Delta Offers Olive Branch To Agents

Delta Airlines has introduced a new online booking system that caters to travel agents and gives them access to the carrier`s Internet fares.
Agents will now be able to book all fares directly with Delta on the
Web site, although they will not earn commissions on the carrier`s special Web-only offerings.
The head of the American Association of Travel Agents, Richard Copland, called the move ``significant,`` as the relationship between travel agents and the airlines has become very strained in recent years.
Caps on commissions were introduced in 1995 and the airlines have increasingly tried to force travel agents out of the booking process with Internet bookings through their own sites.
Delta, the U.S.`s third largest carrier, said travel agents have been asking for access to online fares because many customers research prices online but still use agents to book flights.
Mr. Copland suggested that Delta, by giving agents access to Web fares, is acknowledging that it still needs the travel industry. Travel agents still book about 80% of all airline flights, a percentage that has remained unchanged through the explosive growth of Internet travel sites.
That indicates that many people are using the Web sites for research, but still prefer the customer service an agent can provide, even if it means paying a transaction fee, he said. In the meantime, travel agencies have been forced to diversify to compensate for falling commissions, making them less reliant on the airlines.