“We would like to remind passengers that smoking is permitted on this flight.”
It has been a long time since most European air travelers heard anything like this, but a German entrepreneur has set up an airline that will give its customers the freedom to chain-smoke from take-off to landing.
Alexander Schoppmann, the 55-year-old founder of Smoker’s International Airways -- Smintair -- said he got the idea for a smokers’ haven in the heavens after he’d had enough of expensive non-smoking long-haul flights with poor service.
“I got so annoyed that ticket prices were rising while service was getting worse,” said Schoppmann, who is a 20-a-day cigarette smoker.
Once Smintair flights begin in October 2007, smoking will be allowed in all 138 seats aboard a spacious Smintair Boeing 747. Normal airlines fit up to 559 passengers in a 747.
“The crew can smoke as well,” the former stockbroker said.
Schoppmann came up with the idea as Germany considers toughening its smoking regulations, among the most lenient in Europe. Germans have been loath to ban smoking because of memories of Adolf Hitler, who forbade it in public places.
The center-left Social Democrats, who are part of the grand coalition, have drafted a proposal to ban smoking in many public places.
Berlin, the city-state that is Germany’s capital, may go even further. It is considering a ban in all public places.
Nicotine-friendly Smintair is already popular, even though tickets are not on sale yet.
“Demand is strong,” Schoppmann said. “We get people who say they want to fly with us, even though they have no business in Tokyo or Shanghai,” he said.
On daily flights from Duesseldorf to Tokyo and Shanghai, Smintair will offer Cuban cigars, caviar served by flight attendants in designer uniforms, a deluxe on-board entertainment system and large ashtrays at every seat.
There will be a lounge with a duty-free shop.
The extravagance will not cost any more than a flight to Japan with any other airline, Schoppmann said.
A first-class return ticket
Smintair offers only business and first-class tickets -- from Duesseldorf to Tokyo will cost 10,000 euros ($12,680), while a business-class seat will go for 6,500 euros on the same route, he says.
Schoppmann expects to make profit within the first 12 months. He forecasts a rise in annual sales to 500 million euros and a pre-tax profit of 120 million euros by October 2008.
Airline industry experts are sceptical.
“I don’t think an all-business class smoking flight can be run economically from Duesseldorf,” said Andreas Kretzschmar, chairman of the Board of Airline Representatives in Germany.
Ernst-Guenther Krause, vice-president of the Non-Smoker Initiative Germany, said Schoppmann’s idea would never fly because people were increasingly aware of the risks of smoking.
“Most people have realized by now that tobacco is not good for them,” he said.
Nearly one in three German adults smokes regularly and about 140,000 Germans die every year from tobacco-related illnesses.
Schoppmann, who dismisses the effects of second-hand smoking as “nonsense,” is not worried about a future smoking ban.
“Quite the opposite. We’ll benefit from it,” he said.
Smintair does not have an airline license yet, since it still lacks one crucial piece of equipment -- planes.
Schoppmann said he was taking over three used Boeing 747s from airlines that hoped to replace them with the new Airbus A380 super jumbo, whose delivery is delayed.
Once his airline takes off, the chain-smoking Smintair founder hopes to open a chain of hotels, restaurants, pubs and holiday resorts.
He may also expand the airline’s route to the southern hemisphere. Johannesburg and Sao Paulo are on his radar.