“As a veteran of the travel industry of nearly 40 years, with experience selling retail and now online travel, I have noticed a marked change in the relationship between the airlines and travel agents over the course of my career.
“The regular visits from the airlines’ sales managers are now a thing of the past, and the commissions have dropped along with the support.
“These days, travel agents fear making mistakes on flight bookings because they can cost hundreds of dollars to rectify. The lack of compassion from some airlines is also an issue. Agents literally have to beg to get a genuine error fixed and ask for the fee to be waived, which is not always done.
“If an error is made by the agent, the fee is taken out of the agent’s commission payment, which is now so low that the change penalty can be more than the commission earnt, so the agent must pay for it out of their own pocket.
“As the rules for each airline’s fares grow more complicated, it is easy to miss something and make a genuine mistake. Every airline’s fares are different, and agents are expected to know so much now. For agents in retail locations with a client sitting in front of them, it puts them under a lot of pressure.
“At times the commissions are so low it is not worth the time and effort to work on a booking, so it is easier for the client to make their own booking online, as we need to charge a booking fee to make it worth our while and the clients are naturally reluctant to pay when they can do it themselves.
“Some airlines undercut the agent’s fare by hundreds of dollars on their own websites, which the clients are aware of, and as agents, we can’t justify the difference so we lose the booking.
“In the ‘good old days’ it was easy to contact an airline’s agency sales manager – a position that seems to have disappeared mostly – and explain what the problem was. They were usually helpful and understood that it was a genuine mistake and would fix it for the agent without any penalty.
“But the human touch has gone, and agents are now told that changes to bookings can’t be made as flights are now managed by computer algorithms. The pressure of ‘instant purchase’ or same day ticketing deadlines increases the risk of errors and fraud.
“However, in a highly competitive world, airlines might just reflect on the travel agent’s loyalty to their product and reconsider how they can provide genuine support.”
This piece has been published anonymously at the request of the travel agent who contributed it