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
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.