Arbiter: Firm Must Pay $100,000 in Debit Memos

FAIRFAX, Va. -- Travel agent arbiter William McGee refused to lift liability from a Miami agency that received more than $100,000 in debit memos from airlines that honored some of the 2,000 tickets stolen from the firm. McGee ruled that the agency, Multi-Travel & Tour Inc., could not be relieved of liability to pay for the debit memos because its ticket security was "a very low priority."

Two full boxes, each containing 1,000 automated ticket and boarding pass (ATB) coupons, were taken, evidently by shoplifters. Based on the agency's own testimony, its entire supply of ticket stock always had been kept on the premises, which McGee described as a perpetual violation of the Airlines Reporting Corp.'s "most basic" security rule.

At the time of the theft, both full boxes of tickets were left "out in the open," which he said "was indeed a major causative factor."

The agency had one printer and therefore was allowed to keep one spare box locked up on the premises; the excess box should have been stored in a bank box or other off-premise security facility.

The boxes evidently were stolen last Sept. 27 by two men and a woman posing as walk-in customers, according to McGee's decision. The men feigned interest in fares, while the woman looked at brochures. At one point, the woman dropped some brochures as an apparent distraction, and the trio left.

Earlier that day, an employee (now the owner) had taken the boxes out of the safe to audit the ticket inventory in order to prepare an ownership change application to ARC. She had placed one box on the floor under the printer because the feed roll was getting low. When the three visitors came in, she put the other box behind the printer to get it out of the way.

The printer could be seen from the front door, and the brochure rack that attracted the woman was near the printer. McGee called it "a glaringly dangerous office setting," adding that "neither box was noticed to be missing for hours afterward."

In separate news, McGee has produced a CD-ROM containing all of the nearly 4,000 decisions that he has made since 1988, when the office was created, through 1996. The price is $495 for those who pay now, which includes a free CD-ROM later this year containing the arbiter's 1997 decisions. The price is $550 for those who wait for the complete 1988-1997 version.

The arbiter also said he is exploring the idea of establishing a Web site and posting his decisions on it. For information, interested firms can call (703) 847-9427.

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