Making Dysfunction work

Generally, one doesn’t have to look far to find examples of dysfunctional relationships in everyday life. Unfortunately, there are also plenty to be found in the business world as well. Earlier this month we saw this in two incidents involving travel agents and the airlines.

By: Kenneth Shapiro

Generally, one doesn’t have to look far to find examples of dysfunctional relationships in everyday life. Unfortunately, there are also plenty to be found in the business world as well. Earlier this month we saw this in two incidents that emphasized the strange relationship between travel agents and the airlines.

First, there was the announcement by ARC that it was looking to raise its fees as much as 200 percent by the beginning of the year (page 8). According to ARC, the fees are justified because of all the new innovations they undertook and, well, they just don’t want to have to pay for it themselves. Instead, ARC is operating under the familiar “you don’t expect the airlines to have to pay more?” model, where any increase in costs will be shared evenly between agents and more agents.

Rightly, ASTA voiced its displeasure with this proposal in no uncertain terms. In a press release, Cheryl Hudak, ASTA president and CEO, called ARC’s attitude “monopolistic” and “unconscionable.” ASTA suggested that this increase is most likely just the beginning; by 2011, ASTA expects the total to be closer to a 500 percent increase.

“This is a clear case of the airlines demanding that travel agents pay more for the privilege of collecting the airlines’ money,” said Hudak. “The airlines don’t want to pay as much for ARC’s services going forward, so [agents] will have to make up the difference.”

Just as this battle was unfolding, I saw an article by Jane Roberts in The Commercial Appeal of Memphis, Tenn., that brought up a whole new aspect of the dysfunctional relationship between the airlines and agents in this case, however, it was agents who were benefiting. The article suggested that one reason behind the recent popularity of travel agents was that the airlines’ own incompetence has frustrated travelers to the point where they are once again turning to agents.

ASTA’s Hudak was quoted in this article as well, saying the airlines’ problems have been a “tremendous boon” to business.

“Anyone can sell a ticket, but if anything unusual happens, it is a painful experience having to deal with the airline yourself,” she said.

Given the dysfunctional relationship that exists between airlines and agents, I have a logical proposal: Agents will agree to pay the increase in ARC fees as long as the airlines agree to continue to make a mess of their business, further eroding any trust they have with their customers. That way everyone wins or rather, loses equally. Hey, it beats couples therapy. K.S.

 

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