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
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
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.
• • •
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
• • •
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
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
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.