IATA standing firm on e-ticketing

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Travel agents have launched campaigns on several fronts to persuade the IATA to delay a June 1 deadline for phasing out paper tickets outside of the U.S.

Canadian agents petitioned for relief at Canada's Competition Bureau, and several trade groups took the issue to a meeting last week with IATA officials in Geneva.

However, barring action in Ottawa, IATA has made it clear that the cut-over date, which was delayed once, would not move again.

IATA determined in June 2004 that the organization would no longer process paper tickets for agents through its billing and settlement plan after Dec. 31, 2007, citing cost savings and a consumer preference for e-tickets.

U.S. agencies are unaffected because they settle through ARC, which continues to support paper stock. IATA airlines also will have the option to issue paper tickets.

But 17 carriers have advised IATA that they can't or won't switch to e-tickets, and some programming or policy changes to accommodate things like infant tickets and group sales have not occurred.

In addition, some multicarrier trips would be impossible to book in a single record because not all interline agreements have been updated to accommodate e-ticketing.

Bryan Wilson, director of IATA's e-ticketing project, said 3,300 of about 5,700 agreements were updated as of March, allowing e-ticketing for 81% of interline trips.

He said IATA expected more than 96% of existing global agency ticketing to be e-ticketing-enabled by June 1, but "much of the remainder will never get implemented."

Based on the 434 million tickets processed by IATA last year, as many as 17 million tickets a year would no longer be accommodated in IATA's settlement plan.

From the agents' standpoint, removing paper tickets would create unnecessary inconvenience and higher costs for consumers.

In Canada, the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies and the Canadian Standard Travel Agent Registry asked the Competition Bureau to delay and investigate IATA's plan, charging that it puts Canada's agents at a competitive disadvantage with agents in the U.S.

The filing also cited competitive issues facing small carriers that don't have e-ticketing. British Columbia-based seaplane operator Harbour Air, for example, is pulling out of GDSs, and agents will have to book at its Web site after June 1.

Meanwhile, agent trade groups were rebuffed at a meeting with IATA officials in Geneva last week. They also asked for a delay, said Mike Hatton, CEO of the Australian Federation of Travel Agents and chairman of the World Travel Agents Associations Alliance.

However, he said, IATA representatives said they were precluded from commenting on any point because of the ACTA-CSTAR filing in Canada.

Daryl Silver, president of Continental Travel Group in Winnipeg, Manitoba, said he knew IATA wouldn't budge because Komunik Datamark, the Winnipeg company that has printed IATA stock for "many parts of the world" and is his client, has stopped printing the tickets.

Therefore, Silver partnered with a fellow Ensemble agency in Chicago for issuance of some tickets in the U.S., though this will raise costs to consumers for currency exchange and ticket delivery.         

The ACTA-CSTAR papers said some agencies, such as Carlson Wagonlit Mokami Travel in Goose Bay, Labrador, would be "devastated" by the IATA move.

Ninety-three percent of its business is scheduled air, and 50% of that is on Air Labrador and Provincial Airlines, which currently settle through IATA but don't accept e-tickets.

Group ticketing is also an issue. IATA's Wilson said groups of more than nine would have to be split into smaller groups for ticketing and airlines have provided "system and procedural" support.

However, Bruce Bishins, CSTAR president and CEO, said that as far as Canadian agents could tell, no carrier would allow agents to split groups for ticketing, which means carriers would have to issue the tickets at an undetermined cost.  

To contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to Nadine Godwin at [email protected].

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