Local travel agents join nationwide protest today | AspenTimes.com

Local travel agents join nationwide protest today

Many of Aspen’s travel agents will be closing their doors for three hours today to protest the latest round of commission cuts by major airlines.

The voluntary closures are part of a nationwide protest by the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA). The group says the decision earlier this month by United Airlines to cut travel agent commissions to 5 percent of the airfare, with a commission cap of $50 on domestic round-trip tickets and $100 on international flights.

Agencies taking part in the protest will be closed from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Agents say the cuts are part of the airline industry’s effort to eliminate travel agents and increase profits among the major carriers. The latest cut came on Oct. 8, when United Airlines set new standards. Alaska Airlines followed suit a few days later.

The protest, known as a “Day of Awareness,” will include a rally on the steps of the state capitol building in Denver.

“For the past four years, the major carriers have been engaged in a campaign to force consumers into direct booking, and we are standing up to say enough is enough,” said Linda Rawlings president of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the ASTA.

The organization maintains that 80 percent of all airline tickets continue to be booked through travel agents, despite the efforts of major carriers to cut them out of the loop. Agents point out that they are able to find the best packages for consumers, in terms of both price and times of travel.

“By trying to eliminate the travel agent network, the airlines are making it very difficult for customers to compare costs and times, unless they’re willing to do a lot of work,” said Aspen Travel’s Peter Johnson.

“Our hope is to make people aware of what’s going on,” said Pyramid Travel’s Chris Forte. “We wouldn’t mind if people called the airlines to book tickets today and have a bad experience.”

Forte, Johnson and other travel agents have been forced to tack on fees for their services, or change the way they do business to make themselves less dependent on the airline commissions. Until 1995, travel agents were typically paid 10 percent of the ticket price by the airlines.

Delta Airlines was the first to cut commissions, but United Airlines has been the most aggressive commission cutter among the major carriers.

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