orthwest appears to be the first mainstream airline to adopt a zero commission policy in North America, and, even though it is confined to the Internet, that goose egg sitting there is demanding that we sit up and take notice.

The zero may not have been a great shock to those agents who've long felt that it's only a matter of time before the airlines go to zero commissions. The idea has been kicking around for years.


The shocker may not be the zero so much as the distribution channel to which it applies. Northwest has been complaining loudly of late about rising distribution costs, but does it make sense to eliminate the small tribute it pays to Web-based intermediaries, who are said to be its lowest-cost outlets?

Some of Northwest's critics are saying the move makes so little economic sense that there must be a darker motive. Northwest's silence on the matter does nothing to dispel such suspicions.

Northwest doesn't owe the world an explanation for every business decision it makes, and in light of antitrust concerns, it has to be prudent about its public comments on pricing and commissions.

In this case, however, it seems to us that Northwest's army of marketing, public relations and legal experts should be able to come up with something.

Give us a clue.

Milestone

Take a moment and offer a salute to the proud names McDonnell-Douglas and to all the proud birds descended from the DC-3.

Boeing, which acquired McDonnell-Douglas in 1997, closed its MD-11 production line in Long Beach, Calif., last month and delivered to Lufthansa the last civil aircraft to bear the MD designation, an MD-11 freighter.

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