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ASTA Urges Agents to Fight United and Contact Congress

July 6, 2009 By: George Dooley

With the countdown to United Airlines July 20 imposition of its credit card cost shifting policy underway, ASTA president and chair Chris Russo is urging all ASTA members and its chapter presidents to urgently mobilize grassroots support to oppose United’s policy. This includes suggested letters and e-mails to United and to agents' representatives in Congress.

“By now you are all aware of the scheme by United Airlines to shift its credit card costs to travel agents by denying access to its merchant accounts, access that we have had for all the years we have been in this business,” Russo said, appealing for support from non-ASTA members as well. “The problems this is going to create for us and our clients should be clear. What is not clear is: what are we going to do about it? Your trade association, ASTA, is doing plenty— including seeking help from the Department of Justice and from members of Congress. However, ASTA can’t do this alone. It requires member involvement. We need you to send letters to UA in support of ASTA’s demand that the cost shift policy be reversed. We also need you to write your congressional representatives to use their influence to force United to rescind this outrageous policy. It is time for all of us to step forward as an industry. Time is of the essence and we strongly encourage you to take these measures today.”

ASTA has made it easy to help, offering the text of a short message to UA that can be cut and pasted into an e-mail from you to [email protected]. For letters to Congress, simply go to to find your member of congress. It’s pretty straightforward. Set out below is a sample of a communication you can use.

To: [email protected]
Dear Mr. Myrick,

My travel agency has been selling United tickets for __ years as your agent. I am writing to tell you that I am extremely disturbed about the new policy of denying agents the use of United merchant accounts to sell your tickets.

There has been no meaningful explanation given as to why United is doing this, and what plans United may have to extend these conditions to my business. This policy is bad for my business and bad for consumers. I urge you to rethink this change immediately and rescind the plan to implement on July 20. The entire agency community is watching. It is unreasonable, unbusinesslike and unacceptable for United to force its costs onto travel agencies in the hope that we will do the dirty work for you by passing the costs on to our customers.

ASTA also suggests a sample E-mail to agents' U.S. Representative or Senator:

I own/manage a travel agency in _________, _____ and I need your help. We have been in business for ___ years, employing __ full time agents and contributing to tourism sales and the local economy. When we sell an airline ticket with payment by credit card (accounting for over 90% of sales), the merchant account for that credit transaction is owned by the airline. Among the many advantages that this system, in place since the advent of credit cards, is that consumers get the full protections of the Fair Credit Billing Act in case of performance disputes, including airline bankruptcies.

United Airlines has just announced that, as of July 20, we will be denied access to United merchant accounts and must get our own accounts and pay United in cash. This policy will impose enormous costs and risks on our business and will defeat the protections that consumers get under federal law. If an airline service dispute arises, and they come up all the time, our agency will be the target for charge-backs even though United has the money. This is an impossible situation, unfair to us, unreasonable as a business practice and severely harmful to consumers.

We ask that you use your influence to persuade United to rescind this policy immediately before catastrophic consequences ensue. If your office needs further information, please contact Paul Ruden, ASTA's senior vice president of legal and industry affairs at [email protected] or call him at 703-739-6854. Thank you very much for considering our views.

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