The tearful widow of a Van Nuys travel agent killed during a robbery joined other travel agency operators Monday to voice complaints that police and the airlines are doing little to stop a rash of airline ticket robberies in the Los Angeles area.
At a press conference in Burbank, about a dozen members of the American Society of Travel Agents called for coordinated police effort and more security at airline gates to stop the apparent ease with which stolen tickets are used on airlines.
But spokesmen for the police and airline industry said later they are already making those efforts.
Los Angeles police have said that more than 20 armed robberies of travel agencies--in which airline tickets worth hundreds of thousands of dollars were taken--have occurred this year throughout the city. Several others have occurred in nearby areas outside the city.
The thieves use a variety of sophisticated methods to fill out the tickets and sell them to travelers. Each ticket is worth an average of about $1,000, police said. No arrests have been made and investigators believe the crimes may be linked because of the gunmen have similar descriptions.
The travel agents said Monday the robberies have primarily occurred at Latino-operated agencies. Most often, the robbers are described as Latinos. The agents said more than 60% of the stolen tickets are used on airlines with regular flights to Central America and South America.
Amanda Vaca, whose 46-year-old husband was fatally shot Sept. 15 during a robbery at Excelsior Travel & Tours in Van Nuys, said Alfredo Vaca resisted the demand of three robbers to open a safe where airline tickets were kept. She said her husband was aware of the recent robberies and wanted to make a stand against the thieves.
"My husband said they weren't going to get any more tickets," she said. "They didn't. But they did get his life. . . . Something has to be done to stop this."
Susan T. Kaplan, president of the Southern California chapter of the travel agents organization, said airlines make little effort to determine whether tickets presented at boarding gates are stolen. Kaplan and other agents said they could possibly be held responsible for tickets that are stolen.
The group also criticized police efforts. "Travel agents are the victims and we no longer can stand it," Kaplan said. "Airlines are not standing up for us. There is no police alert. There is nothing being done."
Los Angeles Police Lt. Ron Lewis said all travel agency robberies in Los Angeles are being handled by the same robbery squad downtown. He said that squad also is working with other agencies investigating robberies outside the city.
"There is an ongoing exchange of information," Lewis said. "I don't think any kind of task force is needed as long as we have the telephone and open lines of communication. We have a coordinated effort."
Lewis said he could not discuss the tactics being used by police to pursue the robbers. No suspects have been identified in the robberies or the murder, he said.
Stephen Hayes, spokesman for the Air Transport Assn. in Washington, which represents the major airlines, said the rash of robberies in the Los Angeles area has not gone unnoticed.
"We have been in touch with our member airlines and asked them to increase vigilence and take whatever steps they can take to stop stolen tickets from being used," Hayes said.
Industry meetings next month will include discussions of better methods of detecting stolen tickets, Hayes said. He also said that a travel agency is not usually held responsible for the value of stolen tickets once the airlines are made aware that the tickets were taken during a robbery.