Why Do Some Travelers Get Special Treatment?

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We don't cover business travel, because BT readers are people who love to travel, not who have to travel. Most business travelers want little more than a solid desk, an easy-to-reach outlet, a fast Internet connection, and a ticket on the next flight home. But sometimes it feels like we're the only publication that doesn't kowtow to business travelers. The travel industry loves them because they spend freely. (Ask anyone with an expense account.) Publications want the advertisers looking to lure business travelers, so they devote tons of editorial space to the topic.

Certainly, there are times we should all tip our hats to "road warriors." Low coach fares have long been inadvertently subsidized by the folks in the front of the cabin, who pay a fortune for changeable tickets and cushy seats. And a slew of major hotel companies (including Starwood, InterContinental, and Hyatt) are launching more affordable lines (Aloft, Hotel Indigo, and Hyatt Place, respectively) aimed at the business travelers whose expense accounts aren't quite so lavish. More rooms means lower prices, and leisure travelers will probably be able to find good deals on weekends, when business travelers prefer to be at home. It's my guess the hotels will try to fill rooms using services such as Priceline.

But there are times when too much emphasis is placed on pleasing the business traveler. Major newspapers (in their business travel coverage, naturally) are trumpeting a government program in which certain preregistered travelers--who go through iris scans, background checks, and fingerprinting--get to avoid the hassle of long lines, rules that shift from airport to airport, and scanners on a power trip. The idea is that the process will be contracted out to private companies. One company, Verified Identity Pass, is already testing it, charging frequent fliers out of Orlando $80 a year for the privilege. Who's most likely to pay that $80? Business travelers--many of whom will pass the fee onto their employers.

Meanwhile, it's yet another case of the baseline service being lowered: The average leisure traveler can no longer reasonably expect the kind of service he's used to--unless he pays for it. Our government created unwieldy regulations for airport security, yet refuses to clean up its mess in a way that benefits all travelers. Instead, it's fixing the problem only for a select few. A middleman is being added, which is good news for Verified Identity Pass but bad news for most of us.

Is the government favoring the right folks? According to the Travel Industry of America, leisure travelers spent $338.6 billion in 2003 (the most recent data available). Business travelers spent $153 billion. It doesn't take an MBA to do the math.

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