he airlines have asked Congress for an extraordinary package of relief measures valued at up to $24 billion in cash, plus other benefits. They might not get it all, but we agree that there are some things that the government ought to do.

We believe American and United should be protected from the huge liabilities that could stem from the property damage, injuries and deaths that occurred on the ground when their aircraft were taken over by suicidal criminals and used to attack public buildings.

Loan guarantees may be appropriate for airlines that might not otherwise survive a prolonged period of reduced travel demand as the nation conducts a war on terrorism. And it seems reasonable to offer financial assistance for security upgrades, such as retrofitting aircraft with reinforced cockpit doors.

We also believe the time has come to relieve the airlines of the task of passenger and baggage screening at airports and turn this function over to trained professionals under the management of a public safety or law-enforcement agency.

Congress also is considering direct cash payments of up to $5 billion to compensate airlines for the revenue lost when, by government edict, they were required to ground their fleets.

Perhaps that's fair, too.

But the airlines also asked for billions more from the taxes that would ordinarily go for air traffic control and airport improvements, plus antitrust immunity to coordinate their schedules for up to two years.

At this point we begin to ask ourselves, "Where do we draw the line?"

Clearly, airline companies were very visible victims of the Sept. 11 attack and its aftermath, but the government doesn't have to look far to find other travel and nontravel companies that could be exposed to financial distress in the months ahead.

Congress should not forget them.

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