April 5, 2019 / 8:54 PM / 5 months ago

UPDATE 1-U.S. judge rules against Expedia in United Airlines fare listings lawsuit

(Adds statement from United)

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK, April 5 (Reuters) - A federal judge in Manhattan on Friday rejected Expedia Inc's request for an injunction that would have required United Airlines to continue providing fare data for flights after Sept. 30, when the companies' contract ends.

U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel said Expedia had shown a "likelihood of success" on the merits of its breach of contract claim, but did not show a preliminary injunction was needed to avoid irreparable harm or serve the public interest.

An injunction would have required United, part of Chicago-based United Continental Holdings Inc, to provide Expedia with fare and schedule information for all its publicly available flights, including those after Sept. 30.

"We welcome the ruling from the judge in favor of United which will minimize the risk of disrupting our customers’ travel plans and ensure we can effectively serve customers who need to make changes to their itineraries purchased through Expedia," United said in an emailed statement.

Expedia did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The dispute came as some carriers try to reduce distribution costs by encouraging travelers to book directly rather than through online travel agencies such as Bellevue, Washington-based Expedia.

Southwest Airlines Co has long relied on direct bookings, and JetBlue Airways Corp in October 2017 pulled its fares from several online agencies.

Expedia accused United of trying to force a renegotiation of their 2011 contract by threatening to withhold fares for flights after Sept. 30, leaving it unable to book or change tickets.

United countered that limiting fare listings would benefit travelers flying later, because the companies' "coming divorce" would leave Expedia unable to serve them.

In his decision, Castel found no language in the contract between Expedia and United suggesting that United would withhold fare information in the final months, and no evidence that Expedia would be unable to service customers through Sept. 30.

But he also found no proof that maintaining the "contractual status quo" would irreparably harm Expedia, even if the dispute led to customer confusion and hurt its reputation.

Castel also said the public interest did not weigh in favor of a preliminary injunction.

"There is no serious issue as to the ability of members of the public to fly on their airline of their choosing," he wrote. "Meaningful and prominent disclosure will mitigate any harm to the public."

The case is Expedia Inc v United Airlines Inc, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 19-01066. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Richard Chang and Tom Brown)

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