The Brancatelli File By Joe Brancatelli
Just Say No to Lufthansa's New Booking Fee
September 3, 2015 -- In a world of mind-numbing complexity, we can, at least, depend on the airlines to keep it simple.

And nothing is simpler than the first rule of airline management: Always blame the customer.

So it is that Lufthansa now charges us 16 euros (about $18) if we dare buy one of its tickets from anywhere other than Lufthansa's Web site, the sites of its subsidiaries (Swiss, Austrian and Brussels) or from United, the corpse to which it is shackled via joint ventures and the Star Alliance.

I think we have to react with equal simplicity: Stop flying Lufthansa and its subsidiaries until they back off this repulsive, asinine, anti-flyer policy. And don't make it a phony boycott by buying a Lufthansa flight that is operating as a United code-share even though those tickets, according to the rules of Lufthansa's through-the-looking-glass new fee, are exempt.

We have no choice here: Shut 'em down. Don't fly Lufthansa or its subsidiaries until they back off this egregious fee. We can't let them dictate where we can purchase our tickets and how we manage our travel.

By the way, Lufthansa's pilots may shut down the airline before we get the chance. They could ground the German carrier with strikes next week, the 13th time in as many months. Why? Because Lufthansa's management, panicked by falling profits and robust competition from the Gulf carriers for connecting traffic, is fighting a multi-front war: They are attacking us, battling their employees and clashing with the GDS companies that corporate travelers use to book their flights and manage the travel experience.

Lufthansa's fight with the GDS operators, whose computers power most bricks-and-mortar travel agencies, third-party travel Web sites and virtually all corporate travel departments, is as mind-numbingly complex as today's world. Lufthansa has some legitimate beefs, too, including the fees that the GDS companies charge and how their computers display (or don't) airline ancillary products such as paid seat assignments, upgrades or whatever.

But make no mistake about it. Lufthansa has made us collateral damage in their war with the GDS players. We can't allow that to happen and, unlike the mind-numbing complexity that surrounds the battle, we simply can't permit Lufthansa to make us pay.

Here's why:

  GDS systems power the Web sites and travel-agency computers that allow us to see all of our flight options and virtually all of our price choices. That kind of transparency irks airlines and is one of the reasons Lufthansa is hoping to bring the GDS systems to heel.

  GDS systems tend to power virtually all of the one-stop shopping options that make our corporate travel a little less complicated. We don't only book our flights with GDS-powered computers. We use them for hotels and car rentals, too, and corporate travel managers use GDS products to keep our schedules organized and our lives a little less frantic. Many independent business travelers rely on third-party GDS solutions, too.

  Alone among businesses in the free world, airlines think that the third parties who sell perhaps 70 percent of all tickets shouldn't be compensated. Airlines actually believe wholesalers, distributors, middlemen and travel agents should pay them for the privilege of selling their product. And when third parties such as the GDS operators amass enough power so they can actually take a cut of the retail price, airlines such as Lufthansa try to recoup that cost by charging us a fee. Only the travel industry thinks that everyone--travel agents, computer-system operators and, of course, us--works for them.

  If Lufthansa gets away with this fee, other airlines will follow. And they'll follow en masse as soon as they can. In fact, they'd have matched already if they could, but their own contracts with the GDS operators prohibit it. Lufthansa was able to pull this stunt only because its contracts with GDS operators expired earlier this year.

I carry no water for the big GDS operators, Travelport, Sabre and Amadeus. They're hardly the friend of the working man, if you know what I mean. GDS operators tend to be as rapacious and arrogant as the airlines, which is no surprise since they were created by the airlines decades ago and there's an underground railroad of executives who bounce back and forth between the two.

But right now we have common cause with the GDS operators against Lufthansa. We need the GDS computers and their capabilities a lot more than we need the Lufthansa Group of airlines. Right now the immediate threat is Lufthansa and its blockheaded decision to make us pay for the privilege of booking via a channel of our choosing.

Besides, Lufthansa is the last airline that should be trying to pull this crap. The carrier is an operational mess. Its inability to bargain rationally with its pilots and flight crews--Lufthansa wants gigantic givebacks, of course--has led to repeated strikes and the threat of more work stoppages and flight groundings in the week ahead.

Lufthansa doesn't just want to charge us a fee if we don't book where it tells us, it wants to charge us even while it is a wholly unreliable airline. When it's working right, I think Lufthansa is a damn fine airline. But Lufthansa isn't working right now and its attempt to slap us with a booking fee only adds financial insult to scheduling injuries they've regularly inflicted upon us.

The choice, fellow flyers, is pretty stark: Book Lufthansa or any of its subsidiaries while this fee exists and we're selling ourselves down the river. The airlines want a world where they control the product, the pricing, how we access and use the product and even our ability to look and compare before we book.

We can't stand for that. We've got to shut this down. Fast. And the only way that is going to happen is if you book away. Lufthansa needs to be slapped down and slapped down hard.

Just say no and book away. It's a very simple message. It's the only message that airlines understand in this mind-numbingly complex world.

This column is Copyright 2015 by Joe Brancatelli. is Copyright 2015 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.