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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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Fly cheap but pay hefty levy
- Service charge to offset drop in agents' earnings

The rate slash among airlines, which has made foreign trips a lot cheaper, will now make you pay your travel agent more than you usually do.

Starting Monday, a passenger booking a flight through an agent in the city will have to pay a service charge, which covers everything from getting a new passport done to procuring the visa. For select destinations like the US and the UK, the agents will also levy a consultancy charge of Rs 1,000.

The new charges, the agents claimed, is an attempt to offset the drop in their income following the drastic reduction in ticket prices.

Ever since the commission for travel agents was slashed to five per cent a few months ago, the agents in Calcutta had been toying with the idea of imposing service charges. The decisive moment came when Singapore Airlines delivered a 'succour punch' last week.

'The kind of fares they announced ' Rs 4,000 return to Singapore ' prompted us to take the decision. Our earnings have plummeted to an all-time low. It's time to stop this madness,' said Anil Punjabi, chairman (east) of the Travel Agents Federation of India (TAFI).

The federation and the Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI) have held a series of meetings and formed a bigger representative body ' Eastern India Chapter Combine Alliance (EICCA) 'to tackle the situation.

'We must be paid for the services we render to the passenger. The situation has come to such a pass that unless we start levying the service charge, our income will dry up completely,' said Sanjoy Sett, chairman (east) of TAAI.

A Calcutta-London round trip on British Airways or Air-India costs a Calcuttan Rs 24,000-plus. Even a year-and-a-half ago, the trip would have cost nearly double. Similarly, a Calcutta-Singapore ticket, Rs 18,000 a year ago, is now available for Rs 4,000, minus taxes.

'The price slash has cut our income from around Rs 1,000-1,200 per ticket to around Rs 200,' Punjabi said.

At least 4,000 Calcuttans fly out every day, and more than 1,000 travel to international destinations only. With 95 per cent of the fliers turning to travel agents to make the necessary arrangements for the trip, the services charge will boost the agents' income significantly.

'While the income of a moderate agent will jump by anything between Rs 25,000 and Rs 40,000 per month, the bigger ones will earn Rs 50,000-Rs 75,000 more each,' observed Punjabi.

TAFI and TAAI office-bearers in Calcutta will recommend a similar move for the rest of the country. 'The issue will be high on the agenda at our July 19 meeting in Beijing,' Sett told Metro.

The agents are not perturbed that their service charge decision has not gone down well. 'Calcuttans will understand that nothing comes for free,' Punjabi asserted.

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