The Politics of Travel

Just Stay Home

Noting fuel supply problems, President Bush said last week that if Americans "are able to maybe not drive . . . on a trip that's not essential, that would be helpful."

The advice, if followed, would do serious damage to one of the largest segments of the U.S. economy. Travel is a $600 billion-a-year industry in the United States and directly employs 7.3 million people, according to the Travel Industry Association of America. About 80 percent of all U.S. travel is regional, which generally means driving trips.

The National Tour Association responded to Bush's remarks with a release encouraging "group travel as the best form of fuel conservation for travelers." The NTA represents firms that arrange group travel.

Nonprofit groups suggested that rather than asking Americans to forgo their vacations, leaders should consider measures government could take.

"The president has the power to pick up a pen and require car companies to raise fuel-efficiency standards. We think they could double fuel efficiency in two years," said Anna Aurilio of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

Fully two-thirds of U.S. oil consumption is for transportation, said David Friedman of the Union of Concerned Scientists. A House bill would raise fuel efficiency of new cars from an average of 24 miles per gallon to 33 mpg by 2015 and save 17 billion gallons of fuel a year, Friedman said. Bush's proposal: Raise standards only for SUVs, minivans and pickups by 1.8 mpg.

Aurilio's group has been pushing the government to raise fuel-efficiency standards on furnaces. The government could also invest more in mass transit and encourage homeowners to weatherize.

Or, we could all get out the sweaters we bought during the Carter years and just stay home.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the president didn't intend to include leisure travel in his statement: "But even on vacations and leisure travel, Americans can take steps to conserve energy, and use their own best judgment on the best way to do that."

UPRIGHT AND LOCKED

Independence Daze

Consumers booked to fly to the West Coast and several other cities on Independence Air in coming weeks and months are scrambling for alternatives.

Citing the high cost of fuel and the need to allow planes to make more departures by keeping them closer to home, Independence announced that its last flights to and from Los Angeles will take off Sept. 30. Last call for San Diego: Oct. 30. For Seattle and San Francisco: Nov. 28.

The last flights to and from Cleveland, Indianapolis, Louisville, Ky., and Stewart-Newburgh, N.Y.: Oct. 30.

As of Oct. 31, the airline will also switch flights headed for New York's John F. Kennedy to LaGuardia. But for most customers, that will be considered a bonus, since LaGuardia is significantly closer to the city. Also on the plus side for consumers: Independence will begin flying nonstop from Dulles to San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Dec. 16.

As for those holding tickets for no-go flights: All that's required by law is for the carrier to return your money. A credit or switching to a destination Independence flies to are other options, said Flyi spokesman Rick DeLisi.

TRAVEL TICKER

The merger of US Airways and American West does not threaten your frequent-flier miles. Plus, points earned on US Airways are still good for flights on other carriers, such as United, that are part of the Star Alliance. Eventually, American West miles will feed into that pot as well. Details: www.usair.com . . . Amtrak fares will increase an average of $3 to $4 as of Tuesday. Details: www.amtrak.com.

BARGAIN OF THE WEEK

Sale Away

Southwest has a systemwide sale, with fares starting at $39 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.