Travel agents take to the streets to fight for the skies. | NevadaAppeal.com
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Travel agents take to the streets to fight for the skies.

Jim Scripps

The skies aren’t so friendly for travel agents who earn a living from airline commissions.

A recent cut in the amount paid to independent agents by airlines for ticket sales has some crying foul, and this week they say it is time to send a message.

A two-hour boycott of ticket sales is being proposed by industry groups and agents on Thursday from 10 a.m. to noon to bring attention to the damage commission cuts could potentially cause the travel industry – and eventually consumers, they say.

Jan-Marie Brown, franchise owner of Uniglobe Travel on Highway 50 East, says she will be closed all day, and hopes that other travel agents will follow suit.

“The purpose (of the American Society of Travel Agents-sponsored boycott) is to organize and stop taking what we have been taking,” Brown said.

“The airlines have become public enemy number one. They are trying to wipe out a whole segment of the economy.”

The boycott is also sponsored by the Organization of Professional Travel Agents, a Reno group.

Over the course of six years, Brown said, cuts in commissions have resulted in a drop from a 10 percent flat rate for ticket sales, to 5 percent with a $10 cap each way.

“And I would expect a new lower international cap (from the current rate of $50 each way) to come in six months,” she said.

The result: Some ticket agents have been forced to charge service fees to offset their losses.

Brown said the cuts are a direct result of the airlines attempting to control reservations, and eventually pricing. Without a travel agent to decipher the lowest prices between competitive airlines, and give consumers a greater choice, pricing will not rely as heavily on competitive restraints.

“When it eventually goes to a zero-dollar commission, we will be something like car dealers,” Brown said. “Instead of selling on commission, there will be a dealer markup. In order to be here for consumers, we will have to raise our fees.”

Brown said travel agents sell 80 percent of airline tickets, and agents sold 10 times the combined value of tickets sold on the Internet in May, an indication of their continued power in the travel industry despite the explosive growth on Internet travel sites.

Agents met in Reno Monday night to discuss Thursday’s action. Brown said agents picketing at Reno-Tahoe International Airport should also bring attention to the national Air Travelers Fair Treatment Act (HR 1734), flyer-friendly legislation sponsored by Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.

The bill, if passed will create standards for airlines’ pricing strategies, delay compensation, in-flight medical care and information provided to travel agents.