Image: WestJet guest lies in an overhead cabin
Jess Wiberg  /  WestJet via Reuters
Cabin sleeper: A WestJet "guest" lies in an overhead cabin in this company handout photo.
By Brian Tracey Associate editor
msnbc.com
updated 4/4/2008 10:07:55 AM ET 2008-04-04T14:07:55
COMMENTARY

We call this a stupid jet trick: Canada's second largest airline this week offered passengers a small "sleeper cabin" in its planes' overhead luggage bins, available for a modest extra charge of $12.

Continuing its irregular tradition of April Fools' Day press releases, Calgary-based WestJet said passengers would be able to stretch out and relax in the luggage rack.

"By offering our existing overhead bins as sleeper cabins, guests will now have the opportunity to lie down for a period of time and arrive at their destination refreshed, rested and ready to go," the airline said in its release.

It's just the latest prank for WestJet, which touts friendly service and a light-hearted touch in its advertisements.

In 2006, the carrier's April Fools' press release advised passengers to stretch out their arms during takeoff to help save fuel.

WestJet's press release included a toll-free telephone number that passengers can call to check on the availability of the sleeper cabins. A recorded message reveals the prank, but also offered customers a 10 percent discount on flights booked before midnight.

We're disappointed this was a hoax, because overhead sleeper bins would have made this airline a real fly-by-night operation.

Un-fare flight
Here's more asinine airline activity: Ireland's Flybe has taken air-fare discount to whole new level after it paid 172 people to fly back and forth across England and the Irish Sea to help it meet a target for passenger numbers at Norwich airport.

Flybe was narrowly falling short of a target to deliver at least 15,000 passengers on the Dublin-Norwich route in the 12 months ending on March 31, which meant it would have to forego a $550,000 rebate from the airport.

After the airport rejected a request for a partial rebate for almost hitting the target, Flybe hired 172 temps for $60-$80 each, plus a free bar and in-flight entertainment, though it admitted "it probably sounds like an early April fool."

But Richard Jenner, managing director of the airport in eastern England, called the British carrier's move "ludicrous" and said the target had to be met by regular fare-paying passengers.

"The ludicrousness is on the Norwich side who in essence have tried to hold us to ransom, putting at risk routes into Norwich," Flybe Chief Commercial Officer Mike Rutter replied in a joint interview with Jenner on Irish public broadcaster RTE.

Since many British consider Norwich to be in the middle of nowhere, maybe they should make pay-to-fly thing permanent.

Grave communication
Call it a tale from the e-crypt.

But Teruo and Miyoko Oba say there's nothing eerie about their new family grave site, equipped with a mobile phone bar code to offer connectivity long after their own bells have tolled.

The family plot in Kofu, a rural city near the Japanese Alps, boasts a high-tech, "QR" black-and-white square, linking the Oba's pictures and history to phone-carrying visitors who can enter virtually to pay their respects.

Tombstone maker Ishinokoe says the QR codes, which users scan to link with everything in Japan from buses to restaurant reservations, are a new way to visit its "memorial service window" grave sites that contain more than the cremated ashes of the deceased.

"We already have a patent and should get another this month, but we hope this service is not just for our customers, but the entire funeral industry," said Yoshitsugu Fukuzawa, head of Ishinokoe, which launched the product this month.

The Oba family say the new technology offers more options.

"I thought the idea was great as usually the deceased don't have any input to how a grave site is arranged," said 73-year-old Teruo.

"Visitors using this service can actually see the departed."

His wife Miyoko, 70, says kids in particular will be connected.

"It's bit of a new approach. We wanted our grandchildren to be able to use it when they visit the family site."

Fukuzawa says he hopes Ishinokoe's "window" service spurs on the funeral industry, while bringing families closer together.

"Nowadays most memorial services are simplified to under five minutes of just burning incense and offering flowers," he said. "I hope our grave site changes that and families stay near the tomb and talk about memories of the deceased for a long time."

We just hope people don't freak out if their cell-phone battery dies.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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