Southwest Filing Fares in ATPCO Once Again

Last Updated Aug 18, 2008 11:11 AM EDT

I can't believe I missed this one. Southwest Airlines has once again begun filing fares in ATPCO. For other airlines, this is a joyous occasion, and for Southwest, it's just a necessary evil. So what exactly is ATPCO and why does it matter?

ATPCO is the Airline Tariff Publishing Company. It's a central clearinghouse where nearly all airlines file their fares, because it provides standardized distribution throughout the world. All reservation systems take the ATPCO feed and that's how they receive most of their pricing information. If airlines don't participate in reservation systems, this isn't nearly as important, and that's why Southwest pulled out several years ago.

It's not just the reservation systems that get the fare feeds from ATPCO. The airlines do as well, and that's a way for them to keep on top of the competitive situation in their markets. Three times a day domestically (once a day on weekends), new fares come flooding in and every airline pricing department analyzes the moves of other airlines to see what has happened.

When Southwest pulled out of the system, it scared the heck out of everyone, because there was no longer an easy way to see what Southwest was doing. Sure, you could go look at Southwest's website and you could monitor their fare sale emails, but that was about it. In recent times, it has appeared to me that this left many airlines to overcompensate with low fares just to make sure that they were competitive over a broad area when in fact, they were often casting that net too wide.

Now that Southwest has come back in, it should mean that airlines can set their pricing with a bit more pinpoint accuracy. True, they still don't have private web fares available for them, so there won't be 100% visibility, but it's going to help. Why would Southwest do something to aid the competition? Spokesperson Paula Berg says:

We started filing fares with ATPCO in April of this year. Getting ready for future codeshare partners necessitated the move back to ATPCO (industry standard fare filings).
Ah yes, codesharing. That's another big benefit of having a centralized, standardized clearinghouse like ATPCO. It makes things like codesharing much easier to accomplish. So, this is good for Southwest, but it's also good for the competition to be able to have a more accurate picture of the pricing landscape in the domestic world.