Agents Furious With CO, Majors

Cost-cutting, revenue enhancement moves mean more work for no pay, agents say

By: Robert Carlsen

Thanks to Continental Airlines’ latest cost-cutting moves, airline bashing in the travel agency community is at an all-time high.

Among other things, Continental told retailers they would receive $25 “administrative” debit memos for any U.S. taxes and fees reported incorrectly. The airlines also doubled its paper ticket fee to $20 for domestic flights and made it applicable to all distribution channels, including agents.

There is also some bad news for low-fare customers, who Continental said would have to start paying for some services they now get free. An airline spokesman said Continental cannot legally disclose what fees will be charged until it happens, but new charges will be revealed during the next several weeks.

Travel agents, already pummeled by other major airline moves this year, were furious.

Janet Staton, president of Vista Travel in Las Cruces, N.M., shot off a letter to the local daily newspaper and authored a story to appear in two local monthly newspapers.

“I got some stuff off my chest,” Staton said.

Staton told her readers that “what is going on with the major airlines is not in your best interests. The sudden conversion to fiscal responsibility the airlines are announcing is totally self-serving and will result in less choice and higher fares for consumers.”

In order to save money, she wrote, the airlines have “stopped travel agents from doing any favors for you, such as getting a waiver if a fare went up overnight before you could decide if you wanted the ticket ... deleted senior staff in favor of cheaper, less experienced, poorly trained people ... done away with senior fares and senior coupon booklets, and, lowest of all, United Airlines did not pay its 9/11 pilots for their return flights.”

Staton reminded readers: “The people who are making your travel more difficult and more expensive are the very same people who have run these huge corporations into the ground and have been bailed out with our tax dollars.”

She also discussed the smaller airlines that are not getting the government attention that United and the biggies are. She contended that the majors have serious congressional lobbyists and have lined the pockets of elected officials.

“Why does United deserve a federal bailout when smaller airlines like National and Spirit have been denied federal aid?” she asked.

Meanwhile, John Clifford, president of International Travel Management in La Jolla, Calif., fired off a letter to Continental explaining that, with the new $20 fee for paper tickets, plus the additional fee his agency will need to implement to cover the paperwork cost, “my guess is that our clients will choose an alternative airline that we offer them which does not charge this ridiculous fee.”

He added, “Because we are already working for you for zero commission, I’m sure you will understand that Continental will now be my last choice in choosing a carrier for our corporate and leisure clients, for paper as well as electronic tickets.”