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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, August 30, 2001

Travel agencies protest cut in commissions

Advertiser Staff and News Services

DALLAS — What would you do if your company told you it was cutting your pay by 60 percent?

That's the question that travel agents across Hawai'i and the nation are contemplating after airlines led by American Airlines Inc. lowered the maximum commissions they will pay agents.

Some agents will register their unhappiness by closing their offices for two hours today and trying to educate the public about what the airlines are doing and how it affects agents and consumers.

In Hawai'i, representatives of the local chapter of the American Society of Travel Agents and other agents are scheduled to gather at 9 a.m. today at the Prince Kuhio Federal Building before visiting the offices of U.S. Sens. Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka, and U.S. Reps. Patsy Mink and Neil Abercrombie. The agents will ask the lawmakers to support legislation in Congress to protect the travel consumer.

The local chapter also is asking agencies in Hawai'i to close their doors for two hours in the morning, or later in the day.

Chapter president Mary Lou Lewis said yesterday that at least 20 agents have told her they will participate in the action and that she expects more. Hawai'i's ASTA chapter represents about 175 agencies, she said.

"We hope the public understands," said Bonnie Gutner, owner of Travel Inc. in Kailua. "It doesn't just affect us, it affects them."

Because of the airlines' move, travel agents who have not been charging transaction fees are expected to begin doing so. Many agents in Hawai'i charge $15 to $25 in transaction fees, and several agents said that $25 now could become the minimum fee.

The American Society of Travel Agents has called for its members to hold a nationwide closing from noon to 2 p.m. CDT.

Some agents in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah plan to give customers $30 coupons good for discounts on travel packages.

A Boston agency plans to rebate to customers the entire commission it earns on airline tickets for the next two weeks.

"The bottom line is this: travel agents deserve fair compensation for their labors," said Richard Copland, ASTA president and chief executive officer. "The airlines have declared war against their distribution system, and we intend to make the public aware of this outrage."