Joker in the Air

AIRPORTS are hectic places, but once on a plane, many of us enjoy air travel. The seat is taken out of its fully locked and upright position and one has time for reflection or work or cloud-gazing in an atmosphere of comfort and quiet.

But passengers beware; your quality air time is in danger of being gambled away - literally. A venture capital company led by former Chrysler chief executive Lee Iacocca is betting that gambling is tied to the future of air travel. At an airline trade conference this month Mr. Iacocca said airline profits will soon come from on-board interactive video gambling, shopping, and game-playing as much as from fares. His new company will lobby Congress to have federal aviation laws changed to allow video gaming systems installed in seats for domestic flights. Credit cards and frequent flyer miles will be gaming collateral.

Iacocca, an icon of the 1980s, sponsor of the refurbishment of the Statue of Liberty, and someone once discussed as a vice presidential candidate, stated: ``Like it or not, Americans like to gamble.''

This is not, as they used to say, the kind of stuff that built America and made it great. We actually like air travel the way it is - without bells, whistles, or the frenetic nonsense that would accompany a nightmare seat assignment next to Freddie the Hustler. Despite the $1 billion yearly profits predicted for air casinos, will we have to wonder in the future if our trip to St. Louis will actually feel like a trip to Las Vegas?

Singapore Airlines, British Airways, and others are experimenting with gambling on international flights.

Still, the pace, quality, and civility of life in these United States - not to mention basic dignity - are not something to trash any time someone wants to make a buck. Because some Americans ``like to gamble'' does not mean they have to be tempted at every turn.

Maybe file this one under: ``Ideas that should never get off the ground.''

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