Steve Jones’ Say: March 2018

Steve Jones examines the claims being levelled at airlines on their seat change pricing, plus the Magellan deal and what it means for wholesalers.

There can’t be too many industries with the ability to turn in a global profit of close to US$40b. That’s what airlines are predicted to collectively generate in 2018.

No wonder the boss of the International Air Transport Authority, Alexandre de Juniac, observed in December how these are “good times for the global air transport industry”.

Not all carriers are flush of course. But many are, Qantas among them.

Which makes the recent accusation that airlines may deliberately be splitting up friends and families on flights and requiring them to pay extra to sit together particularly unpalatable. It would be vexing in any circumstance. In an era when airlines have rarely had it so good, it would be nothing less than profiteering.

Airline stealth charges have become a major bone of contention for travellers, and this one has sparked an investigation by the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority which noted airline seating practices were “clearly causing some confusion for consumers”.

Paying in advance for a particular seat is one thing. If airlines are using computer programs at the time of booking to separate parents from kids — as is the claim — it should be called out for what is it: a rort.

From one outraged group to another: Magellan agents. The bewilderingly ham-fisted sale to Helloworld could be done and dusted by the time these words hit the printers. And as is so often the case, crossing palms with silver seems to have done the trick and provided the bridge between Magellan management and members.

That said, increasing the financial incentive for agents in order to force through the deal is one thing, rebuilding Magellan into a harmonious and cohesive network in the aftermath of this mess is quite another. Trust is hard won, and easily lost. The board has much work to do to restore faith in its leadership.

Yet if these are unsettling times for Magellan agents, spare a thought for wholesalers. Magellan is the third independent network in 18 months, behind MTA and Travel Partners, to be acquired by one of the big two. Under new masters, you have to wonder how much flexibility will be permitted in their choice of suppliers, risking further distribution woes for already squeezed wholesalers.

Magellan has at least assured members they will be free to transact with suppliers without Helloworld approval. But if I was a wholesaler I’d want any new deal quickly locked in before counting my chickens.

One other development which caught my eye was Brett Jardine’s move to the Council of Australian Tour Operators.

Jardine spent a decade in cruising, joining the International Cruise Council Australasia, latterly CLIA, when cruising was a shadow of its current self. So he knows a thing or two about developing a sector and how industry organisations tick.

One of CATO’s stated goals is to boost the profile of touring, a sector which lost its zest amid cruising’s renaissance. Who better to oversee touring’s own rejuvenation than the figure with extensive knowledge of its principal adversary.


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