Editorials Full disclosure? May 26, 2003 Share 1 -- uisance lawsuits are a fact of life for big companies; they are big targets. They get sued every day. So we can hardly be shocked that two consumers filed a class-action suit against Royal CaribbeanCruises Ltd. for allegedly deceiving consumers about how much tax they pay for cruises on the company's Royal Caribbean and Celebrity brands.Whether this lawsuit is a mere nuisance or not remains to be seen, but it raises an issue that the cruise industry never has fully resolved: full disclosure of taxes and fees.We're not big fans of heavy-handed government regulation around here, but the airline industry has one thing going for it as a result of its previous life as a regulated industry: a bright line that separates transportation charges from government taxes.When you price a scheduled airline ticket, taxes are treated in a pretty straightforward manner. The automated systems are set up to tell the agent and the customer how much is for transportation; how much is for the federal excise tax; how much is the airport passenger-facility charge; how much is for theon-again, off-again federal security fee; and -- in the case of international transportation -- how much goes for customs and agriculture inspections, etc.It's all there if you care to look for it.The cruise industry doesn't have a history of itemizing these sorts of things so precisely, if at all.Cruise line invoices are full of entries such as "other charges," "government fees" or "federal taxes and fees" that do not offer the kind of detailed breakout that the airlines and many other merchants (even car dealers) routinely provide.We asked a travel agent friend to look up some cruises at random. Among them we found a fare of $700, plus a "noncommissionable cruise fare" of $114 and $29 "additional tax."We asked, "Can you tell what that tax is for?"Answer: "No."Even the participants of the Boston Tea Party knew what the tax was for.Some suspicious travel agents believe there's a fudge factor in cruise pricing, and that nefarious cruise lines use a mysterious hodgepodge of taxes, fees and other noncommissionable charges as a device to keep their advertised prices low and/or to keep commissions down.Until the pricing becomes more transparent, that suspicion will linger among agents and among consumers, and it will give rise to the occasional lawsuit.In the airline game, it's virtually impossible for the carrier to call something a tax and pocket it. Everybody knows what the tax is, what it's for, where it goes. There is no opportunity for the kind of fraud that is alleged in the cruise suit. In the airline game, this kind of lawsuit could never be filed.That should be true all over.