o you're putting the finishing touches on your little e-mail newsletter to clients and a news flash pops on your computer screen saying Dopeslap Airlines has a $199 winter special going for East Coast-London roundtrips, including some restaurant coupons.

You think to yourself, "That might actually get some people off their couches. I won't make any money on those tickets -- even with a $30 service fee -- but, if we throw in a little hotel, a little car, we might get something going." So you add that to the newsletter, run the spell-checker and click "Send."

Congratulations. You just violated the Federal Aviation Act.


The Transportation Department believes it is a violation of the act and an unfair practice for a travel agent to advertise an air fare and not display, prominently, the "total price to be paid," including the agent's service fee for ticketing. So, in the example above, you have to say $229. You can't say "$199, plus a $30 service fee." But taxes and service fees are treated differently, so you can say "$229, plus tax."

Go figure.

The DOT seems to be coming around to the idea that this policy might suffer from a lack of flexibility, and we have Orbitz to thank for that.

Orbitz wanted to display its service charge separately on its Web site because adding the service charge to the fare could make it lose out in low-fare searches. With the fee included, Orbitz might appear to be charging more for airline tickets than its airline owners, and we all know that can't be good.

So the DOT agreed to bend its inflexible old rule and give Orbitz an exemption to state its service fee separately.

We're not sure how the DOT got into the business of telling travel agents how to communicate with their clients in the first place, but we believe every travel agent deserves an exemption.

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