hen a half-dozen airline executives get to tell the industry's sorry tale to a House committee, you might expect them to get a little sympathy. And they did. But as we reported a week ago, that's about all they got.

It seems to us that Congress in this election year is disinclined to do anything for the airlines that could remotely give rise to the word "bailout" in a headline.

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And speaking of bailouts (or bail-ins), the entity known as "the new Virgin-branded U.S. airline" (note that it isn't calling itself Virgin USA) will put its headquarters in New York, partly because the city and state offered $11 million in what the company calls "hard and soft" grants and incentives. It will also make San Francisco its principal base of operations, partly because the Californians offered $15 million. That comes to $26 million in government assistance. This entity will be put under the microscope by those who want to make sure it's a "U.S. airline." So far, it sure is acting like one.

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Bear Stearns analyst Glen Reid is beginning to wonder whether a certain sameness is creeping into the cruise industry, such that passengers might have trouble telling one ship or cruise line from another. We believe that's a concern -- even though Carnival and Royal Caribbean are doing a lot of things right, judging from their financial statements.

We have no doubt that travel professionals are quite aware of all the differences between the various brands. Things might not be so clear to passengers, however, and for that reason Reid suggested that cruise lines develop stronger brand identities. We are reminded that people in the automobile business could also discern the differences between Oldsmobile and Buick, but the Oldsmobile is going away because consumers couldn't.

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Speaking of brands, we note that InterContinental Hotels Group is planning to roll out a new brand, as is Choice Hotels. And developer Jack DeBoer, who pretty much invented the extended-stay segment as the founder of Residence Inn, Summerfield Suites and Candlewood Suites, is starting his fourth chain, offering value-priced extended stays. We thought the rampant proliferation of lodging brands and segments was just a phase we went through a few years ago.

Perhaps it's a recurring phase.

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The latest promise from IATA is the elimination of paper tickets worldwide by 2007. We are accustomed to hearing airlines make promises they can't keep, but this goal seems like it might be achievable, at least in the world's major international markets.

This is one area where the U.S. is clearly the world leader. E-tickets account for 85% of travel agency transactions in the U.S., and the figure is even higher for the direct sales of several U.S. air carriers.

Elsewhere in the world, IATA figures the E-rate is about 12%.

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