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ASTA Wins Senate, House Support Against UnitedJuly 16, 2009 By: George Dooley
Despite strong support from members of Congress and ASTA’s network of travel agents, the battle against United Airline’s anti-consumer credit card policy isn’t over, Paul Ruden ASTA’s senior vice president for legal and industry affairs told Travel Agent. Ruden praised ASTA members who have responded to ASTA’s call to arms over the United issue as well as Representatives and Senators who supported ASTA promptly despite a crowded legislative agenda.
In addition to 13 members of the House who sent United’s chair and CEO Glen Tilton letters protesting the airlines actions (see letter by Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley below), several Representatives sent individual letters as well along with two members of the Senate.
“Tomorrow and Monday will be critical," Ruden said, cautioning that it is too early to declare a victory.” I urge every agent to keep the e-mails and letters coming. Their support is decisive.”
Ruden said that ASTA has received strong support from the Business Travel Coalition (BTC), the National Tour Association (NTA) and the Interactive Travel Association (ITSA). Meanwhile, Chris Russo, ASTA’s president and chair, has urged ASTA and non-ASTA members to join in the fight against United’s policy. “The ongoing response of our membership has proven decisive and we thank them for it,” Ruden said, urging agents to continue to protest United’s policy and to send copies of their protests to ASTA. Details including sample letters can be found at www.asta.org.
According to Ruden, United had not offered an official response other than random comments by spokesmen to media inquiries. “They have thrown up a proverbial brick wall,” Ruden said.
Senators Address United
Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley joined in the effort with a letter to United’s Tilton, stating:
“We have recently been informed that United Airlines is planning to change an internal policy which grants use of United's merchant accounts to certain travel agencies throughout the United States. We are writing today to urge you to reconsider, or at least delay, implementing this policy change. As we understand it, the new policy reverses longstanding business practices which United Airlines customers and consumers have come to depend upon and which, if curtailed, could have profound consequences for many of our constituents.
“In addition to shifting costs to certain travel agencies and their customers, the policy appears to undermine consumer protections conveyed by the federal Fair Credit Billing Act (PL 93-495). The protections in question,which include the right to dispute charges for non-performed services, have been an important safeguard for consumers. The newly announced policy appears to shift both the costs and risks to those who are least able to contest such disputes: certain travel agencies and the American traveler. Such a change, hastily finalized during uncertain economic times, greatly concerns us.
“We suggest that a more prudent and responsible course of action would be to defer implementation of the new policy for at least sixty days beyond the currently proposed date of July 20, 2009. Granting such a respite will provide the appropriate congressional committees time to evaluate the likely effects of the policy and, if necessary and appropriate, to take action to mitigate the effects of the decision. Since we understand that United Airlines has initially applied the new policy to a small number of agencies, such a delay should not impose a hardship on United.” The letter asked for a July 19 response from United and suspension of the implementation until Congress has had a chance to review it."