AND, SPEAKING of Fort Worth, the 8 a.m. Eastern Shuttle to La Guardia does have a few distinctive features that your ordinary two-stop flight to Fort Worth cannot match. For example, briefcases are really not optional on the shuttle; preferred are briefcases with a price tag roughly in the same neighborhood as a year in medical school. Self-importance, you may have guessed, is never wholly a stranger on the 8 a.m. Eastern Shuttle to La Guardia. The meek shall inherit Trailways.

Wednesday would be different on the shuttle. There would be no senior, three-button sprint for the first cab upon landing in New York. Very large deals in Manhattan would have to be postponed. The 8 a.m. did not go to Fund City; it landed in Baltimore. And herein lies a tale of our times.

Robert Benchley, a certified clairvoyant, could have had the Eastern Shuttle episode in mind when he wrote: "There may be said to be two classes of people in the world; those who constantly divide the people of the world into two classes and those who do not." Airline companies have been compulsively dividing for years: First-class and coach, children under 1i and those older, coffee or tea. In 1973, the Civil Aeronautics Board made a further dichotomy on all flights, between a smoking section and a non-smoking section. Last May, the CAB heated up the smoking controversy by requiring the airlines to provide every non-smoker with a non-smoking seat (that really is a funny concept) even if there were not any seats left in the non-smoking section.

Now, you might ask, who, other than members of a flight crew, would read and remember these CAB promulgations? But, of course: a non-smoking Washington lawyer named Richard Lent. Mr. Lent, a late arrival on board Wednesday's 8 a.m. shuttle, found no seat available in the non-smoking section. Here the reports conflict, but the weight of evidence suggests that Mr. Lent took a seat in the smoking section. As soon as the shuttle was airborne anda quorum of natural leather briefcases on board had been opened, the no-smoking light went out. And enough cigarettes were lighted to make the surgeon general cry, and to waken Mr. Lent, who, according to some reports, cried bloody murder. All the tensions always present on the 8 a.m. shuttle were ignited with the flicks of several Bics. Tempers went up in a puff.

So it was that Capt. Larry Kinsey, the Eastern pilot at the controls, did the only thing a responsible, God-fearing officer and gentleman could do. He terminated the flight forthwith at Baltimore, barely a briefcase's snap from Washington. You could say he gave up Lent for smoking.