Up Front: ENDANGERED SPECIES
ONE BIRD THAT DIDN'T RISE FROM THE ASHES
Sometimes, ideas just go up in smoke. Freedom Air, a chartered airline for those souls who can't go without a nicotine fix between destinations, started in September amid much hoopla. Because smoking on virtually all domestic commercial flights has been banned since 1989, retired United Airlines pilot Ted Hall figured there would be a demand among his fellow puffers for friendlier skies. So Hall aimed to get around the ban with a private charter. He set up three round-trip jaunts between Los Angeles and Chicago on a 168-seat Boeing 727-200. One plus: A round-trip ticket cost $396, competitive with then-prevailing commercial rates.
But this tobacco tour didn't find its following. The first flight, on Sept. 28, sped off less than half full. The third flight, on Oct. 12, was even more lightly populated. Today, Hall admits defeat. "It was not what I'd call successful," says Hall, who hopes to try a similar idea, based in Las Vegas.
What happened? "They probably all choked to death," says Michael Boyd, president of Aviation Systems Research in Golden, Colo. Aside from misjudging the airline's appeal, it was prohibitively expensive for Hall and his wife, who bankrolled the venture. And not even tobacco giant Philip Morris answered their pleas for help.