ASTA Blasts Delta Shut Out on Booking Issues

ASTA’s good faith efforts to seek a cooperative global solution with Delta Air Lines on booking policies and debit memos have been rebuffed. In a letter from Tim Kraft, Delta's director of distribution planning, the airline rejected out-of-hand ASTA’s offer of constructive dialogue. ASTA wants talks on problems that have plagued travel agents since Delta changed its booking policy last June. Delta said that the airline “chooses to resolve these matters with each travel agency as we have been doing on this topic."

"ASTA made an offer for constructive discussion that we hoped would reduce the amount of conflict between Delta and travel agents," said ASTA President and Chair Chris Russo. What we got in return was airline boilerplate language that translates to ‘it's our way or the highway.' No good will come of this, but for now Delta appears to be hostile to improving industry relations with agents. From the many travel agent responses ASTA has seen, Delta's approach is to respond to agents in a nameless, faceless robotic way, often ignoring valid arguments an agent might make. E-mails come from [email protected] and there is no way for most agents to reach a human and communicate in a normal businesslike manner,"

On January 16, Russo wrote to Delta CEO Richard H. Anderson and stated "Delta's implementation and enforcement of these new controls have created undue hardship on the travel agency distribution channel." In the letter, Russo noted that the complaints ASTA had received were similar to those reported in recent trade press articles, in that Delta had distributed invoices and forcibly collected debits through the Airlines Reporting Corp. (ARC) for booking violations. ASTA believes that the violations were, in some cases, likely caused by technical issues related to Delta's audit program, rather than by agency malfeasance. ASTA’s Russo went on to note that "when agents have attempted to provide evidence, i.e., Passenger Name Record (PNR) history, that a debit was unwarranted, the response, if any at all, has often been either silence or indifference."

Russo's letter concluded with the following offer: "We want to work with you on ... controlling costs and stimulating demand for air services. We welcome the opportunity to enter into a constructive dialogue with you. ... While we know the agency/airline relationship has been strained for more than a decade, it is time for change."

Russo elaborated on the reason for the proposal. "We understand Delta's business need to tighten inventory controls, but Delta, in some cases, has invoiced agents for violations caused by Delta's own system. “For example, if an agent makes a booking for a family of four, but accidentally holds a second reservation for even a few seconds before canceling the first reservation, the penalty is $50 per person per segment. As a result, the penalty to the agent for a four-segment flight is $800. Plus, we have even seen examples in which Delta's own automated schedule change system has created booking violations that were beyond the agent's control, yet Delta has nonetheless forcibly collected funds from the travel agent's ARC bank account."

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