The Travel Adviser: Do they think we’re all morons?

Consumers still need travel agencies, be they online or on Main Street.

These days, airlines have no shame in demanding from the passenger a multitude of tasks to be performed prior to showing up for the flight. It goes hand in hand with why consumers still need travel agencies and travel consultants to do battle on their behalf.
A recent snafu happened with Ryanair, the low-cost European airline, which must have assumed its clients are the most gullible on this planet. Already threatening to charge fliers to use the bathrooms on the plane, they recently introduced the new requirement that every passenger must print his boarding pass prior to arriving at the airport. They pointed out ever so politely that failure to comply will entail a fine of approximately $50 per passenger. This scam had been operating for some time until an intelligent passenger took the airline to court and won.
A boarding pass is simply the piece of paper with your seat number and frequent flier details that is presented at the gate before one enters the aircraft. Many airlines encourage you to do Internet check in, thus putting the onus on the passenger to provide all pertinent details. Most airline websites offer an option to print the boarding pass; all explain that it can also be collected at the airport. Not one except Ryanair had the chutzpah to demand payment for this.
Fortunately justice is not that blind. A wise judge in Spain ruled that it’s illegal for the airline to charge fliers for not printing their own boarding passes. Under international air travel agreements, Ryanair can neither demand passengers turn up at the airport with a boarding pass, nor penalize them if they do not. The judge voided the contractual clause in which Ryanair demands the passenger bring the printed boarding pass.
Ryanair plans to appeal the ruling, calling it an “unfair penalty” that the airline must print the boarding pass. Got to love their moxie.
AMERICAN AIRLINES is trying a different way to enrage both customers and travel agents. Airlines pay to appear in the reservation systems of both online and brick and mortar travel agencies. Starting at $2 per segment, the global distribution systems offer consumers and travel agents an unbiased view of all airlines that choose to participate.
So when you go to a site like Kayak or your local travel agent, and request a flight from London to New York, all the airlines will appear. The information can be shown according to time of departure or specific airline and it can be categorized to show only nonstop flights or those with a stopover. It can be programmed to show the lowest fare first or only show business class.
What it will not do is discriminate against any airline.
American Airlines has decided it wants to be special. It doesn’t want to pay so much for this unbiased viewing. It’s using its massive inventory as clout to demand a substantial reduction. It has decided it will force the consumer to go to its site to book his flight; if not booked with it directly, the customer may pay more if booking elsewhere.
There are three international global distribution systems: Amadeus, Sabre and Travelport.
All travel agencies use one or more of them. The Internet sites that so many consumers know, be they Orbitz or Expedia, Kayak or Side Step, usually have a strong connection or ownership tie with one of the three. So once American pulled its fares from Orbitz, Expedia retaliated and kicked it off its site. Sabre moved its flights to the bottom of each search. Lawyers are filing briefs; lawsuits are pending. Neither side has backed down.
This reinforces – in my admittedly biased outlook – why consumers still need travel agencies, be they online or on Main Street.
Three simple reasons: 1. Quick and easy comparison of not just fares but schedules on dozen of airlines at one glance. It’s not just fares, it’s schedules.
If you need to arrive by noon, and go only to an airline site, you won’t see the other airlines that will meet your needs.
2. Flexible date searches. Most airline sites do a flexible date search over three to seven days. Online sites like Travelocity perform the search over a 10-month period.
Travel agents are able to search up to 11 months.
3. Multi airline itineraries. If you’re flying from LA to San Francisco, you don’t need more than one airline to transport you. But when flying from Tel Aviv to Chicago, a quick search with any travel agent will offer not just a single airline that flies the route, but also a combination of airlines. Go to Delta’s site and you’ll only find Delta flights, no mention of EL AL and Jet Blue, or British Airways and American Airlines.
The conclusion is simple: If American Airlines ends up selling its fares the same way that Southwest does, only on its site, you’ll be spending a lot more time simply looking for an American ticket. In addition, you’ll probably end up spending more too.
The writer is CEO of Ziontours, Jerusalem.
For questions and comments, e-mail him at