Laugh all you want, the phrase is not an oxymoron like "military intelligence" or "British cuisine." There is good airline service out there. We get it about 90% of the time. Unfortunately, most of us fly just enough to end up in the wrong 10% once in a while, so all of us have experienced the bad stuff.

So has every member of Congress. Thus, in an election year, it should come as no surprise to anyone that airline bashing is back in vogue in Washington.

The Transportation Department's inspector general recently delivered an interim report on how well the airlines are living up to their promises to improve customer service. Predictably, the report said the airlines aren't making enough progress. (Did anybody seriously expect the DOT to say it no longer has to stand watch?) This, of course, gives Congress just enough ammunition to issue the ultimate election-year threat: "Shape up or we'll pass a law."

The two major travel agency associations, ASTA and ARTA, were quick to recommend that Congress do just that, enact a new passenger rights bill.

We understand the desire of the leaders of ASTA and ARTA to position their organizations as friends of the consumer in the battle against the big bad airlines.

ASTA and ARTA might do well to remember that their dues-paying members are not consumers, but the owners and managers of small businesses who should place about as much trust in elected politicians as they do in airline revenue accounting departments.

The Congress that can tell the airlines to deliver lost baggage in 24 hours and to hand out written guarantees to passengers is the same Congress that can tell travel agents to register, take a test, disclose their override agreements to clients, post a list of the fam trips they've taken, or guarantee that the resort they just booked is everything the slick brochure said it would be.

Do we really want to go there?

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