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
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
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
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
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.
people conducting interviews at U.S. consulates overseas didnt get
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.