The agent-airline conundrum

Sunil Kumar, President, United Federation of Travel Agents’ Associations (UFTAA), in this in-depth exclusive interview with TRAVTALK, shares key milestones of 2020 and its under-discussion ‘Zero Risk’ programme whose premise is to protect agent interests.

Hazel Jain

Sunil Kumar shares in detail issues that have kept the association on its toes, highlighting its new concept that the agent community can look forward to in 2021.

Allow access to Basic version

Outlining the refund saga, Kumar says, “Since most agents in India are on the basic version of IATA, they couldn’t access the refund authority. We had to make a lot of hue and cry with IATA at the Global Joint Council (GJC). Here, we brought up this conundrum – on one hand agents were cut off from the GDS and the airlines were asking us to file a refund through the BSP link. Our plea was to enable refund authority to all IATA agencies through the basic version and this was activated.”

However, he explains that by default this refund authority went to airlines directly. “These were kept piled up by the airlines. Even today some of them are still pending! IATA cannot give credit till such a time that airlines confirm the refund authority. But, IATA paid some of it back and a large percentage of refunds are now adjusted (credit vouchers),” he says.

The Jet Airways saga

When asked if the IATA system is skewed towards airlines, Kumar says, “Should any agent go bust, the airline is protected. If an airline goes bust, is the agent protected? The answer is no! Jet Airways is a classic example. I can’t believe that the airline is trying to come back. We don’t want the new Jet Airways to be given IATA permission at all. If I as an IATA agent default, I can’t come back to IATA unless I pay back the money. So Jet Airways has to make good all their liabilities to the agents. We will take this up in a very big way,” Kumar explains.

UFTAA’s ‘Zero Debt’ concept

We sympathise with the airlines but the scenario that is coming in is deadly, believes Kumar. The association has therefore initiated a concept of Zero Risk with IATA that can protect the agents and airlines from any future risk to either party. “The current scenario has reflected our unpreparedness to protect the monies of the stakeholders and the customers, owing to the challenges the agencies had to go through. In an evolving scenario, it is time that such a Zero Risk to either of the stakeholders is envisioned through IATA’s governing resolution and we be better prepared to handle such crisis, if it would ever come up in future,” he says. Towards this, all global federations of associations which are part of IATA’s PAPGJC have come together and a working group is getting created involving representatives of airlines, agency associations and IATA, with terms of reference of the committee meeting the expectations of all. “This is anticipated to be finalised by January and thereupon the working group can deliberate to plan a great legacy for the future which does not pose any risk or threat to our customers or agencies. We eagerly look forward to this working group to be able to come up with a favourable solution for the industry and its stakeholders,” Kumar adds.

 

 

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