seeks unspecified damages.

Hardage said the company will continue to press its case to ”assure” that its flights remain off Orbitz.

Although the plan had aroused antitrust suspicions among regulators and travel industry competitors, DOT concluded earlier this year it had no evidence to justify halting Orbitz’s launch and said the venture could spur online travel site competition.

Southwest, which has prospered with its all-coach service, amusing in-flight announcements and a schedule that avoids getting bogged down in the hub-and-spoke routes of its bigger rivals, wants nothing to do with Orbitz.