It should go without saying that travel agents serve themselves
best when they serve their customers first. Theoretically, you
should not lose when you take that stance. So we were heartened by
a recent Missouri circuit court decision that backed Omega World
Travel of Fairfax, Va., in a dispute with TWA over selling
discounted tickets offered by Global Discount Travel Service, the
company set up by former TWA owner Carl Icahn to sell tickets
offered him as part of a settlement.
Declaring that Omega did nothing more than protect the welfare
of its customers and act to their advantage, the judge wrote, "It
is certainly not unethical in the abstract for a travel agency to
sell its customers the lowest-priced tickets available, and the
evidence is that consumers and the travel industry alike expect
travel agents to do that." The judge said an airline cannot claim
that it would have collected the full fare had the agent not sold a
discounted ticket, calling this argument "singularly ill-founded
We bring up this ruling -- which TWA is appealing -- in light of
the airlines' increasing attempts to crack down on agencies that
knowingly, or unwittingly, book cheaper back-to-back and
hidden-city tickets for their clients, violating the carriers'
tariffs. No doubt, airlines will hear the judge's reasoning again,
if they end up in court over their unequal enforcement of the
Northwest addressed the issue indirectly when it introduced
Everyday Fares, removing the incentive for consumers to buy
back-to-back tickets. On many routes, a roundtrip Everyday Fare is
cheaper than combining two fare-sale tickets. Reducing incentives
for buying back-to-back or hidden-city tickets is the way to go,
rather than harassing agents with debit memos for tickets the
carriers will write for any client. That's discriminatory, if not a
restraint of trade.
If it were clear that there is nothing wrong with agents'
seeking the lowest fares for their clients -- as outlandish as the
idea may seem to carriers -- the airlines would have an incentive
to fix their irrational tariffs.