By Tom Belden, The Philadelphia Inquirer Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News

Mar. 20--Sooner or later, no one's going to believe the business traveler who returns to the office with stories about how boring it is to take commercial airline flights.

That's because one carrier after another these days is installing state- of-the-art systems at each passenger's seat that provide far more entertainment options than the single movie or half-dozen channels of music available just a few years ago.

Continental and American are the airlines that most recently announced enhancements to what the passengers have had available.

Continental said it was putting on its jets the same type of digital passenger-communications system aboard many USAir, USAir Shuttle, America West and Carnival Airlines planes. The ``Flightlink'' system is built by In- Flight Phone Corp.

With Flightlink, you're able to make a phone call, send a fax, transmit from a PC, get a stock quote, make airline or rental-car reservations, hold a conference call, receive a message from someone on the ground, play video games, look at airport layout maps, and order flowers or products from a catalogue. The system is about to be expanded to include news headlines, weather forecasts and city guides, In-Flight officials said.

Starting this summer, American will use one of its transatlantic Boeing 767 jets to test an advanced entertainment and in-flight telephone system built by Matsushita.

Other airlines that have installed interactive in-flight entertainment systems over the last couple of years are finding their equipment is already obsolete, American Airlines senior vice president Michael W. Gunn said.

``This is one of those examples where being first isn't as important as being right,'' he said. ``At American, we decided early on we wanted to watch the evolution of these systems until we felt we had something...that would not only be great now but for years into the future.''

American's system will use digital technology for its phones and ``personal video units'' that are to be installed at every seat on the test 767. In first class, the video unit will be pulled up from inside the armrest. In coach and business class, passengers will use video screens installed in the backs of the seats in front of them.

A phone handset at each seat will be used to operate the system, select movies or games, and make calls. Just in case you tear yourself away from the entertainment to do some work, there will be a phone jack at the seat that can be used to plug in a laptop computer and send data or transmit a fax.

American knows it wants to have some type of multiple-choice entertainment system in its first-class and business-class cabins. It's still trying to determine if it will deploy the systems in the coach cabin on all of its long-haul airplanes, too, a spokeswoman said.

HOTELS AND MINIMUM WAGE: Hotel operators and owners have little to fear if Congress adopts the Clinton administration's proposal to increase the minimum wage, according to an analysis by Coopers & Lybrand.

Hotel payrolls, and, ultimately, the profitability of the hotel industry,

are far more likely to be influenced by free-market forces than the proposed 90-cents-an-hour rise in the minimum wage, said Warren Marr, manager of the national hospitality consulting group in Cooper's Philadelphia office.

The analysis was done by studying data in the ``Current Population Survey,'' prepared by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 1993, the latest year available. It indicates that 39.4 percent of the minimum-wage workers in the personal-service category were employed in the lodging business. Based on this ratio, about 6.3 percent of lodging employees are paid at or below the minimum wage. (Those paid less than the minimum wage receive tips as part of their compensation.)

The proposed 90-cent increase would add about $130.5 million to total 1995 industry payrolls. That averages out to $1,592 annually for each employee earning minimum wage or less, or $98 per employee for all workers in the industry, Marr said.

That increase isn't big enough to ``significantly impair the growth of industry profits,'' he said.

KNOW YOUR RIGHTS: If you're just starting out as a business traveler, or even if you are a veteran of the road, you might find a copy of ``Travel Rights'' by Charles Leocha, a useful investment of $7.95. The pocket-size paperback is a compendium of straightforward advice about your rights when flying on a plane or renting a car.

Among other things, the book includes tips on what all that fine print on an air ticket means, what to do if your bags are lost by an airline, regulations about renting a car, and how to get back the value-added tax (VAT) you paid on products bought in Europe.

You can order the book using a credit card from World Leisure Corp. at 1- 800-444-2524.

Send your business travel question or comment to Tom Belden, The Inquirer, Box 8263, Philadelphia 19101. END!A7?PH-BIZ-TRAVEL

AP-NY-03-19-95 1454EST

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