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Saturday, June 5, 1999 Published at 17:26 GMT 18:26 UK

Business: The Company File

Sizzling response to BA summer sale

British Airways needs to get passengers to fill its Jumbo Jets

A British Airways flight sale sparked more than 15,000 telephone calls in six hours on Saturday.

The company is putting one million seats up for sale, in a repeat of last year's summer sell-off.

The move comes shortly after the airline reported plummeting profits and a decline in bookings.

BA took on 500 extra staff on Saturday to handle inquiries, which were double the normal number.

UK customers are being offered discount fares for outbound flights leaving between 12 June and 15 July.

BA 'delighted'

On some air fares, travellers can save over £300 - but there is a catch: the sale lasts just 60 hours.

The sale started at 0900 BST on Saturday, and ends on Monday, 7 June at 2100 BST.

The most popular destinations snapped up by customers on Saturday were Buenos Aires, Madrid, Nice, Venice and Jersey.

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The flight-only bargains on offer included returns to Bahrain for £249 (saving £278), Rio for £350 (saving £247) and to Rome, Barcelona and Madrid for £99 (saving up to £137).

British Airways Holidays' city breaks were also included.

The sale follows a similar offer last August, and was being advertised by town criers and a leafleting campaign.

BA spokesman Bruce Tobin said the company was delighted with the response.

"It is a great summer sale with some genuine bargains and it has taken off and really caught the imagination of the public," he said.

Tickets can be bought at High Street travel agents, as well as at BA shops, over the telephone, and through the company's Website.

Whatever the booking method, a few conditions apply: the minimum stay is two nights, and tourists must return within one month. Short-haul flights should not include a Saturday night, long-haul flights must.

Bums on seats

The carrier, which bills itself as the world's favourite airline, describes the summer sale as a "marketing initiative", designed to offer the UK public the "great escape" ahead of the traditional holiday period during July and August.

The reason, though, is likely to be more mundane. British Airways needs to fill its planes.

Last month, the airline reported dire profit figures. The company has lost a lot of business to rival carriers, especially in the highly profitable "premium market" of full-fare paying business class travellers.

BA chairman Robert Ayling promised investors that he would switch the airline's strategy, cutting back on offering cheap economy class tickets and concentrating on profitable business travellers.

However, the company seems to have discovered that it needs to fill its cheap seats after all, especially during the weeks before the holiday season really gets going.

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