f you believe every accusation that's been made about Orbitz, you'd have to come to the conclusion that the airlines are both dumb and evil -- and that's a tough combination, even for an airline.

We are prepared to believe that any given airline, on any given day, is capable of acts that are dumb, evil or both, but we remain to be convinced that airlines are fundamentally stupid or evil by nature. We rather suspect that these traits have to be learned.

We desire to be optimists, and we want to believe that airlines, gradually, tend to get smarter over time.

For example, suppose you had five large publicly traded airline companies. Suppose further that all five are already under a federal consent decree for price-signaling. Now suppose that they decided to break the antitrust laws and engage in monopolization, restraint of trade and price-fixing. Would they (A) do it on the sly or (B) paint a bull's-eye on themselves by spending $100 million to create a joint-venture company with a cool-sounding name, some expensive publicists and consultants, a high-priced technology guru and an even higher-priced chief executive officer?

We don't know whether the airline founders of Orbitz are dumb, evil or just a bunch of guys stumbling around trying to figure out the Internet.

Before making up our minds, we'd like to see how the technology works and whether it's better, faster or cheaper than the legacy systems that power agency CRSs. Even if Orbitz goes away, it will be useful for the travel industry to know what the "new technology" can and cannot do in real life.

We may have the answers soon. Orbitz is in beta test and its launch date is rapidly approaching.

Now would be a good time for the Justice Department to emerge from its deliberations and settle the antitrust questions that have been raised. Even dumb and evil airlines deserve an answer. And so do the rest of us.

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