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News Editor

Orbitz doesn’t really care that you hate their pop-ups

Oct 07, 20024 mins
Enterprise Applications

Buried deep on the FAQ page of the online travel site Orbitz is this rather revealing question: “How can I stop Orbitz pop-up ads?”

The question reveals that Orbitz at least understands and acknowledges the antipathy these ads generate among Internet users. The answer shows something else; namely that Orbitz – which pumps out more pop-ups than Mars does M&Ms – doesn’t really give a whit about who the ads annoy.

“To disable pop-up advertisements,” the company tells us, “go to and download Pop Up Stopper 2.9. It’s free and will stop all pop-up advertising – not just Orbitz’ ads.”

This is sort of like a porn site operator recommending that parents use Surf Patrol or Net Nanny to shield their children from smut: at best, it’s disingenuous; at worst, it adds insult to injury.

The pros and cons of pop-up blockers might be a topic for another day – colleague Keith “Cool Tools” Shaw speaks highly of Pop-up Stopper and PopNot from High-Density Software. Today, I wanted to raise a more basic question: Why do legitimate companies show such callous disregard for the sensibilities of potential customers by flooding their desktops with these intrusive ads?

The answer from Orbitz also is revealing.

Orbitz is no fly-by-nighter. The company handles online ticketing for a Who’s Who of the airline industry, including American, America West, Delta, Northwest, United and U.S. Airways.

Given the state of the airline industry and the health of some of these carriers, you might think the last thing they would want is to antagonize potential customers. So why does Orbitz do it?

“This is just part of the mix of all of our online and offline advertising,” a spokeswoman tells me. “We monitor the returns on our advertising every day and the pop-up ads really result in a significant number of conversions.”

Translation: We’re making money off them.

“Although you have an opinion about pop-ups – or pop-under ads, which is what we use – we find that people are not only clicking through but they are buying tickets,” she says. “The results are what is meaningful.”

Translation: People might complain, but that doesn’t stop them – or at least it doesn’t stop others – from being sucked into Orbitz via the pop-ups.

So does that mean it’s fair to say that the company considers complaints about pop-ups to be an acceptable byproduct of doing business that way?

“No,” the spokeswoman says, offering little by way of elaboration.

After objecting to such “prejudicial questions,” she promises to get back to me with a “meaningful” set of numbers Orbitz has collected that presumably shows click-throughs from pop-ups dwarfing e-mail complaints about the ads.

I say presumably because she never got back to me. As for the broader defense of pop-ups, you might make the same case for spam: It works, so why not? … Only spammers bother to make that case.

Here’s an anecdote that Orbitz might find meaningful: After mentioning to another editor at Network World that I was writing about pop-ups, he told me he was recently planning a pleasure flight and the thought had dawned on him to check out Orbitz. “I’d heard you can get good prices there,” he said.

However, this fellow decided to pass on that opportunity to save a few bucks. He says he just couldn’t bring himself to patronize a site that so often intrudes on his desktop. Something tells me he isn’t the only one avoiding Orbitz for that reason.

In the unlikely event that anyone wants to defend Orbitz, the address is