Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Airlines face criticism over senior-discount reductions

Elderly fliers lose leisure travel rate

By James Pilcher jpilcher@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Tristate travel agents and senior citizens expressed dismay Monday over the weekend decision of the nation's top airlines, including Delta Air Lines, to virtually stop offering seniors 10 percent off leisure fares. The airlines, they said, are potentially alienating some of their best customers.

        “This is just a sign of how Delta and the other carriers are not customer-friendly anymore,” said Stewart Goldman, 66, a retired art professor from Clifton who avoided paying the extra 10 percent for a trip to Philadelphia when he bought tickets Thursday night. “It goes deeper than just the senior discounts.”

        Previously, most advance-purchase leisure fares were eligible for a 10 percent discount if that passenger was over the age of 62 and traveling with a companion of any age.

        American Airlines first eliminated that discount Friday morning, followed by the other three major carriers - United, Northwest and Delta.

        Northwest implemented certain discounts for those age 65 and older that are traveling to and from summertime or wintertime destinations, with trips 180 days or more apart.

        Delta spokeswoman Kristi Tucker acknowledged that the Atlanta-based carrier, which operates its second-largest hub locally, had eliminated most of the senior discounts. She said, though, Delta was matching Northwest's rates on competing routes.

        Many experts, including Wall Street airline analyst Jamie Baker, said the elimination of the discounts should not hurt travel too much.

        “Most travel is available for cheaper now without the discounts than they were last year with the discounts, if you look for it,” Mr. Baker said.

        Some senior discounts are still available, especially with US Airways and Virgin Atlantic Airlines through a program in conjunction with AARP.

        But Vicky Mary, owner of Victoria Travel in Hyde Park, predicted that there could be a backlash against the carriers.

        “It might mean that some of the short-notice travel, say, to see the school production of The Music Man, could be cut out,” Ms. Mary said.


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