The wonders wrought by airline deregulation never cease! One major carrier that serves the Washington area is advertising "new low fares" to several destinations. Another suitable adjective might be "idiosyncratic."

Once upon a time, air fares were clearly related to distance traveled. No longer; fares are generally much lower on high-volume routes, regardless of distance.

One local family had the recent experience of paying the lowest fares available for round-trip tickets from Washington to Bangor, Maine, and to Sacramento, Calif. The Bangor ticket, for a round-trip mileage of under 1,500 miles, cost marginally more than the Sacramento ticket for 6,000 miles.

The new low fares we've mentioned were advertised by USAir. For $99 on Mondays through Fridays or $69 on weekends, one can travel to Columbus, Ohio, a one-way trip of some 300 miles. But wait! Unless they've recently rearranged midwestern geography, Indianapolis is 200 miles farther, but the fares there are $79/$49, cheaper by $20 than to Columbus.

Evansville, Ind., is about 75 miles more distant than Indianapolis. The newly advertised fares to Evansville are $129/$99 -- making an unrestricted weekday fare to Evansville nearly as expensive as the cheapest "supersaver" fare of $139 on other carriers to Sacramento (which, unlike the Evansville fare, requires a month-in-advance purchase of a round-trip ticket; otherwise, a one-way coach fare from here to the coast on a major airline is about $300). Quite a spread!