For some time in this space we have been warning readers that consumer attitudes about the environment will soon be major factors in their travel planning and buying decisions.

In our news pages today, we report on some new research that suggests there's still time to prepare for that day.

Agents participating in an online survey conducted by our parent, Northstar Travel Media, report that green issues are not yet "top of mind" for many agency clients.

Put simply, participating agents say most clients don't ask about, much less insist on, green travel options.

Further, most agents don't recommend them -- and even when they do, their recommendations are seldom followed.

But what most grabbed our attention were the responses to questions about product knowledge and price.

Most agents participating in the survey had little sense of how much of a premium, if any, their clients would be willing to pay for green travel.

Also, few agents gave themselves -- or their clients -- very good marks for being knowledgeable about environmentally friendly travel options.

This suggests that some agency clients might be uninformed rather than apathetic.

No doubt there are some consumers out there who are and will remain apathetic, who will never go out of their way to recycle, who won't pay extra to drive a hybrid and for whom green travel is a meaningless phrase.

But we do not think they are the consumers of tomorrow. Nor does the Travel Industry Association, which is warning that the travel industry has to be in a position to defend itself when the environmentalists come knocking and when informed and concerned consumers start asking very particular questions.

It won't do to be uninformed when that day comes.



Complacency

When the world of cheap seats was new, consumers would often look askance at low-cost or low-frills carriers and wonder whether they skimped on safety.

It took many years, but Southwest Airlines and other low-fare airlines overcame those concerns with a record of solid performance.

That record is now at risk following the disclosures that Southwest didn't follow the letter of the law when inspecting its 737s for fuselage cracks.

Suddenly, Southwest is the subject of the wrong kind of headlines: the FAA's proposed $10.2 million fine; allegations that Southwest personnel and local FAA officials had gotten too "cozy"; the suspension of three employees, and the one-day grounding of 41 aircraft for further inspections.

If Southwest, which has remained profitable through the industry's recent troubles, can fall into the trap of complacency, what about the other carriers that have faced far more daunting pressures to cut costs and cut corners?

What, if anything, have they been getting away with?

This is the sort of question that consumers should never have to ask. Air travelers should have enough confidence in the FAA to take the safety of U.S. airlines for granted.

We hope the FAA puts such uncertainty to rest, fast. 

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