Off to a good start

A review of recent headlines tells us that the year is starting off on the right track.

In Washington, Congress spared us some of the usual histrionics and did some serious work on an appropriations bill, dropping a provision that would have increased the U.S. Immigration Fee on international airline tickets from $7 to $9.

While we are accustomed to some amount of whining from the airlines about unfair government fees and taxes, the carriers were right to complain about the proposal to boost the Immigration Fee. As Airlines for America put it, "The government must stop using airlines and their passengers as its own personal ATM whenever it needs more money."

This is one tax that exists largely because the government has found that it can get away with it.

The vast majority of travelers who enter or re-enter the U.S. do so at land border crossings from Canada and Mexico, where the government maintains a massive infrastructure and armies of inspectors to carry out customs and immigrations inspections.

Travelers at these points of entry are not required to pay any fee to help fund these services, and there would be hell to pay if the feds ever attempted to impose one.

We agree with the airlines that this is one clear case where air travelers have been singled out to bear a disproportionate burden.

We've also seen progress on another issue that's been bedeviling the airlines: how to empower travel agents to book ancillary services such as checked baggage, premium seating or WiFi.

We're still a long way from IATA's dream of a standard industry solution, but it was encouraging to see one small step from a maverick airline like Spirit, which figured out a way to make checked-baggage service bookable through GDSs. Kudos to Spirit.

We were also pleased to see a progress report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on the implementation of the Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act of 2010.

The GAO reported that the cruise industry and its regulators have implemented 11 of 15 mandates contained in the law. Notably, the four bits of unfinished business are pending actions at the Transportation Department and the Coast Guard.

The cruise lines, in other words, are in compliance with the law. They have done everything that has been asked of them.

In fact, they have done more.

Aware of limitations in the federally mandated regime for reporting crime statistics, major cruise lines last year voluntarily expanded their reports to include all incidents of onboard crime, including those that are still under investigation, and posted them on their websites.

Thus we think it was churlish of Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) to say the GAO report confirmed his view that more federal oversight is necessary. Maybe it did, but it also provided an opportunity for the senator to acknowledge the good-faith efforts that the cruise lines have made.

And, finally, the U.S. Travel Association reports that the travel and hospitality industry has recovered virtually all the jobs lost since the recession took hold in 2008 and has added jobs at a 9% faster rate than the rest of the economy.

We often talk of travel being a "resilient" industry that bounces back strongly after setbacks and upheavals. Once again it's good to see some real-world data that supports this view.
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