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European Airlines Join Forces Online

Multi-airline online travel agency launches

Eleven major European airlines, including British Airways PLC, are planning to launch what has been billed as the first multi-airline online travel agency in Europe.

The as-yet unnamed public Web site, which will also allow customers to book cars, hotels, insurance and other travel services, will be launched toward the end of the year.

British Airways hopes to sell 50 percent of its tickets online by the year 2003, but will also continue to sell tickets through traditional travel agents, spokeswoman Sarah James said.

"We don't know how much of that will be through the new venture, but we also have our own Web site, as well as other online agents such as (U.K. travel site) lastminute.com and Expedia," she said.

The site will bring together some of Europe's most fiercely competitive airlines on the same Web site, offering each airline's lowest prices for flights to, from and within Europe.

The member companies expect the site to cut the cost of selling and distributing tickets, BA said in a statement.

In addition to British Airways, Air France, Germany's Lufthansa, Italy's Alitalia, Netherlands-based KLM, Spanish carrier Iberia, Sweden-based Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS), Irish carrier Aer Lingus, Austrian Airlines Group, British Midland and Finland's Finnair will be taking part in the venture.

The venture is also open to other airlines, and the members are currently in talk with several wishing to join, according to James, who declined to name them.

The airlines all have different but undisclosed equity shares in the deal. The position of chief executive officer, as well as most of the staff positions, will likely be filled by people from online industries instead of the airline industry, James said.

"We don't even have a physical headquarters yet," she said. "We're really still in the planning stages."

Member airlines involved in the venture will remain competitors. The airlines will not discuss pricing or other proprietary information with each other before putting it online.

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