Certainty is a good thing -- unless you're certain that something bad is going to happen, in which case doubt can be nearly as good as hope.

Unfortunately, some recent events seem to have removed doubt and dashed hope.

In the matter of the airline industry's global game of World Domination, there seems to be no doubt about this: The age of the airline alliance is upon us, and there is no turning back.

The Star Alliance plan to include Continental under its umbrella of antitrust immunity, and to create a four-way joint venture, probably presented the government with the last opportunity it will have to put the brakes on this trend.

The Justice Department seems to have sensed that and asked the DOT, which has the final say, to show some restraint. Instead, the DOT gave Star just about everything it wanted in the way of antitrust immunity.

This means that Star can keep up with SkyTeam, but it also means the DOT won't be able to say no to Oneworld or anybody else.

Barely was the ink dry on the Star decision, moreover, when Delta requested immunity to engage in joint operations in U.S.-Australia markets with the Virgin Blue Group.

Judging from the timing (Delta filed its application just a week after starting Los Angeles-Sydney service), it appears that it has been Delta's strategy from the get-go to serve this market as part of an immunized alliance, and only as part of an immunized alliance.

We expressed the fear a while ago that airlines might come to regard antitrust immunity as an entitlement rather than the extraordinary dispensation that it is.

And that seems to be where we're headed: to a marketplace where airlines won't launch service into a new territory unless they have immunity to treat competitors like partners.

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