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Friendly Skies or Skyway Robbery?

My wife and I have just, and very reluctantly decided that given the exorbitant cost of air (approaching for the five of us, $10,000), when we had anticipated using the extensive aeroplan points I had accumulated for four of our tickets, that this is all just too expensive, at least, for this year, for all five.

Are the airlines really our friends and as friendly as they appear?

I remember when I flew to Europe in 1968. I was dressed in my Sunday Best as we headed off to what would become 6 years of living in Athens after my father took a job teaching at the American Community Schools. This was a mere 10 years after the introduction of the Boeing 707 jetliner that had revolutionized transatlantic travel.

It was also the beginning of affordable air travel for the masses. The market was expanding and there was enough business for everyone.... and it sure is easy to be freindly when your business is going well. When you're making money you can give all those free perks and not feel the pinch..... back then, I think the skies were truly friendly.

As time went on markets began to level off and competition became greater as smaller regional and low cost airlines began competing for the somewhat finite number of passengers. Giants of the airline industry started to disappear...Pan Am and Eastern were US casualties.... or file for chapter 11... Delta, USAir, United.... As well as the more recent SwissAir and Sabena.

The trend built momentum after September 11 and airlines were forced to cut back flights and use smaller planes. The end result(although it's picking up a bit) is that there were less seats on planes traveling to Europe...meaning less got it... higher prices.

The once friendly airlines that would happily(or so it appeared) do anything for their passengers now are in a battle for their very surivial! Every penny could mean the difference between survival and extinction for any airline. Their decisions are made for the sole purpose of keeping the airline in the skies. If it means cutting back on blankets, pillows, meals and magazines and service....then they will go(as they have on many flights).

Commisions to agents have mostly been taken away, so you can no longer work with your local travel agent who can coordinate flights and use their local knowledge to help you plan your trip. So it has made it both harder for you to plan your trip and has cut off a stream of revenue to the travel agent.

As if that isn't enough they've made it even harder for agents. I'll use Delta as an example. They were one of the first airlines to cut out the Agent commission This was a step by step process. At first we could sell a ticket for the same price as Delta and collect a 5-10% commission which was a nice arrangement that worked for everyone. Passengers could work with an agent that knew the intricacies of traveling to Greece, agents were paid for their services and the ariline recieved 90-95% of the fare.

But in time that was not enough and Delta needed to keep more of it's ticket revenue. (I like to call it mis-management or greed- Did you ever wonder why five different airlines have to fly the same route at the same time with 5 planes only a quarter full? My logic tells me that they want to squeeze every last penny out of the passenger for themselves instead of cooperating with other airlines and sharing passengers. They're like a greedy old miser who falls overboard and drowns because he holds on to his bag of pennies instead of letting go!

The first step was to leave the commission but put a cap of $50 commission per ticket(a $1500 ticket which paid a $150 commission was now reduced to $50). Most agents could live with that(although we were a little upset by the move!). But that wasn't enough, the next step was to cut out all the commissions so we would have to add our fee to the published fare if we wanted to make a commission. That left the passenger with a choice- purchase directly from the airline for the published fare or through an agent for the published fare + the commission the agent added. That's not a hard choice for anyone to make.

But most agents decided to live with that since we still had net fares to offer. Those are tickets at wholesale prices to offer the agents. We could sell those and add a commission to them that would allow us to make a little off of each ticket sale...but lo and behold... Delta changed some of it's pricing so many of the net fares are the same price as if a passenger went directly to Delta to purchase... so much for that...

It was looking bad, but there was still a bright spot....there are still some tickets that are lower fares than the I tried to book a flight from Boston to NY. The net fares had to be purchased in "L" class and the price looked great! The only problem was that the passenger had to switch from Laguardia to JFK airport in NY.

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