It's liftoff for Orbitz

After facing antitrust scrutiny and other challenges, the airline-backed online travel site says it is officially open for business.

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After facing antitrust scrutiny and other challenges, online travel site Orbitz on Monday said it is officially open for business.

Chicago-based Orbitz, backed by a consortium of airline giants including American, Continental, Delta, Northwest and United, provides travelers with access to low-cost airfares, rental cars, lodging, cruises, vacation packages and other travel deals over the Web.

At launch, Orbitz already has some 175,000 registered users and has sold approximately $3.5 million in tickets, the company said. Later this month, the company, which is aiming to nab share of the burgeoning online travel sector from early players Travelocity and Expedia, intends to kick off an advertising campaign.

For Orbitz, once known as "T2," the road to launch has been a bumpy one.

The controversial site, which delayed last year's scheduled debut to beta-test its search engine and online customer-service features, has undergone heavy scrutiny from federal and state regulators over possible antitrust violations.

The U.S. Department of Transportation said in April that, although it would monitor the company's operations, it had no reason to prevent the site from opening for business. An investigation by the Department of Justice continues.

Several Web travel agencies have opposed Orbitz since the airlines announced the venture in November 1999. Many of its rivals contend that if Orbitz is

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  Runway clear for Orbitz
Jeffrey Katz, CEO, Orbitz
May 8, 2001

allowed to operate unregulated, the airlines will be in total control of their products' distribution, allowing them to set prices artificially high. Orbitz has said all along that although it is owned by the airlines, it will operate as a separate entity and sell published fares just as other online travel companies do.

To mark its official launch, Orbitz is offering customers a chance to win paid trips in a promotional sweepstakes. At every hour of every day for six weeks, from June 4 through July 15, Orbitz is giving away to more than 1,000 potential winners one round-trip airfare to any location in the contiguous 48 U.S. states.

In addition, registered members will have the chance each week to win an all-expenses-paid trip for two to any destination overseas. Orbitz is representing more than 30 foreign and domestic carriers.