he spirit of Ebenezer Scrooge has infused the U.S. airline industry. He's everywhere, and he's especially alive and well at Continental and US Airways. By the time you read this, his penny-pinching ways may have overcome some others.

But after all the bad jokes about coin-operated baggage bins and pay toilets, observers of the airline industry are left with a sorry tale of "same old, same old." Rather than thinking outside the box, the old airlines are up to the same old tricks -- shaking down their passengers for basic services while trying to force them to trade up to a higher fare.

Take, for example, US Airways' new policy about nonrefundable tickets. Henceforth, most nonrefundables will have, in US Airways' parlance, "no value once the flight has departed." This means that if the passenger must reschedule, he or she must do so before the original departure date. If you don't happen to know your new travel date, you're out of luck.

US Airways said that "since most people travel as originally ticketed, most customers will not be impacted by this change."

But if that's the case, why bother making the change? Why make your low fare less attractive to those passengers who are occasionally forced to reschedule?

The answer, it seems, is that US Airways believes those passengers will forego the lower fare and buy a more expensive, refundable ticket.

For the same reason, US Airways no longer allows passengers on nonrefundable tickets to stand by for a different flight.

US Airways justifies these policies by saying they put airline tickets on the same footing as "many other products that people buy for a specific date and time such as Broadway shows and sporting events. If you miss the event, your ticket isn't good for the next day."

This would be an accurate analogy if airline tickets were transferrable. They are not.

We don't wish to minimize the urgency of a bankrupt airline's quest for revenue, but it just doesn't ring true for US Airways to claim that it is "recognizing a new competitive reality and tailoring our product accordingly." From where we sit, these changes are being driven by the company's revenue needs rather than the needs of its customers or the need to remain "competitive."

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Note to Marriott:

e note that, for a period of time, you inadvertently paid commissions to independent travel sellers who were not designated by the airline entities IATA or Iatan.

We further note that during this period of time, the sky did not fall, the earth did not tremble and the planets did not tumble from their orbits.

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