The competition among U.S. airlines for who would do the most for the former hostages in Iran apparently has been won by the newest of the carriers, New York Airlines Inc., according to a notice in the Feb. 18, Federal Register (page 12766).

Under the Federal Aviation Act, an airline needs approval of the Civil Aeronautics Board before it can offer a free ride to any passenger. American Airlines started the ball rolling by proposing to the CAB on Jan. 22 that it be permitted to carry the hostages free when they returned. Then Braniff got into the act by asking if it could take not only the hostages but also the immediate members of their families free for a 30-day period. Both requests were approved, and made applicable for all airlines.

On Feb. 4, Western Airlines applied to the CAB for permission to carry the hostages and their family members free to Hawaii and back during February and March, so that they could accept an invitation to visit the state from its governor, Arieshis Ariyoshi.

New York Air, however, outdid them all. It applied to the CAB for permission to give the returned hostages and their spouses "a pass . . . good for lifetime free travel on any present or future New York Air route." Right now that just means between Boston, New York and Washington, but the young airline has plans to push west to Chicago and beyond, making the passes a really valuable gift -- if the company succeeds.