STA is gearing up to push for legislation this year that will allow travel agents to engage in collective bargaining with airlines over commissions, booking procedures, remittance terms, etc.

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Among other things, such a regime might permit agency groups to use the leverage of strikes or boycotts as a negotiating tool -- something that is illegal under today's antitrust laws.

ASTA said it expects the proposal to be greeted with some skepticism, so we will not disappoint.

Though fraught with practical difficulties, owing to the diversity of the agency population, the idea of putting commission levels on the table as a matter of negotiation between travel agents and airlines sounds like a promising proposition. If nothing else, it might remove some inequalities from the dialogue.

But we see little chance that an administration headed by George W. Bush, or a Congress dominated by the Republican party, will sign on to such a fundamental change in our labor and antitrust laws. ASTA's precious political capital in Washington, it seems to us, could be better spent on projects more likely to bear fruit.

During the last five years of commission cuts and commission caps, agents have been on notice that the old way of doing business with the airlines is not going to be the key to survival in the future.

Advisors and business consultants have been telling agents things like: "Get control of your business; reduce your dependence on airline tickets; charge service fees; increase the sale of cruises, tours and other leisure products; reach out to clients with e-mail and the Internet; link up with a consortium and focus on its preferred suppliers and squeeze out of it every other benefit that you can," and so on.

These are the kinds of self-help measures that have allowed many savvy agents to survive, even prosper.

They haven't worked for everyone, but they work.

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