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Big Changes Ahead In E-Ticketing

E-tickets have become very popular, with airlines reporting usage rates of up to 60 percent. They are easy, convenient, and normally hassle-free. Using e-tickets eliminates the worry of losing or forgetting your ticket. Nonetheless, there are some upcoming changes regarding e-ticketing that travelers need to be aware of.

Fees for Paper Tickets

Airlines are reaping big savings from e-tickets. It is estimated that an airline can save anywhere from $8 to $15 per e-ticket, versus the cost of issuing paper tickets. Multiply that by millions and you get the picture. To encourage the flying public to book more e-tickets, one airline is charging (literally) into new territory. American Airlines announced earlier this month that it will implement a $10 fee per passenger on some paper tickets at its U.S. and Canadian locations, in order to recoup the cost of paper tickets. The airline said the fee applies only to customers who purchase air travel on American and American Eagle through the AA.com website, American Airlines reservations centers, at travel centers, and at airports. American said that it would waive the fee under certain circumstances; for example, the fee does not apply to passengers who pay full fare, on tickets issued for Executive Platinum members, or on tickets purchased through travel agents. Some experts warn it is only a matter of time before other airlines follow American's lead. Nevertheless, American's step is not the only big change in e-ticketing.

E-Tickets for Keeps After June 1

Currently, if you book an e-ticket through a travel agency, you may request to have it converted to a paper ticket. However, after June 1, travel agencies will no longer be able to change e-tickets to paper tickets if they are on an Air Transport Association (ATA) member carrier. ATA member carriers include Aeromexico, Air Canada, Alaska, Aloha, America West, American, American Trans Air, Continental, Delta, Hawaiian, KLM, Mexicana, Midwest Express, Northwest, Southwest, TWA, United, and US Airways. The reason is that the Airline Reporting Corporation (ARC) [in conjunction with the ATA] is implementing new rules regarding e-ticketing. Once an e-ticket is produced, it is final—with no exceptions. Global Reservations Systems (GDS) such as Sabre, Worldspan, and Apollo will be programmed to no longer allow travel agents the ability to convert it to paper. However, individual airlines can convert e-tickets to paper if a customer requests it.

So why the change? Currently, if a travel agent needs to cancel or change an e-ticket reservation, they would have to print out a flight coupon in order to document the transaction. According to Allan Mutén, Director of Corporate Communications for ARC, "The practice of printing out paper flight coupons for the sole purpose of using them to cancel out the ticket defeats the intent behind 'going paperless' in the first place." That being said, after June 1, travel agents' GDS systems will be provided with a confirmation number (known as the ET/REA, or Electronic Ticket/Refund Exchange Authorization) that provides confirmation that the refund or exchanged transaction has not been used, and is eligible for exchange or refund.

Mutén goes on to say, "The true value of e-tickets comes from eliminating unnecessary paper wherever possible in favor of the efficiencies and economies of electronic records. For travel agents and airlines alike, the 'accountable ticket stock' that is used for paper flight coupons represents a significant cost."

E-Tickets & Airline Strikes

Clearly, advances in e-ticketing make sense in terms of cost cutting and convenience. Nevertheless, holding an e-ticket on a carrier with labor problems can be a major inconvenience. Currently, both United and American are having contentious negotiations with labor (United with its flight attendants and American with its flight attendants and mechanics). If these issues are not resolved, it could lead to strikes this spring and summer.

Customers holding e-tickets at a striking carrier are at a disadvantage, because e-tickets are not negotiable documents. On the other hand, paper tickets are negotiable documents, and in the event of a strike would be accepted by other carriers, but only on a stand-by basis. Mutén states, "With the current talk about labor action and strike threats, some concern is
understandable. If an e-ticket has to be transferred to another airline, transfer to paper is, at this time, necessary." He goes on to say, "An individual airline can re-enable the print functionality [for travel agents] if there are compelling reasons to do so, e.g., massive cancellations and re-accommodations necessitated by, for example, labor action."

In the end, if you are thinking of flying one of the carriers with labor problems, it is probably wise to travel with a paper ticket. On the other hand, if you are flying other carriers without labor issues, e-tickets shouldn't be a problem.


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