Why Are Airline Computer Reservation Systems Still Supporting Russian Carriers?

The President announced a closure of its air space during the State of the Union address on Tuesday evening. That will have some modest effect on Russian airlines, making it less convenient to fly to the Caribbean and Mexico in addition to making it impossible to fly to the United States. But it doesn’t have nearly the same significance as the closure of European airspace, given the geography of Russia and the international route networks of its airlines.

There is something that private companies could do that would have a far greater effect:

It’s not just reservations, and the ability to sell flights, but even to check people in for flights and dispatch aircraft. It’s the entire IT backbone of the airline.

Aeroflot uses Sabre. S7 Airlines and Rossiya use the European Amadeus. These two platforms could take down Russia’s air transportation network, even domestically, with the metaphorical flip of the switch.

But should they?

  • Since they’re continuing to provide service, I presume that (at least) they believe they’re legally permitted to do so under current sanctions regimes.

  • They may not want to stop service because it’s recurring business, and they’re betting that the current crisis may not last forever. If they cut off the airlines, would that be business they’d ever get back?

  • On the other hand, they could also worry about Russian hacking in response to shutting down service. Take down computer reservation systems and you take down the U.S. and European airlines that operate on them as well – indeed, the world’s air transportation system.

  • And while Aeroflot is a (57%) state-owned airline, S7 is privately owned, and it’s Russian people who are unable to travel – to visit family, travel to funerals, flee the country.

  • Should all Russian people be considered ‘complicit’ and fair game for this sort of disruption, at least on the theory that it’s legitimate to squeeze them to pressure Putin? Do we believe that harming ethnic minorities and even opposition activists applies enough pressure on Putin to matter (versus more obvious sanctions on oligarchs)?

It’s tempting to ‘apply maximum pressure’ but it may not always make sense, and holding some pressure in reserve may as well. When Putin has ‘nothing left to lose’ that that increase the likelihood that he backs down, or doubles down? Surely there are still bad actions we wish to deter, no?

It’s still surprising that U.S. and European companies continue to do business with Russia in the current environment, that the pressure otherwise hasn’t become too great. Ukranian resistance has been far stronger than expected, perhaps some companies figured it would all be over quickly as Putin apparently assumed (this was a reasonable guess).

And perhaps they underestimated world opinion, which has rallied strongly to the Ukranian side. The messaging has been far stronger across the board, even aside from the substance of a democracy being invaded.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. China has a domestically-built res and PSS. It’s not very good, but it does work.
    If the west cut them off, they could go to China. When relations do come back, they will not come back. Sabre probably doesn’t want that.

  2. I believe the EU sanctions give Amadeus until end of March to suspend their contracts with Russian entities. It was not a “turn off the switch” requirement.

  3. Arguments like this represent an extreme form of McCarthyism which wrongly conflate Putin and his thuggish government with the Russian people who have nothing to do with his illegal invasion. Russian people are victims of Putin also, not the perpetrators of his crimes, and not the enemy – certainly not MY enemy. Sanctions on Russian people that seek to impoverish and impose misery upon them because we aren’t willing (perhaps rationally) or able to attack Putin or this regime is exactly backwards. Sanctions are for losers as seen in Burma, Iran, Venezuela, and soon Russia.

  4. Sabre (which I think was once owned by American Airlines) should stop doing business with entities affiliated in any way with the Russian government or organizations that support the invasion of Ukraine. Other companies should do the same, and not resume doing business with them until the Russians exit Ukrainian as a free and independent nation. Kudos to the brave companies that have already done this. Appeasement is not the answer (remember Neville Chamberlin).

  5. Saudi Arabia has been attacking Yemen for years. Ethiopians have been engaged in pretty much genocide against their own people. Do we even need to mention Syria? Didn’t see anybody really care that much about those atrocities or invasions. Hell, the world cup will be held in Qatar in stadiums built by South Asian slave labor and we just had an Olympics in China – no comments needed there.
    What Russia is doing is horrible, but nothing uncommon amongst the world atrocities that occur regularly.
    All of sudden, we have US state capital buildings lit up in Ukrainian flag colors and every news story is about “russia bad, ukraine good”. When this much press and government attention and corporate collusion is placed on something like this, you know something is being coordinated behind the scenes. It would be nice if we could trust the media to report unbiased – but alas the US media is about as reliable as the corrupt media in Ukraine and Russia. We are all being played as pawns on the worldwide chessboard.

  6. One reason could be to accommodate foreigners who want to or need to leave Russia. I have a friend whose son has lived in St. Petersburg for the past few years. His mother-in-law has Covid, and can’t travel until she recovers. There are valid reasons not to employ knee-jerk, one-size-fits-all policies.

