Six months ago in this space, we expressed our impatience that ASTA and ARTA seemed determined to go their separate ways yet again.

The issue, then and now, is developing an alternative to ARC's plan to operate a registration and identification service for non-ARC agents.

Both associations have every reason to seek an alternative to yet another airline-supervised system for identifying, categorizing, bending, folding or otherwise mutilating travel agents. And both, it would seem to us, would have every reason to cooperate in that effort, if for no other reason than to avoid presenting the supplier community with two competing alternatives to the system that ARC itself is devising.

We were heartened to hear that one airline, Continental, broke the ice and agreed to delay its participation in the ARC system and to begin discussions with ASTA about ASTA's program, Travelsellers.com.

It occurs to us that if ASTA can talk to an airline about Travelsellers.com, then surely it can talk to a kindred organization of agents.

ASTA remains willing to work with ARTA, and it said so again last week, but are the two groups working together? No.

The last word from ARTA president John Hawks, as reported in these pages just last week, was that "philosophical differences" are keeping the two agent associations apart. ASTA is setting up its Travelsellers.com as a for-profit entity, but ARTA believes the identification program should be run as a non-profit enterprise.

For Hawks, this is the "deal-breaker."

Our answer to that is: Only if you want it to be.

ARTA has cultivated a reputation over the years for being a fiercely independent, sometimes feisty organization, even to the point of being contrarious and unyielding. Sometimes, that role suits it well.

This is not one of those times.

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