Airline guys used to make nice to travel agents. They would say sweet or even patronizing things like "partners in travel," or "we love travel agents." Some agents quietly suspected the airlines would desert them in a heartbeat if given half a chance, and when the airlines caught the cost-cutting fever, the chance arrived.

Airlines don't whisper sweet nothings to travel agents any more, and that's as it should be. To apply a new buzzword to an old situation, the airline-agency relationship is a business-to-business relationship, and the more professional the parties can make it, the better off their mutual customers are going to be.

Kudos, therefore, to the CEOs of two new entrants, David Neeleman of jetBlue and Michael Conway of National Airlines, for some unsentimental talk in these pages about their distribution policies.

JetBlue pays agents 5%, with no cap. You might expect Neeleman, as a former travel agent, to be apologetic about that 5% rate, but he is candid about what he sees as the changing role of agents and the business requirements of his company: "I think our participation with agents will be more with those that package our product or ... provide value to customers," such as those agents who book cruise clients on jetBlue's low-fare flights to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Clients who benefit from the savings might be more willing to pay a fee for the agent's services, he said.

National follows a quite different strategy, but its CEO offers a similarly straightforward rationale. National offers travel agents a 10% air-only commission, with no cap, and a 12% commission on the airline's tour packages. Conway could have said all sorts of sweet things, but it came down to this: National, he said, will likely keep this policy "as long as it's working. And it's working."

For building business-to-business relationships, these new entrants could be laying better foundations than the loverboys of yesteryear.

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