  7. @Jerry As much as I disagree with sanctions against Russian people, I don’t accept your premise. All of the conflicts you mention are bilateral — e.g., Saudi Arabia is attacking Yemen because Yemen launches missiles into Saudi Arabia (and UAE) — and have two sides. Russia would have a leg to stand on if it was merely supporting the cessation of legitimately disputed territories like Crimea/Donetsk/Luchansk, but has no leg to stand on for invading Ukraine proper under completely invented and false premises. Putin’s invasion is shameful in every way – far more than any of the conflicts you cite – but still doesn’t form a basis to impose misery and poverty on innocent Russians no more responsible for Putin than we are for our governments’ crimes.

  8. @Jerry – You’re making an assumption that this is about ethics. It’s not. It’s about US interests.

    Syria was a civil war with foreign powers that got involved, partially for humanitarian reasons, but probably mostly because it was breeding terrorists (ISIS had Syria in the name, after all!).

    Yemen again has a civil war with foreign powers involved. Maybe I’m misunderstanding, because I’ve certainly not studied it, but I don’t believe that Saudia has troops on the ground. They just think of one side as terrorists and so bomb them constantly to prevent them from taking power.

    I’ll admit to knowing nothing about the Ethiopian situation to which you’re referring, but I can speak to it in the context of probably being similar-ish to Chinese actions against Uyghurs. There’s a world of difference between intra-country violence and inter-country violence.

    The US cares about regional stabillity, particularly with important partners and allies. Outright European war risks the conflict easily spilling over, both economically and kinetically, into allied territory. It’s happened before, and for basically the same reasons; that the ruler of a country has decided he wants that territory, no matter the cost. NATO exists specifically to counteract that, because war in Europe will inevitably pull in the US, and that is decidedly NOT in our interests, particularly so when the opponent has nuclear warheads capable of reaching our shores. So, we and our allies clamp down, hard, on those that threaten European stability because it threatens our stability.

    China putting Uyghurs into concentration camps does not threaten international stability, so the response is commensurately smaller. The same likely applies to Ethiopia. Unfortunately, we don’t really have super significant interests in stopping or deterring these behaviors. But rest assured, this is not hypocrisy, because it’s not about ethics. It’s about interests. Everything you’ve heard to the contrary was, effectively, propaganda to encourage ethical behavior.

    Now, if you have a different viewpoint, I’d be interested to read it!

  9. @Jerry “a basis to impose misery and poverty on innocent Russians”. Kindly rationalise how this compares to the innocent Ukrainians who find themselves dying under military attack? The only reason this conflict has occurred is because Russia sees the West as weak, which in truth they are. Outside of direct Military intervention the only option left open to the free world is to “inconvenience” Russia in the hope that their population rises up against this invasion. When you have a President that can’t even remember which Country got invaded, one would hope that Iranians are not too inconvenienced by the sanctions!

  10. In the USA, all whites are racist according to the CRT taught in our schools, all police are bad and must be defunded and all criminals are good and can’t be held in jail.

    So tell me, what exactly is the standard here? Why is it OK to categorize all people in the USA one way but not Russians? For consistency, we should stick with the “all Russians are complicit” argument, no?

  11. These are important questions Gary raises as the calculus here is very different than a Hussein, Qaddafi, or Ahmadinejad given Russia’s available defense options.

    Should all Russian people be considered ‘complicit’ and fair game for this sort of disruption, at least on the theory that it’s legitimate to squeeze them to pressure Putin? Do we believe that harming ethnic minorities and even opposition activists applies enough pressure on Putin to matter (versus more obvious sanctions on oligarchs)?
    It’s tempting to ‘apply maximum pressure’ but it may not always make sense, and holding some pressure in reserve may as well. When Putin has ‘nothing left to lose’ that that increase the likelihood that he backs down, or doubles down? Surely there are still bad actions we wish to deter, no?

  12. Shut it down. Snare Russian aviation. Cripple the whole country as bad as you can.

    But that won’t happen. Biden is more interested in political theatre than stopping a madman. So much for the notion of Democrats and social justice. Here is a perfect opportunity to secure justice for Ukraine.
    Sadly the USA is a geriatric, toothless relic. Who will pay attention to anything Biden says or does? Certainly not Putin, as everyone can see with their own eyes.

  13. Two observations: (1) M Jones says Pres. Biden “can’t even remember which country got invaded” is offensive. If he doesn’t know how Biden misspoke two very similar sounds, he is too uninformed to be addressing these issues at all; (2) rjb’s comments are even worse:”all whites are racist according to the CRT taught in our schools, all police are bad and must be defunded and all criminals are good and can’t be held in jail.” CRT is not taught in schools except in a few institutions of higher learning, does not assert that “all whites are racist,” that all police are bad or that criminals are good. Such comments pathetically reflect Trump-level delusion and are unworthy of further interest.

  14. There’s quite a long backstory to this. After the 2014 Crimea annexation Russia issued a decree that all data had to be stored on Russian soil as of Fall 2022. It was basically a hedge against the exact situation happening now (being shut off externally). Amadeus will not be building a data center on Russian soil, so S7 and Ural were already scheduled to migrate off this year. Don’t know about Sabre though, if they were planning on building a Russian data center or not. But the whole calculus for all these companies has certainly changed now.

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