The court of last resort

The travel industry is not a fertile ground for the Supreme Court. Travel does not generate many controversies that rise to that level, and when we do, the results are often less than satisfying.

The last one we remember with any clarity had to do with accommodating disabled passengers on cruise ships, a complicated issue that the court failed to simplify by issuing several overlapping opinions, concurrences and dissents that nobody seemed to understand.

The question that might next come before the court, if it accepts the case, is whether the Transportation Department (DOT) was off its rocker when it declared that it is inherently deceptive for airlines and their sales agents to advertise or quote an airline fare or package price, "plus tax" (something that Wal-Mart does with toasters and pants every day).

Since January, it has been the law of the land that all such air travel advertising and all such Internet displays must prominently feature the all-in price, and that any separate breakout or explanation of fares and fees be in "significantly smaller type."

In our view, the only thing that this rule has going for it is its simplicity.

We've always believed that it is patently silly for the government to declare that this is the one and only non-deceptive way for travel sellers to communicate pricing information to customers, and that every other method that the marketplace might devise is "inherently" misleading.

Yes, it makes things easy for shoppers, but as Allegiant, Spirit and Southwest have told the Supreme Court, the DOT ought not to be in the business of deciding "best practices."

We believe it is the DOT's job to fight deceptive practices, not to declare which practices it believes to be least deceptive and impose them on everyone.

Unfortunately, that is what it seems to be doing these days, and if the Supreme Court can put a stop to that without further muddying the waters, we're all for it.
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