ARTA Tackles DOT Proposals and GDS

Breaking ranks with other trade groups, the Association of Retail Travel Agents (ARTA) expressed dismay at the first meeting of the Department of Transportation (DOT) Advisory Committee on Aviation Consumer Protection.

ARTA charged that other associations of travel agents attending the DOT sponsored meeting came prepared to talk about "one thing, and one thing only: ancillary fees via GDSs," ARTA said.

The meeting was held June 28 and included major travel industry associations.

In ARTA's presentation before the committee, ARTA said was responding to DOT's proposals, some of which included  DOT plans to adopt minimum customer-service standards in relation to the sales by travel agents of air transportation and the disclosure of trade practices including travel agent incentives and commissions.

"It was like the other associations having one agenda item to do the GDSs' bidding in making the airlines be forced to provide ancillary fee data. Substantive issues affecting the travel agency community were otherwise ignored, including DOT's key proposals in 'Enhancing Airline Passenger Protections III'", said Bruce Bishins, managing director of ARTA, who made the ARTA presentation.

"As for ancillary fees, proposed to be mandated in the all GDSs, Kevin Mitchell, from the Business Travel Coalition, admitted that ancillary fees were 'too undisciplined' for adequate treatment in GDSs, a fact which ARTA has been saying all along as the difficulty in summarization, comparisons, and general salability, "ARTA said.

"ARTA asserts that the ancillary fees are too diverse and require supporting data, including frequent flyer status, to make any display, green screen or otherwise, to be effective, reliable, and transactable," ARTA said.

"ARTA fears that despite the GDSs having no prospect of a solution at hand, albeit some very slick screenshots, PowerPoints, and even facsimile demos, that travel agents will be asked to pay for functionality which comes forcibly 'bundled' with other core services - a fact that travel agents saw at the end of last year being unacceptable and dictatorial, " ARTA said.

"ARTA very much supports protecting consumers in all aviation matters and travel in general. What is key to successfully deploying that support means practical and common-sense industry implementation. As de facto agents of the airlines, and agents of consumers in our own right, any regulatory regime imposed on the industry must have roots based in fairness, practicality, and above all, commercial viability, " ARTA said.

ARTA said that its members are concerned with many issues, including:

1.That DOT will adopt minimum customer-service standards in relation to the sales by travel agents of air transportation and the disclosure of trade practices including incentives and commissions;
2. That travel agents will be held accountable by the DOT when some data or display fault lies with GDSs beyond the agents' control;
3. That the DOT will regulate content and other functionality that are subject to commercial negotiations between airlines and third party travel technology providers, including GDSs.

ARTA said it will be following the committees discussions and will make additional submissions as required.


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