- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 10, 2001

American Airlines announced yesterday it would charge customers an additional $10 for paper tickets not purchased through travel agents.

The airline's attempt to promote electronic tickets is raising concerns about what some members of the travel industry say is another indication service is declining.

In announcing the new fee, the nation's second-biggest airline said, "American put the policy into effect to recoup the costs associated with paper-ticket processing and distribution and to encourage electronic ticketing when applicable."

Other airlines would not deny they are considering similar fees.

Russ Williams, Delta Air Lines spokesman, said, "I couldn't comment moving forward. All I can tell you at this time is that we have not imposed a fee for paper ticketing."

He acknowledged airlines often copy each others' marketing efforts, but added, "Not always. It's contingent upon the circumstances of any individual issue."

Joe Hopkins, United Airlines spokesman, said, "We really don't have any comment at this point."

Jean West, assistant manager of Uniglobe Democracy Travel in Northwest, said the additional service charge is a sign of the times.

"It's another indication of the lack of anything called service," Mrs. West said. Electronic tickets are more convenient only if flights are not delayed or canceled, she said.

"They are fine if everything goes according to schedule," Mrs. West said. "But if there's a delay, you get these absolutely horrendous lines at airports because people have to stand in line to get coupons for another ticket. If they already have their [paper] tickets, they can change them more easily. That's why a lot of your frequent business travelers are reluctant to use electronic tickets."

She predicted that other airlines would impose similar fees unless passengers objected strenuously.

However, David Stempler, president of the Washington-based Air Travelers Association, said the fee is part of a trend to make passengers pay individually for the extra services they demand.

"It's not such a bad thing in one regard," Mr. Stempler said. "If everything is a la carte, you get what you want and not what you don't want. To the extent they can do this, they might be able to avoid an overall fare increase that might hit everybody."

American Airlines customers who are members of its Executive Platinum frequent-flier program and fly more than 100,000 miles per year are exempt from the $10 fee. Passengers who schedule their flights at least a week in advance and request priority overnight delivery of travel documents will be required to pay another $25 fee.

"This fee also was implemented to recoup costs associated with priority-mail handling and to reduce unnecessary overnight delivery transactions," the airline said in a statement.

American Airlines' announcement of the new fees came the same day a federal appeals court in New York cleared the way for bankrupt Trans World Airlines to be sold to the parent company of American Airlines for $742 million.

Although most TWA employees celebrated the sale that will rescue them from bankruptcy, members of Congress have said in recent hearings that airline consolidations are giving too much control of the industry to a few airlines, specifically United, American and Delta.

Last week, a study by two university professors using Transportation Department data showed that airline flights are arriving late at an increasing rate. In 1999, 76.1 percent of flights were on time. A year later, the rate declined to 72.6 percent. Rates of lost luggage and passenger complaints also were climbing, the report said.

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