12 September 2010

Airline Fees - Real Or Perceived Problem

I love to say that one should be very careful about wishing and wanting something. Be careful what you actually wish for because when it comes true - it might not be what you thought is was.... it reminds me of the 2009 Movie, where a preposterous proposition made for great comedy.

So it would seem is the case of the the pressure groups are are demanding action on the issue of "hidden" fees.

Let's distill the problem.

No one is disputing the airlines' right to charge fees. (Actually that is not true - many would like the airlines not to charge fees. And indeed if you ask anyone the loaded question "do you like fees" you know exactly the answer you are going to get.)

However there is a considerable pressure on the disclosure process of fees. Luddites don't like change.

But in this case they want to have everything delivered in the same manner as the traditional fares and pricing, despite the standard way of notification.

If I may QUOTE from the latest missive from BTC:

"If DOT issues a rule requiring airlines to submit data to travel intermediaries, the vast majority of problems emanating from ancillary fees would be fixed straightaway. Without the rule, we are facing perhaps years of inefficiency and untold attendant damage to managed travel programs. The ATPCO OC fare filing and ARC/BSP EMD processes that would put these fees into the marketplace and facilitate payment have been successfully tested by some 26 airlines and 3 distribution systems and are ready to go."

Not so fast hot shot. The Airlines already provide this information. The issue is NOT one of information provided it is of the execution of the information that is the issue.

Actually there are a number of issues. How do you display in the standard methodology of an agent's workflow the fees? How are they calculated and managed. These are not trivial matters. Having sat and used a GDS screen for more than 30 years I can tell you the amount of complexity is mind blowing to the average consumer. This is why there are so few good travel agents around. Also the technology to easily integrate is not trivial.

If it was just a question of providing the information for the GDSs to implement then this whole issue would be a non-event because they would have done it by bow!

Ancillary services delivered down the standard GDS pipe are NOT easy and the GDSs are having a hard time with it - EVERYONE is. Indeed I don't want anyone to think I am against the GDSs displaying the data - far from it - we all WANT them to do it. But forcing the airlines to disclose in a singular and homogenized fashion is not the answer.

So I say this - let the airlines and the agents do their job. If the GDSs are having a hard time getting to display things in the manner that the airlines want - then let them fix that with the airlines.

Raising the spectre of hidden fees at the airport is politely a load of Bull. The information is highly transparent and available everywhere. In exactly the same manner that the Airlines communicate with their travel agents and the GDSs do the same. The Web and the GDSs are complimentary. This has been the case for years.

Forcing everyone to use a GDSs to get their data - which seems to be the driving force of the Coalition against fees and BTC in particular - would seem to be self serving. What about all the other people who don't choose to use a GDS or an airline website? Are we now saying that this is the only way?

That hardly sounds like the American way.

So if the coalition really wants to prove their point - let them sit down with a Travel Agent and look at all the current complexity of work that an agent does. And where the agent goes for information. And what she/he does to address the challenges of dynamic product changes that are a hallmark of our business.

THEN if they truly feel that the agent is hard done by - perhaps then the Coalition should consider if the forcing of maximum disclosure actually makes a process harder rather than easier for the poor agent on the line that has to implement and do the work.

I doubt that anyone in the coalition has actually bothered to check this with an agent on the line - so perhaps those that are objecting should look inwards rather than trying to find a scapegoat.

Or perhaps the Coalition likes to stare at goats in order to make them fall down.


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