Travel is always in the news. On any given day, a casual glance through a major newspaper will almost always turn up a story about travel, or a story that will affect the travel business. Sometimes the news is good. Sometimes not.

One of the many back stories that preceded the coverage of President Bushs visit to India last week was a report about a noted Indian chemist, Goverdhan Mehta, who was recently denied a visa to visit the U.S.

According to the papers, Mehta is president of an international scientific society, a science advisor to Indias prime minister and a frequent visitor to the U.S., where he had been invited to attend a scientific conference.

When he showed up for his personal interview at the U.S. Consulate in Chennai -- in itself a burdensome part of the visa application process -- he was subjected to what he regarded as hostile questions about chemical weapons. He didnt get a visa that day.

A regretful U.S. later apologized to Mehta and offered to issue a visa, but he declined, saying he had already canceled his travel plans.

A minor embarrassment perhaps, but a quick Web search reveals that the incident, accompanied by expressions of outrage, was reported widely by India Daily, Hindustani Times, the Hindu, Mumbai News and other Indian news media. Countless thousands of opinions will be formed on the basis of those news reports, and, very possibly, countless thousands of Indian nationals will have second thoughts about applying for a visa to visit the U.S. for business or for pleasure. 

According to the Washington Posts account, variations of this episode have affected thousands of reputable scientists and academics overseas who have tried to travel to the U.S. since 9/11.

Not long ago in these pages, we applauded Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff for showing up at a Travel Industry Association function and expressing the desire to work with the industry and strike a balance between the need for security and the need to make the U.S. a welcoming society.

Apparently, the people conducting interviews at U.S. consulates overseas didnt get the memo.

Deception

The Transportation Dept.s ongoing review of its rules on airline advertising is long overdue. As we report in our news pages today, the DOT is getting a range of opinions and advice from airlines, travel agents and others about how to meet its mandate to police the industry for unfair and deceptive practices. (See Airlines, industry groups at odds over DOT ad rules changes, March 6, 2006.)

One thing that we would like to see, when this process ends, is some connection between the kinds of practices that are prohibited and actual evidence of deception or consumer harm. For too long the DOT has been arbitrarily condemning this or that practice on the grounds that it is deceptive, even in the absence of a consumer complaint or any evidence of consumer injury.

A case in point is the DOTs belief that it is deceptive for a travel seller to advertise, post on a Web site (or even quote over the phone) a price for air travel that includes a percentage add-on.

You cannot, for example, advertise an air ticket or air-inclusive package as costing $500, plus a 10% service fee. The DOT says that is, by definition, an unfair and deceptive practice. Go figure.

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