Airlines offer more comfortable seats to attract business travelers

Business travel is roaring back after a two-year slump, and the airlines are welcoming it with a selection of new amenities, including bigger, more comfortable seats. But the luxuries typically come at a price.

For example, Delta Air Lines announced plans to add a premium economy section — "economy comfort" — on all long-haul international flights by this summer. The airline will charge an extra $80 to $160 each way, depending on the route.

The new seats will feature up to 4 more inches of legroom and 50% more recline than Delta's standard international economy-class seats. The seats will be installed in the first few rows of the economy cabin on more than 160 aircraft by this summer.

Dutch airline KLM recently announced the addition of a European business-class seat with more space and privacy because the middle seat will be left empty. The added charge over an economy seat can be as much as $400 each way.

Starting next month, Cathay Pacific Airways will offer a new business-class seat that is nearly 2 inches wider and 4 inches longer than the current business-class seats when it converts into a lie-flat bed. The new seats will be featured on Cathay Pacific's Boeing 777-300ERs from Los Angeles to Australia.

A round-trip ticket could set you back nearly $12,000, depending on the route and time of year.

With the economy on the mend and businesses spending more for travel, Michael W. McCormick, executive director of the Global Business Travel Assn., said he was not surprised by the new offers. "These seats are a good return on investment," he said.

Jami Counter, senior director of SeatGuru, a website that reviews airline seats, expects to see more of the same. "We look forward to seeing what other seat enhancements airlines roll out down the line."

• Leaking images from airport scanners would be a crime

There is good news for airline passengers who worry that embarrassing photos taken by airport scanners may leak out and show up on the Internet: Two senators are proposing to make it a crime to disseminate such images, punishable by up to a year in prison.

Democratic Sens. Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Charles E. Schumer of New York last week proposed an amendment to an aviation spending bill that would prohibit anyone with access to the scanned body images from photographing or disseminating those images. As proposed, violators could face fines of up to $100,000 and a prison term.

"We need to do everything we can to protect the privacy rights of the air travelers," Schumer said in a statement.

The Transportation Security Administration has installed more than 500 scanners at 78 airports in an effort to check for hidden weapons and contraband. The scanners use low levels of radiation to create what look like nude images of the screened passengers.

TSA officials say the machines cannot store such images.

The proposed amendment also would make it a crime to use a personal camera to photograph or record the images created by the scanner.

• Poll asks: Who are the best-looking flight attendants?

For decades, airlines hired only young, single women to work as flight attendants to put a pretty face on in-flight services.

But in the 1960s and '70s, airline unions pressed the carriers to allow any qualified person to work as a flight attendant regardless of gender, age or appearance.

That didn't stop the organizers of the Business Travel and Meetings Show in London last week from taking a survey of 1,000 participants to choose the airline with the best-looking flight crew.

Of those questioned, 53% said Virgin Atlantic's crew was the most attractive, followed by 18% for Singapore Airlines and 12% for Etihad Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates.

Jeff Pharr, a spokesman for the Assn. of Professional Flight Attendants, called the survey "very offensive." The group represents nearly 18,000 flight attendants working for American Airlines.

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, flight attendants play a much more important role than just serving drinks with a smile, Pharr said.

"We are the first responders on the plane," he said. "I don't see that looks have anything to do with that."

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