As the ‘war’ between the U.S. and terrorism broke out in North America, a small but pungent war broke out in Athens between air travel agencies and the world’s airlines through their local International Air Transport Association’s Bank Settlement Plan office, where all air travel tickets are transacted. But while there are always two sides to every story, this one appears to be a clear cut one in favor of the air travel agents while airlines appear to exercise an abuse of power.
It all started with the attack on New York and the fear that it lashed out at all, including big companies and financial institutions. Many of which quickly put a temporary hold on all payments and a stop payment on checks already issued. These included payments for airline tickets issued on credit for business travel and seaman travel, which make up by far the majority of airline tickets sold within the Greek marketplace. This temporary crisis was to play havoc on Greek air travel agencies that depend on quick payment, especially since most all this type of traffic is paid for in dollars.
To help soften the blow against these agents, the Greek Union of Air Travel Agencies called on the local IATA/BSP office and asked permission for agents to make an immediate partial payment and a short three-day extension on the remainder that was due September 17th for air ticket payment.
The agents’ request certainly seems reasonable enough and logical as they requested to pay a minimum of 50% of monies due on the 17th and the remainder on the 20th. We are talking a mere 3-day delay, just long enough to let the dust settle somewhat – when the dust did settle American airlines got $15 billion in assistance from their government. The IATA/BSP office refused after consultation with airlines.
Then, the agencies’ union, because of the seriousness of the problem faced by some members, went to the country’s national carrier, Olympic Airways, which initially agreed with the request on the 17th and agencies breathed a sigh of relief. But this was short lived as the IATA/BSP office held its ground. (This marks the first time in history that the IATA/BSP office refused to take the carrier’s decision in direct consideration.)
In the end, agents forwarded 85% of all due to the BSP office. On its part, the office fully enacted its ‘regulations’ and imposed penalties on all agency offices that couldn’t forward the full amount. Why? The only answer is the abuse of dominant power by the International Air Transport Association and its BSP office since both certainly know that 60% of all tickets sold in an IATA office are from maritime companies that work with dollars and American banks. They also surely know the limits such agents have with regards to credit. And they certainly should realize that this is a time when airlines need an agency’s help more than ever to sell air travel and get people back in the air.