A number of agents and advisors are fuming over an article that originally appeared in Travel Weekly and later in TravelPulse quoting airline executives about how partnerships with agencies will play a pivotal role in their success when travel restrictions are lifted.
“We’ve invested a lot of energy into these partnerships,” Jim Carter, American’s eastern division vice president for global sales, said in the article. “It’s these kinds of times when you get to test these partnerships. It’s natural now that we lean on them. The conversations we are having with them are more critical, to make sure we’re listening to where their clients are thinking about traveling.”
In response, James Berglie of Be All Inclusive had this to say: “The implication that travel agents and airlines have a ‘partnership’ is just ridiculous. The airlines dropped any partnerships when they stopped paying agents any commissions and started taking advantage of our free labor.”
From Beglie’s perspective, airlines “use agents to act as their unpaid customer service representatives.” Furthermore, “they don’t offer us a dime on commission but know our clients expect us to service their air, so the airlines end up just taking advantage of free labor,” he said. “To add salt to the wound, air and package itineraries have been the hardest issues to deal with in rescheduling (compared to land only) [with] agents taking the bulk of the customer complaints for the airline policies.”
Similarly, Tom Brussow of Sunsational Beach Vacations said “the idea that there is any mutual partnership relationship between agents and the airlines is laughable, to put it nicely.”
If airlines were truly interested in partnerships with agents, “they would be looking at ways to improve the ease of doing business for agents, as we are the ones who have to navigate and communicate their rigid and unfriendly consumer and agent policies,” he said. “For example, the amount of time and energy that an agent spends to accomplish something as simple as a minor name or date-of-birth change to a booking is just plain stupid and unnecessary. Not to mention if the ‘unthinkable’ should occur and a client has to change their flight to go two hours later or fly the next day.”
Several agents, meanwhile, believe that when airlines are talking partnerships they are referring to larger agency players with whom they offer lucrative air contracts.
“I do think they are talking about large corporate travel call centers, consortia and consolidators, as well as online travel agencies,” said Katie Kapel of Mode Travel Agency. “Airlines seem to forget that independent or small travel agencies that have banded together and sell through tour operators have a huge influence and wealth of knowledge on where they book their loyal clients year after year.”
She added, “Airlines seem to forget that independent or small travel agencies that have banded together and sell through tour operators have a huge influence and wealth of knowledge on where they book their loyal clients year after year.”
Going forward, Kapel said she would “like to see … a loyalty program for leisure travel professionals, even if booking through tour operators, which rewards agents for selling their product, similar to hotels, car rentals – or the possibility of earning bonus miles, upgrades, airport lounge admission or other creative ways that would have value and be a win-win.”
In the end, travel advisors are not hopeful that airlines will begin paying commissions any time soon to rank-and-file travel advisors.
“They’ve been able to take away all compensation and we still work for free,” said Sarah Kline of Time to Travel. “Over the last three months agents have been beaten and battered, so it would be amazing to see us compensated for our work finally. Maybe if a few airlines started paying us we’d shift business to those airlines and that would start a trend. One thing I’ve learned so far in 2020 is that anything is possible.”
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