'Get a Live Person on the Line'

Airline changes force agents to confirm, reconfirm flights

By: Robert Carlsen

Travel agents are spending extra time reconfirming their clients’ flights following further reductions in service by U.S. airlines.

Same-day cancellations linked to load factors or equipment problems do not appear to be increasing, agents say, but flight frequencies and even some entire routes have been disappearing.

Jack Young Jr. of Clement Travel Service in San Francisco said he has told his agents to reconfirm flights with the airlines rather than rely on GDS data that may be outdated.

“We want to get a live person on the line to verify everything,” he said. “We don’t want to mess up any changes we may have to do.”

Sabre spokeswoman Dawn Dorman said the GDS companies are pretty much at the mercy of the airlines for schedule change data. As fast as the changes come, “we load them in all throughout the day.”

Other agents said that they are reconfirming flights up to 24 hours before their clients’ departures.

“You can’t just book them and forget them nowadays,” Young said. He also makes sure that his agency’s telephone number is listed as the contact in each client’s passenger name record.

Navigant International agents also are verifying all airline bookings, but say they have not seen any major problems with GDS updates, according to a spokesman, Paul Shamon.

“Airlines are letting us know about schedule changes with plenty of lead time,” he said. “We’re working closely with our customers and keeping them aware of the changes.”

Robert Kern of PNR Travel in Los Angeles echoed the comments, saying he and his agents are instructing their clients to “stay in touch with us.”

Monica Harrington of Carlson Wagonlit Travel in Medford, Ore., said she recently noticed the disappearance of a daily Denver flight on United Express that is supposed to reappear in May. “I don’t know what’s going on there,” she said.

The service cutbacks and the airlines’ much-publicized switch to regional jets for many routes are definitely affecting travel agents in Medford, a city in southern Oregon with a population of 60,000.

Since United pulled its large jets from Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport in January, regional jets are being used for all 28 daily departures. “Where once you had a 135-seat jet, you now have a 50-seater,” said David Rasmussen of Jackson Travel. The regionals range from 24-seat prop jets to 50-passenger Embraer commuter jets.

Although departures have increased 33 percent at Medford Airport from January 2002 to January 2003, the number of seats has decreased dramatically. Finding space on any flight, and for a reasonable fare, has become a Medford agent’s nightmare.

Rasmussen said he has spent at least two hours trying to find space for a client traveling to San Diego. The only seat available was on America West Express, Medford-Phoenix-San Diego, for $423. A $288 fare was listed in his GDS, he said, but no seats were available at that price.