After a Flurry of Activity, a Period of Calm

I’ve been known to have a few conspiracy theories in my time, and quite a few of them about the airline industry. Many of these were formulated in airport bars with nothing in front of me but a 3-hour delay and a corporate credit card. In the light of day when I’m actually grateful that the airline managed to get me home at all, I often forget about my anger from the night before.

While I no longer imagine it to be located in a huge black bunker miles below the earth, I still remain semi-convinced that the airlines are working together to make travel more convenient and pleasant for them than they do for us. And for those of you who work in the industry—i.e., you, the travel agent—their motivation always seems to be to keep anyone from cutting into their pie. The brilliant plan that they’ve used to perfection is when something starts to become an issue, a new issue suddenly develops that’s even worse than the first. If you go back some years, it was airline food that would inspire backlash and jokes on Dean Martin roasts. Eventually, like spiteful parents, they took away the food. (Fortunately they haven’t pulled that approach with our luggage.)

This new ARC Helix program that is causing some flap out there among agents, hosts and other groups is a good case in point. Helix provides home-based and retail travel agencies competitive supplier offerings, multiple business services, and professional education and training. Others say it's a violation of antitrust laws. Or fear that ARC, once owned and operated by the airlines, has access to data that makes it a competitor and not a resource.

It doesn’t matter what you think of the program itself, yea or nay, what matters is how easily and amicably an airline-owned organization can operate when attacked. And when PR statements begin to sound a little too repetitive and oddly soothing, that’s when the Big Air Conspiracy in the Sky takes shape. And so after a week of back-and-forth finger pointing and threats, ARC released this  calming announcement: "ARC has no plans to offer airline ticketing services," said Lauri Reishus, ARC’s vice president of operations. "ARC will always be interested in offering additional services to benefit Helix participants, but we are certainly cognizant of the high ethical and legal hurdles that we would have to clear before something as complex as a ticketing service could be launched. We are firmly focused on delivering the value that the Helix community of non-airline suppliers and agents have signed up for today."

I wasn’t in the industry at the time, but I imagine that there was a lot of this type of PR speak and counter-speak going on before agents suddenly found themselves without commission on air. I'd keep my eye on this one.

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