UPRIGHT AND LOCKED

Going, Going . . .

You need a scorecard to keep up with the turmoil in the airline industry. Here it is:

ATA Airlines filed for bankruptcy last week and announced that AirTran will take over ATA flights from Reagan National, Chicago Midway and New York LaGuardia. United and US Airways are already in bankruptcy court; Delta and Independence Air also have financial woes.

The only U.S. carriers in the black: Southwest and JetBlue. U.S. airlines have lost $23 billion since Sept. 11, 2001, and expect to lose another $6 billion by January.

Don't be surprised if you encounter disgruntled workers as many airlines slash paychecks and jobs. Last week, American Airlines told employees it will furlough as many as 450 pilots and 650 maintenance workers; Delta said it was outsourcing 650 telephone reservation jobs to India.

Also expect flight changes as struggling airlines restructure routes. Airlines will rebook you. You're entitled to a refund if the change is "significant." No one has defined that term, but a change of a couple of hours will likely be considered insignificant, even if it is significant to you.

In the long run: "Two years from now there will be fewer carriers" and prices will increase, says airline bankruptcy expert Anthony Sabino, an associate professor of business at St. John's University in New York.

scam watch

Caveat Emptor, Cont'd

Tim Meinke and Aya Aoki of the District were excited to find round-trip tickets to Buenos Aires for $650 each through Travel Express Services, a company operating out of Jersey City, N.J. When they were asked to send a check, they figured the agency just wanted to avoid credit card fees.

They sent the money, but tickets never arrived. They, and thousands of others, had been scammed.

"It's an ongoing investigation involving multiple states," is all a Jersey City detective would tell CoGo. According to sources familiar with the investigation, Travel Express Services placed a small ad in major newspapers across the country, including The Washington Post. When a customer agreed to buy a ticket, Travel Express would call a legitimate airline. By using the name of a legitimate ticket wholesaler who knew nothing of the scam, Travel Express was able to get a seven-day hold on seats -- just long enough for a customer's check to clear. Then the reservation would expire.

The company's phone lines are now disconnected, its operators missing. The moral:

* Always pay by credit card. If the company demands a check, shop elsewhere.

* Check the company's rating with the Better Business Bureau. The bureau's Web site, www.bbbonline.com, lists Travel Express as being unsatisfactory.

* And remember that old consumer dictum: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

TRAVEL TICKER

Orbitz made a low-fare promise last week: If you find a flight that costs at least $5 less than what you paid at www.orbitz.com, excluding service fees, the company will give you a $50 coupon for a future purchase . . . Get discounts in New York's Chinatown by showing an NYC MetroCard in a promotion good through Dec. 31. Details: www.explorechinatown.com . . . Virginia's new campaign to woo travelers with pets includes a new list of 350 pet-friendly lodgings. Leashed pets are allowed in state parks, much of Shenandoah National Park and some shopping centers. Details: 800-932-5827, www.virginia.org . . . Passengers at U.S. airports have left $244,024 in pocket change at security checkpoints since Jan. 1, to say nothing of things like coats, car seats and casino chips, according to the U.S. Transportation Security Agency.

BARGAIN OF THE WEEK

Independence Days

Fly Independence Air for as little as $34 each way. Details: "What's the Deal?," Page P3.

Reporting: Cindy Loose.

Help feed CoGo. Send travel news, road reports and juicy tattles to:

cogo@washpost.com. By fax: 202-912-3609. By mail: CoGo, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.