TWA 800. Swissair Flight 111. They are, all too recognizably, coded shorthand for disasters -- names and numbers linked in an ironic half-life of shock and disbelief.

And now there's EgyptAir 990.

Our condolences, of course, go out to the grief-stricken families and friends of those who perished so abruptly off the coast of Nantucket Island in what is the third major air calamity in North America in three-and-a-half years.

At the same time, all of us share a special empathy with those travel agents and tour operators who placed passengers aboard the ill-fated flight. We can only imagine the anguish experienced by those affiliated with Grand Circle Travel and Elderhostel, both of which had large groups aboard the Cairo-bound plane.

If there is an agent's nightmare, this is it.

Electronic reporting

We think that ASTA got it right when it opposed a proposal by ARC that would require most new travel agencies accredited after Jan. 1 to report sales electronically.

No one can deny that the digital capture of sales data probably will make electronic reporting the method of choice for the trade, with ARC already projecting that 50% of agents' transactions will be submitted electronically by year's end.

Nevertheless, we are struck by the logic implicit in a statement by ASTA official Paul Ruden, who in opposing the proposal said, "If electronic reporting is so good, agents will do it voluntarily."

Indeed, ARC should recognize that electronic reporting remains a controversial topic with some retailers and that, in Ruden's words, "shoving it down their throats" doesn't make it any less so.

ARC should back off for now.

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