The flap over Dubai Ports World was a travel story.

Not directly, of course. No travel companies were involved. The aborted attempt by the Arabian company to acquire cargo-handling facilities at a half-dozen U.S. ports would have had little impact on cruise lines and no impact on any other travel suppliers or travel sellers.

But its a travel story because of the extraordinary force of adverse public opinion that drove Dubai Ports to withdraw, and the way in which U.S. public opinion is perceived overseas.

We should all be concerned about anything that drives yet another wedge between the West and the Arab nations of the Middle East. Until theres peace in that region, theres going to be no end to the terrorism that threatens our transportation systems, no end to the cost of the extraordinary measures we take to protect ourselves. That makes it a travel story.

The U.S. reaction to the Dubai ports controversy also makes it easy for the Islamic world -- indeed, the entire world -- to conclude that the U.S. distrusts foreigners, that we do not welcome foreign investment and free trade.

The bad news for travel is that attitudes such as these are difficult to reconcile with the fundamental values upon which much of our industry must rest: that international travel, open borders and free trade are good things in their own right and must be encouraged. In a political and economic environment in which these things are not held dear, our industry cannot thrive.

We are travelers here. Xenophobia, a fear or distrust of foreigners and of unfamiliar things, is the antithesis of what this business is all about. If travel industry lobbyists in Washington want to take up a cause, they can choose no better project than finding ways to keep these attitudes out of our public life.



Observations

A few weeks back, we spoke to Aloha CEO David Banmiller for our weekly Hot Seat interview, and he mentioned why he was so driven to get the airline out of bankruptcy in a hurry: Bankruptcy is expensive.

We got confirmation about a week later when the Wall Street Journal reported that the law firm Kirkland and Ellis billed United $100 million for its work as lead bankruptcy counsel. For that amount of money, Kirkland and Ellis could start a new airline.

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Lots of eyes will be on Northwest for the next few weeks as the carrier experiments with a scheme to charge $15 for some of the better spots in the coach cabin, such as aisle seats and exit rows.

We think its a cool idea, but we wonder about the impact of a test that will charge for some of those seats and not others. For years, many passengers have chafed at the idea that they might have paid much more than the person sitting next to them, simply by dint of some accident of timing or availability. It may be equally disquieting to know that you paid $15 for something that most others got for free, and that you did so deliberately.

Even worse would be to pay the $15 and get stuck next to somebody with poor elbow etiquette.

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On the other hand, Northwests experiment may produce valuable information for what could be the next step in in-flight service -- widespread cell phone usage.

Will people pay a surcharge for a No phone zone?

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