Delta Air Lines' decision to add a $2 fee for all tickets except those purchased at its Internet site may be sign of
things to come for consumers, who increasingly are being asked to
pay more for a human touch.
"To a lot of consumers who are technology-savvy, it's not a big
deal. But there are consumers senior citizens in particular who
don't feel comfortable or have access who are being penalized,"
said Audrey Guskey, an analyst who has studied consumer trends for
Stockbrokers and banks are part of a growing number of
businesses that expect customers to pay more for help from "a
living, breathing company representative," Ms. Guskey, a professor
at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, said Wednesday.
Earlier this week, the Atlanta-based carrier added $2 to
domestic round-trip bookings except for those made at its Web
site to offset rising costs for traditional booking methods.
Delta didn't make a public announcement, but informed travel
agents in a message posted Monday over the computer reservations
The move drew criticism from the American Society of Travel
Agents, which represents 26,500 members in more than 170 countries.
"Delta is saying, in effect, we tried to get you to book on the
Internet and now we are going to make it hurt to book any other
way. Instead of offering an inducement, they are slapping on a
penalty," said Joe Galloway, president and CEO of the world's
largest travel trade association.
Delta officials declined to comment.
Ms. Guskey said the motivation for a move like Delta's was
simply to save money.
"It's easier and cheaper for companies, the less human
resources they need. There's also less chance of error," she said.
"Those human factors, in a sense, get in the way."
Steve Slade, 28, is among a growing number of people who've
noticed the trend.
"I think we're saving banks enough time and money by using ATMs
that we should be able to once in a while go into the bank without
have to pay $5 a month to talk with a human being," he said from
outside a downtown Delta ticket office.
Slade, who works for a telecommunications company, added that he
enjoys the ease, convenience and special deals associated with
Internet shopping, particularly since customer service has "gotten
Call for Action, a nonprofit consumer helpline, is hearing more
of those complaints, said the group's president, Shirley Rooker.
"The level of frustration we're hearing from consumers has
increased in the last two or three years," Ms. Rooker said.
"Either people can't get service, or there's a fee attached, or
they're unable to get through to a human being."
Even though they're pressed for time, she said, consumers must
tell companies when they are not living up to expectation.
"If we don't like it, we have to stand up and protest by taking
our dollars to companies that give you what you want," Ms. Rooker
Ms. Guskey expects the trend to continue.
"I think it's going to eventually reach the point where people
will be charged for the privilege of dealing with a sales associate
at a department store," she said.