The sounds of silence from other carriers in the first few days following United's abrupt decision to cap international commissions undoubtedly failed to befuddle even the most wide-eyed travel agents this time round.

Fool me once, the saying goes, shame on you. Fool me twice ... well, you know the rest.

As a result, it came as no surprise last week when Delta, American and Canadian Airlines, broke the ominous quiet and joined forces with the latest capping crusade, in some cases effectively cutting the real commission rate from 8% to as low as 2% and less on big-ticket international fares.

Is there anyone in the travel agency community who does not expect that other major carriers are counting the days -- if not the hours and minutes -- before they announce that they, too, have joined their comrades in arms in divvying up this newfound windfall?

Many retailers have been preparing for this unfortunate contingency for some time -- joining consortia, juggling their leisure-business mix, cutting overhead, charging service fees -- and for them, the immediate future appears plausibly bright, despite repeated assaults on their earning power.

But for others, we are afraid, innovative strategies designed to help travel agents prosper in this brave new world of diminishing commissions probably appear unavailing and unrealistic, and it is these people who, under duress, are likely to turn to harebrained schemes and half-baked concepts to bail them out in troubled times.

Undoubtedly, you have heard the refrain of late, and it is growing more insistent all the time: Buy an airline, strike an airline, boycott an airline. Next thing you know, the singers of these siren songs will be lining up retailers to impeach an airline.

Our advice: Turn a deaf ear and get real.

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