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Weighed down by air travel? Heres some help

News item: In the aftermath of a Jan. 8 crash in Charlotte, N.C., the Federal Aviation Agency ordered 24 airlines to perform a weight sampling of their passengers and baggage over a three-day period to determine whether their assumptions correspond with the actual weight of today's supersized passengers and their overstuffed luggage.

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The FAA has weighed in, and now the nation will, too.

Are you packing extra spring-vacation travel pounds? No problem. The feds are developing an innovative, bite-sized grant program to guide the nation's attempt to make the skies lighter, friendlier and roomier.

The Behavior Assistance Grant, known as BAG, will offer financial and technical assistance to citizens who are members of any airline mileage program. The application requires only a signed bag tag with a frequent flier number. Winners, selected at random, will be notified as they pass through security.

The maximum grant is $500, most of which must be used to purchase extra baggage or seat space on their next trip. The program will offer grants in five categories: Business Cellular, Game Boy, Pet Packer, Mad Hatter and Sports Fan.

By Labor Day, America's new airline consortium, led by Travel Lite Air, will announce a solution to our excess. This concept, known as the Gross Travel Weight Alliance or GTWA, will limit each flier to a maximum of 300 pounds per ticket.

The alliance limits will apply to the person and what they're packing. For example, a 130-pound woman can travel with 170 pounds of baggage. A 200-pound man can pack a golf bag weighing 100 pounds. No one can travel with two carry-on bags.

When a traveler arrives for check-in, he or she steps on a cargo scale. A pound over 300 requires an immediate loss to get on board. That could mean arriving at your destination without baggage.

To ease into this less-baggage-is-more-room concept, the Chicago Board of Trade will begin trading GTWA futures in 2004. This market is based on a fundamental law of travel: All baggage is constant and in motion.

Any mileage plan member is automatically eligible to trade GTWA futures. The process requires only a weight declaration when purchasing a ticket. If the traveler declares 200 pounds, he or she can sell the remaining 100 to someone else on that plane or train.

Naturally, this system will require perpetual passenger monitoring: Imagine your flight attendant announcing, 'É now weighing 165 pounds and sitting in row 23, seat C É'

The penalty for a violation of the GTWA declaration is confiscation of all shopping bags prior to boarding. The FBI, CIA and IRS, through an interagency agreement, will deploy their G-men to monitor compliance. Repeat offenders will have their Happy Meal accounts audited prior to departure.

Michael Sievers is a project manager for URS Corp. He and his wife, Kelly, live in Northwest Portland.