LAHORE - The PIA has formed cartels of the travel agents to sell its tickets ignoring and abusing Sabre, an online reservation system purchased in past to enable customers to book e-tickets over the Internet and pay by credit card.

This has been done to oblige some blue-eyed travel agents and earn money through illegal sale of tickets, said a senior officer of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) seeking anonymity.

He said that all around the globe airlines prefer to sell their tickets online and if some passenger buys ticket from their booking offices he/she has to pay more because it’s more expensive to run booking offices.

According to Sabre, the airline had introduced e-ticketing for all bookings made directly with the airline and through travel agencies, eliminating paper ticketing before the IATA-mandated deadline of December 31, 2007.

In addition the airline rolled out its Internet-based SabreSonic Web application in major regional markets, enabling it to issue e-tickets for online bookings.

But airline management, including director marketing, general manager marketing and manager marketing, have found the ways to abuse the online system. They formed cartels of the travel agents in the country and abroad.

In 2009, a cartel of few travel agents was formed in London and they were offered 9 percent commission on sale of every ticket. A dispute between airline and travel agents surfaced at the time of payments and ultimately travel agents moved to local court of London. The court in its decision termed the formation of cartel an illegal act of PIA.

Within Pakistan too tickets are sold to the favourite travel agents by misusing the online reservation system. An officer of PIA reservation system said that especially during time of Hajj and Ummra, reservation department shows the computer system down and asks its blue eyed travel agents to keep in touch with them.

At night, and during odd and off-peak hours, they make the system functional and remove the firewalls and ask travel agents to pick the seats up to 60 to 70 percent. This has been causing resentment among the disadvantaged travel agents at large.

In the past travel agents association also staged protest demonstration outside PIA booking office, Edgerton road, in favour of their demands.

An SPO of the booking office of PIA Lahore said that during previous Ummra seasons every SPO was given only 20 to 25 seats while every SPO dealt with 15 to 20 travel agents. “How can we accommodate our travel agents with such a low number of seats”, he added.

Another loss of the direct sale was that travel agents and cargo agents’ default and ultimately PIA has to suffer. A PIA officer said that in the past a Cargo company of Karachi defaulted and PIA had to bear the loss of millions.