t's hard to get them to go on the
record, but they're out there. They own large agencies, small
agencies and some even run travel agency consortia and brands.
They are retailers who either are uninterested in, or even
embarrassed by, the lawsuits that travel agents are filing against
The suits charge that big airlines colluded or conspired to
reduce or eliminate travel agents' commissions. The stated goals of
the suits vary, but include restoration of commissions, the award
of damages and forced divestment of the consumer Web sites owned by
Though many agents are passionate about the lawsuits against the
airlines, the unconcerned parties don't see their position as
betraying their profession. Rather, they fall into one of these
• Those who believe that the lawyers will get rich and agents
will get what amounts to promotional offers from airlines.
"Look what happened when ASTA settled. The lawyers got $30
million and we got scrip," one agent said. "I doubt [plaintiff]
Sarah Hall's lawyers only got $100 bonus commission for working the
Lufthansa settlement. But, of course, lawyers don't get paid at all
unless they convince their clients to agree to a settlement."
• Those who have "moved on" and think fellow agents should just
"get over it."
"Frankly, I think the airlines did collude," one midsize-agency
owner said. "But I'm making more on the combination of fees and
negotiated commission than I made under the old system. I don't
want to go back."
• Those who believe that, despite everything, agents should be
supporting the airlines.
"Like it or not, every trip starts on an airplane," a veteran
agent told me. "We need them healthy. There's nothing to go after,
anyway. [T-dub] is gone, United is in bankruptcy. And if we win a
suit, it won't bring back the agencies that already have gone
One travel agent, who straddles the second and third bullet
points, felt that the suit reflected poorly on agents. "She [Sarah
Hall] doesn't speak on my behalf," he said. "Maybe she represents
the group that's into the twilight of their careers. I'm just in
the third inning. I think perhaps this is when we ought to extend
the olive branch to the airlines and work on a solution together.
Let's spend the same energy reinventing and reinvigorating the
None of the agents I spoke with, incidentally, said they would
send back a settlement check should one appear in their
"If a check comes, I'll cash it," a large corporate agency
president said. "But the paperwork for the Sarah Hall settlement
was meaningless to me -- I already have an agreement with
Two agents told me they believe base commission will come back
without a lawsuit.
"It wasn't that long ago that we were getting only 7%," said the
first, "then the airlines realized we were the cheapest channel, so
they gave us 10%. Now they think they can do it cheaper without us,
but that, too, will change."
A small agency owner agreed. "I hope we can be the most
cost-effective channel again, and they'll come back to us --
without litigation. Agency cost is tied to GDSs, and the GDS issues
are being worked through."
I think the sense of fatalism expressed by all the agents I
spoke with is a reasonable response to the suits -- agent hopes
have been dashed before.
But if a check does arrive, take a moment to thank Sarah Hall
before you cash it -- while others watched and waited, she did an
awful lot of heavy lifting.