ASTA Wants Proof of Bogus Ticket Voids

Copland: ARC's invitation to discuss potential changes in voiding procedure is a farce

By: Robert Carlsen

Angry that the deadline for ticket voids may be reduced to just one day, ASTA has asked the Airline Reporting Corp. to produce evidence of its claim that fraudulent voids are rampant.

In a letter to ARC President David Collins, ASTA President Richard Copland asserted that ARC wants to improve the bottom lines of its airline owners “at the expense of travel agents.” He also said that Collins’ invitation to discuss the potential changes in the voiding procedure, as well as daily reporting, is a farce.

“And the consultation is in fact only about how and, perhaps when, to make these changes, not about whether the changes are justified by anything other than exercise of airline market power over travel agents and their clients,” he said.

ARC said the voiding function was designed to cancel an erroneous transaction or a transaction that had not actually taken place.

“The system is now being abused because the functionality is being used widely to cancel out transactions that did take place,” Collins said. He added that ARC has seen an increase in fraudulent voids, including cases in which travel agents voided all their cash transactions.

“With the increasing losses the airlines have to underwrite resulting from improper voiding, the airlines are seriously questioning the integrity of the system,” Collins said. “The dialogue we are initiating will focus around shortening the time available for voiding transactions.”

Allan Muten, an ARC spokesman, confirmed that a small number of agencies are involved, but he said the loss to the airlines to date is easily “seven figures.” ARC processes more than $1 billion in transactions per week.

Agents now must report a void on the Monday following the end of each Monday-through-Sunday sales week. In some cases, they can report as late as Thursday, giving them 7 to 10 days to report the void.

ARC wants to change the deadline to midnight of the day after the sale.

Fraudulent voids have been around awhile, Muten said, but the airlines’ tracking technology has made it easier to catch. In a recent spot check, for example, the carriers were “appalled” at what they found, Muten said.

As to ASTA’s request for information, Muten said that ARC will cooperate as long as it can honor individual carriers’ competition rules.

The more agents learn about ARC’s plans, the angrier they become.

“It seems to me that by letting ARC call it ‘fraudulent voiding,’ we are letting them set the agenda,” said Stephen Shields of Shields World Travel in Pleasanton, Calif. “The fact is that, for decades, travel agents have been providing service to the customers that the airlines have not.

“Instead of improving the system, they just made it equally bad for everyone,” he said.

Steve Cosgrove of Dynamic Travel and Cruises in Southlake, Texas, said: “Fraud, I believe, means the intention to steal. An honest agent mistake is not fraud. ARC better make real sure of their facts before they start throwing that word around.”

Sheila Hyman of Tanforan Travel in San Bruno, Calif., added: “Maybe I just don’t know the crooks in this industry, because all agents I know do not void except for legitimate reasons. I would love to see their figures.”