Value of travel agents (yes, they're still around)

Does the job of travel agent still exist? You bet it does. The American Society of Travel Agents tried to straighten out President Obama this week, correcting the impression he left in a speech that no one buys airline tickets from agents anymore. In fact, close to half of all tickets are still handled by one type of agent or another, either live or an online service.

But most airlines would really like t he old-fashioned human agents, the kind that can shop among different carriers to find thier clients the lowest fares, to go the way of the manual typewriter. Airlines prefer to sell directly to the consumer, eliminating all middlemen. In the opinion of some, this will not be a good development for the airlines' customers. The Consumer Traveler columnist Charlie Leocha is among the critics.