he dispute between Expedia and US Airways may be moot by the time this issue reaches the post office, but it's a fascinating spat nevertheless. Virtually all travel sellers these days charge their customers a service fee for issuing airline tickets, and Expedia is no exception. If a brick-and-mortar agency charged more for issuing US Airways tickets than for other airlines, US Airways might kick up a fuss, but when the travel seller happens to be the Internet's leading travel site, you get a much bigger fuss that makes the papers.

What's especially interesting is the complaint by US Airways in our news pages today that Expedia has become a more expensive distribution channel for the airline than the traditional agency channel.

How can that be? Doesn't that fly in the face of one of the bedrock principles of the digital age?

The answer depends on what you believe those bedrock principles to be. It is commonly thought that distribution through a third-party Web site is inherently cheaper and more efficient than traditional agency distribution, but it really isn't. It's only cheaper when the Web distributor collects a lower commission and otherwise imposes fewer costs on the supplier than the traditional channel.

As Yogi Berra might explain it, it's only cheaper when it costs less. And as Adam Smith might explain it, if the Web distributor is huge and moves a lot of merchandise, it has the power to demand more. These are bedrock principles that have been around for a lot longer than the Internet.

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No pain, no train

udos to New York. After decades of talk and half a decade of real action, and nearly $2 billion in real money, a rail transit route to Kennedy Airport becomes operational this week, appropriately on the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers' historic flights.

Unfortunately, practical and political considerations prevented the Port Authority and the city from creating a seamless service from the city subway to the airport.

It remains to be seen how daunting the "Jamaica connection" will be for international travelers with baggage, but anything that bypasses the unloved Van Wyck Expressway will surely find its devotees.

• • •

Sadly, it's beginning to look like it may take many more years to get rail service to Washington's Dulles Airport, a facility that still is reachable only on rubber wheels, even though local and federal planners have been kicking around rail ideas for 30 years.

The latest financing plan for Dulles rail fell through when the six-member town council of Herndon, Va., rejected a plan for a special tax district to fund a Dulles extension of Washington's Metro system.

This is not a case of Not in My Backyard, however, but rather the opposite. It seems that Herndon wanted more assurances that the rail route would someday be extended to the town.

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