21 May 2008

ASTA says no alternative to ARC feasible.

ASTA the organization that represents a rapidly shrinking breed of animal formerly known as a Travel Agent, has for the past year been trying to espouse an alternative to ARC - the Airlines Reporting Corp, itself a "not for profit" that manages the commercial issuance of neutral airline tickets and clearing. (For our non-US readers the equivalent is BSP - however due to an anti-monopoly decision in the 1970s, ARC replaced ATC as a commercial enterprise).

No where in the world has such an entity ever been created with ONE exception (Russia and the TKP/TCH which is a whole other story). ASTA should have known that there is no power that they have to even indulge in such an exercise. As their very tall ASTA President and CEO Cheryl Hudak, CTC. said "ARC is a monopoly—it has no competition and accordingly there are no options for an integrated airline ticket settlement system. We had hoped to lay the groundwork for an alternative settlement mechanism, but it has become clear to us that without acceptance by the legacy airlines this, for the present, is an exercise in futility."

Perhaps the understatement of the year. Continuing she states:

"Travel agents today face a quandary when it comes to airline ticket settlement in that the current system is untenable and yet there is no viable alternative."

The task force, formed last year in the wake of ARC's announcement that it would be increasing travel agents' annual fees by 172 percent. The task force met three times over the past six months. This fee increase is the first of a series of fee hikes that will increase by 500% through 2011.

There is a bigger issue here. Are neutral tickets needed at all? I have asked this question for many years and no one likes to give me an answer. With eTicket now mandatory from the end of May, why is it necessary to use a neutral clearing house for what is now an electronic good. ARC itself is an anachronism - just like the system it serves. Airlines would save significant individual sums of money if they accepted that tickets themselves are not necessary. The saving of at least $1 per ticket across the board has to be significant. With interline tickets now less than 1% of all those issued, there are cheaper alternatives out there.

I think there will be a lot of people probably not liking this idea at the moment but it is the inevitable march of time and progress.

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