Were glad to see that the Justice Dept. still has an antitrust division and still expects some of the antitrust laws to apply to some of the airlines, some of the time.

And we think the antitrust division was quite correct to advise the Transportation Dept. that giving near-global antitrust immunity to Northwest and Delta, as part of an expanded SkyTeam alliance, is not a good idea.

Over the years, the Transportation Dept. has granted antitrust immunity to 20-odd joint ventures and partnerships involving various U.S. and foreign airlines, allowing them to fix prices, split profits, divvy up markets, and engage in other sorts of collusion that would land most business executives in jail.

The DOT has done so on the theory that immunity allows airlines to join their end-to-end networks in alliances to produce consumer benefits that are otherwise unattainable. Any harm to competition, it is argued, would be offset by these expanded networks and by the existence of open-skies agreements in international markets that permit other airlines to launch new services freely.

That rationale worked fine until Air France bought KLM. Air France was already a partner with Delta in SkyTeam, and KLM was already part of a competing alliance with Northwest.

The Northwest/KLM alliance is, in effect, getting absorbed into the competing SkyTeam group. To hear SkyTeam tell it, Northwest needs immunity to be a fully coordinated worldwide partner with its former competitors Air France, Delta, Alitalia and all the rest.

The Justice Department isnt buying it.

As the departments antitrust division laid it out, Northwest and Delta operate overlapping networks, and the result of a global grant of antitrust immunity would be a certain reduction in competition, with uncertain benefits to consumers.

Even if the carriers could make the case that Northwest needs immunity to participate in the alliances main transatlantic ventures, theres scant justification for giving Delta and Northwest blanket antitrust immunity on routes linking U.S. points with points in Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Asia.

The poor, beleaguered airline industry. Not only is it forced to put up with bottom-feeding passengers, high fuel prices, strikes and bankruptcies, but now the Bush administrations Justice Dept. wants it to actually adhere to the antitrust laws. Oh, the tyranny!

Welcome home?

The hotel industry is enjoying good times these days, and new lifestyle brands are busting out all over. 

The latest contender is Alden. Like other recent upstarts, the Alden brand promises to be high on style and service, and even higher on comfort. The theme is easy living.

Hoteliers have always said they want their guests to feel at home. Even when their hotels didnt look or feel particularly homey or residential, good proprietors could manage to make people feel welcome.

Todays emphasis on niches, style and ambience will go a long way toward making many guests feel like they are not at a hotel, and thats great -- but were beginning to wonder if anybody needs to be reminded that its also OK for a hotel to look and feel like a hotel.

It still is, isnt it?

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