Starting Friday, five major U.S. airlines will start charging travel agents — both online and traditional agents — additional fees to book flights, which many travel agents say they will pass along to customers.

It’s bad news for air travelers - particularly in Colorado Springs - but even worse for travel agents who have seen customers drift away to the Internet to book their tickets directly.

Continental, U.S. Airways, Northwest, United and American airlines will charge travel agents an additional $3.50 for each segment of each ticket booked through the commonly used global distribution system. A nonstop flight has two segments and will cost an additional $7 with the new fee. A roundtrip ticket with one connection will cost an extra $14.

The fee is just another blow to travel agents. The number of Americans using the Internet to book travel increased from 12 million to 64 million between 1998 and 2003, according to the American Society of Travel Agents.

The number of retail travel agencies dropped more than 30 percent between 2000 and 2004, according to The New York Times. Independent agencies, those with single locations, suffered the most, with 6,400 going out of business in those four years.

The airlines say the fee will offset higher distribution and administrative expenses. They hope the fee will entice more people to purchase tickets from airline Web sites.

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