RC hit a nerve, as it knew it would, when it advised the trade that it intends to begin "a consultative dialogue" about "business process improvements."

The letter from ARC president David Collins could only dance around the topic for so long, however. The words "daily reporting" finally appear in the third paragraph. "Shortening the time available for voiding transactions" shows up in the sixth.

Along the way, ARC states that it's also going to talk to agents about moving up the settlement date for cash transactions.

What never shows up in the letter from ARC, however, is any suggestion that the "business process improvements" have any upside for agents.

The closest ARC comes to citing a benefit to agents is the suggestion that airlines will regard agency distribution as "attractive and viable" if ARC improves the efficiency and integrity of its system. ARC refers to the need to keep its "airline customers" happy.

It's worth remembering at this point that ARC and its "airline customers" are one and the same. ARC is an instrument of the collective will of the airlines. The airlines created ARC and they own ARC.

We don't dispute that ARC does many good things, but we all need to remember that ARC is the airlines.

No doubt the airlines would benefit from daily sales reporting, fewer voids and quicker cash remittances. But what's in it for agents? More work, fewer tools for serving clients and less cash flow.

If ARC wants to make its system look attractive, it should think about making it attractive to agents.

ARC said it wants a "consultative" dialogue, but agents may well conclude that this has all the makings of a one-way conversation.

• • •

Intervention

gents owe a debt of gratitude and a nod of respect to the members of the National Commission to Ensure Consumer Information and Choice in the Airline Industry. The commission's final report is a thoughtful and dispassionate assessment of the situation of travel agents, developed by a nine-member panel that embodied many points of view from inside and outside the industry, including three working travel agents -- no mean feat.

The report concluded that there's not much the government can do to help agents, who are being buffeted by economic forces and technological changes that government cannot control. And the three working agents concurred -- a sobering thought.

But this discussion doesn't have to end there. If we can't expect "government intervention" to rescue agents from these intractable forces, we can at least demand that our institutions do no harm.

Addressing some of the Transportation Department's GDS proposals might be one place to start.

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