The Department of Transportation has come up with a dandy solution to the disastrous air transportation problem. Because of so many complaints from the public, it has ordered the airlines to list all their flight delays, and report the losses of and damage to luggage. These figures will be made available to travelers so they can decide which is the best carrier to fly.

I was about to embrace the plan when I suddenly remembered that it was the Department of Transportation that messed up the airlines in the first place.

To clarify what was going on I went over to the DOT building to get additional information on the order. I was turned over to the Assistant Secretary for Mollifying Irritable Air Travelers and Their Loved Ones.

"Could you tell me how I benefit from knowing how many planes from each airline were tardy today?"

"If you are informed which airline has a lousy flight record, you can take a different one the next time you fly out of Albany."

"What do I do if the only airline from Albany is the one with the lousy record?"

"The knowledge of a late flight schedule can help you decide when to get to the airport. For example, if the plane takes off two hours late, you can use the time to do something exciting in Albany."

"That's great thinking. It's no wonder you were the people who thought up a way to bust up the air controllers' union."

"We're serious administrators," he said. "DOT is going to fine every airline company $1,000 for failing to report that they were late."

"That fine should break most airlines," I agreed. "Can we talk about luggage? Suppose an airline confesses it has an excellent record on flight arrivals, but a dismal one handling luggage. How do I deal with that?"

"We advise people to take the flight but leave their luggage behind. On the other hand, if the carrier has a poor flying record but good baggage handling, we advise the passengers to send their luggage on it and board a plane that leaves at another time."

"Can you really shame an airline into flying straight by forcing it to report its faults?"

"The Department of Transportation thinks so. It's going to slap the wrist of any carrier that kicks in a person's suitcase. No aviation executive will be able to face his stockholders again and inform them that Joan Collins' luggage was lost somewhere between Paris and Anchorage. We want the airlines to be humiliated into changing their ways."

"I hope it works, because the Democrats are pretty angry now, and they are threatening to take the flying of planes into their own hands," I said.

"The Department of Transportation has a contingency plan," the man said.

"What's that?"

"Put all the Democrats on standby."