Plans by British Airways to axe a new travel agency bonus scheme and pay transaction fees instead of commission from next January has damaged a fragile relationship with the UK travel trade and may have repercussions across Europe.

According to Sandy McPherson, chairman of the Association of British Travel Agents' Aviation Committee, the organisation had been in consultation with BA for months and several options were put forward. Then only 10 days notice was given for a different system.

"We all recognise that BA has problems, but it is an odd way of getting out of them. It has consulted, but appears then not to have listened. Agents do not trust BA," he says.

There is disappointment that a bonus scheme was scrapped after a few months. McPherson accuses BA of being "naïve" in expecting it to work overnight.

Also unhappy is the Guild of Business Travel Agents. David Giles, chairman of the Guild's Air Working Party, says BA "thinks it can fill aircraft with full fare passengers, but the world today is not like that. People are looking for deals."

Other European carriers are closely following the situation. Virgin intends to "stand by the trade because we recognise their value to us". It admits, however, that nobody is immune to change.

Patrick Alexandre, senior vice-president international commercial affairs at Air France says: "We are aware the new options are being suggested which seem more market oriented. We shall keep a close eye on them."

The French carrier's strategy in the UK, in terms of distribution, is based on getting the best return on investment, rather than "cutting cost at any cost", according to Thierry de Bailleul, commercial director in the UK.

British Midland has "no plans to change." Nor does Lufthansa, but in the past it "followed in BA's slipstream" by lowering commissions. The carrier says it is examining ways of reducing distribution costs and is in talks with Germany's travel trade.

Source: Airline Business