It used to be that when ASTA circled the wagons, you could pretty much count on some members to aim their rifles inward.

Of course, this would mess up the strategy, boost the casualty count and -- in the eyes of the leadership at least -- knock the wagon train off course.

Weve seen less of that in more recent times as ASTA and its members have addressed the new realities of todays marketplace with increasing level-headedness.

To its credit, ASTA in recent years has recognized the need for changes in the way the society is organized, staffed, governed and financed. It has reconciled itself to the reality that the days of lavish conventions in far-off locales are, for the time being at least, over. It has addressed the need to open its doors to new categories, and new generations, of travel sellers.

More than ever, ASTA has to prove its value to members, just as its members face the challenge of creating value for suppliers and clients. Against this backdrop, we find it revealing and ironic that ASTA discovered, during its recent review, that some members would be willing to pay higher dues for higher levels of service and support, for professional consulting, for expert advice.

This discovery led to the drafting of a proposal for a two-tiered membership system, under which agencies paying 10 times the normal dues would get a higher level of personalized business consulting services from their association.

Leaving aside such questions as whether four tiers are better than two or whether this or that dollar amount should be the fee for this or that service, we believe this is an entirely appropriate and enlightened proposal.

To belabor the obvious, ASTAs embrace of this approach is analogous to the transformation that its own members have undergone in the last decade, reorganizing their businesses from a 100% reliance on commissions to an increasing reliance on fees that reflect the value of the counsel and service they provide to their clientele.

This goes beyond circling the wagons. This is charting a new course, pointing the way. Wagons, ho!

This is preposterous

Sometimes, bad or looney ideas take on a life of their own, and we fear that this is happening with a proposition to impose a tax on airline passengers to finance the U.N.s war on poverty and AIDS in Africa and elsewhere.

Were not making this up. France and Germany are promoting a scheme to impose a tax on airline passengers worldwide, to fund the U.N.s development goals.

According to press accounts, Thierry Breton, Frances economic minister, believes a tax of about $6 per passenger, with a $24 surcharge for business class, would generate about $12 billion a year. The Group of Eight industrialized nations, or G8, has welcomed it as a pilot project.

In Brussels, a European Commission working group published a paper last month discussing a number of scenarios, including a fee of 1 to 5 euros for intra-Europe flights, which would be doubled on intercontinental trips.

The working group calculated that such fees could reduce passenger demand by up to 4% and called for further study.

We dont need further study. Weve heard enough.

Any country is free to tax its polluters, its tobacco growers, its millionaires or any of its citizens to fund poverty relief, education, economic development or health care.

But taxing the citizens of other countries just because they happen to be captive in airplanes or airports places an unfair burden on air transport and tourism, two industries that already make considerable contributions to economic development and international comity.

U.S. and international airlines are outraged at this proposal, and rightly so.

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