ecent days have offered precious little good news for the travel industry.

Due to their high fixed costs, the airlines lost mountains of cash during last week's three-day shut-down, and they resumed service facing worried passengers, reduced demand, and time-consuming and costly security precautions that will increase the turnaround time of every arriving aircraft.

The predictable results are schedule cutbacks and layoffs. It is now certain that the airline's industry's financial results this year will be the worst in history.

National Airport in Washington remained closed, depriving the East Coast of a major facility and idling thousands of workers who make their living there.

The damage to our air transportation system has ripple effects for hotels, resorts, cruise lines, tour operators, attractions, car rental firms, travel technology companies and travel agents.

Things could be bad for a while.

But the travel industry can at least take some comfort in the knowledge that the rest of the American business community, and the American people at large, understand that this is serious business.

The financial press is reporting the fortunes of the travel industry as if it were a matter of some import, which, of course, it is. But this wasn't the case a generation ago when the nation was rocked by a fuel crisis and there was open talk of restricting travel as a "nonessential" activity.

Today you can look at any TV broadcast, any newspaper, and find news coverage and commentary that is grounded on the proposition that we in this industry have always held dear: that transportation and travel, and the freedom to travel, are essential to our economic and social progress.

It is a matter of national concern when people can't travel. We believe that speaks well for our society and our industry's contribution to it.

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