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Friday, 23 June, 2000, 09:20 GMT 10:20 UK
The height of luxury
Airbus interior
The new Airbus plane promises class and comfort
For some people, flying will never be a comfortable experience.

But increasingly airlines are taking steps to make it as pleasant - and in some cases as luxurious- as possible.

The sheer size of the Airbus A3XX - which is set to take passengers to the skies in 2005 - makes it a pioneer.

But the specifications inside the aircraft indicate that air travel is moving into a new era of comfort.

It is likely to include lounges, a separate restaurant, shops and even a gym.
Sleeping passenger
Several airlines provide beds
There are also suggestions that the double-decker giant could carry a casino or children's play area.

Airlines are adding more and more features to make flying like staying in a mile-high luxury hotel.

British Airways and Virgin are among those offering beds on long-haul flights - Virgin even provides a private cabin - and passengers have facilities for using laptop computers and telephones.

Cuisine on some flights is developed by well-known chefs, with several choices for each course and an extensive wine list.

The cost of comfort

Entertainment is provided by personal screens, sometimes offering a choice of films.
Man being massaged
Relax with a massage on Virgin
But all of this comes at a price - and it is often far more than the average passenger can afford.

Business travellers buy 20% of all tickets, but provide airlines with half their profits, so it is understandable that there should be a focus on this section.

"It's a small market that's prepared to pay for these facilities," says Jeremy Skidmore of Travel Weekly.

"Most people are happy to sit in their cramped seat in economy and make the best of it."

And who can blame them when a flight from London to New York can be had for 460 compared with 1,670 in club class and 2,900 in first class.

British Airways was criticised for its new strategy of concentrating on business class passengers.

But it is also providing a new upgraded economy class, with more legroom and extra hand luggage allowances.

Despite the introduction of walnut wood effect decor and linen towels in the washrooms, what most passengers yearn for is simply enough legroom.

In the United States, complaints to Congress have prompted some airlines to take out rows of seating to give more legroom.

Smaller seat pitch

The industry standard seat pitch is about 78cm, but that has decreased in recent years by 10cm as airlines have crammed in more seats. Some charter companies pack passengers into as little as 70cm.

The spacious seats on designs for the Airbus A3XX look welcoming, but are likely to be for passengers paying premium prices.

However, travel analysts have welcomed any moves to make life more comfortable for economy passengers.

But at the other end of the scale, the gyms, restaurants and casinos are likely to remain the preserve of wealthier travellers.

"It's good publicity," says Simon Calder, travel editor of the Independent, "but what really sways people more than anything is frequent flyer miles."

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See also:

13 Mar 00 | Business
Super-Jumbo aid deal approved
11 Jun 99 | The Company File
BA fights over sleeper seats
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