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The Savvy Traveler

Policy Makers Fired Up Over Nonsmoking

September 04, 1988|PETER S. GREENBERG | Greenberg is a Los Angeles free-lance writer

It's been several months since Northwest Airlines announced that all of its flights in North America would be nonsmoking.

Lobbyists for tobacco companies launched a campaign of complaints, and there was even talk of starting an airline just for smokers.

Now, a few months later, it appears that the pro-smoking forces produced less smoke than ire.

Northwest reports few complaints about its new policy, and no significant drop-off in passenger loads for its flights.

Meanwhile, some airlines have quietly moved to reduce the number of available smoking seats. On its 747 aircraft, TWA has reduced available smoking seats in first-class by 10%. United reduced 747 coach-class smoking seats from 31% to 19%.

More New Policies

And, despite the fact that no other U.S. airline has made as bold a move as Northwest, at least two foreign airlines as well as some hotels and rental car companies have begun no-smoking policies.

Royal Jordanian prohibits smoking on some of its flights in the Middle East.

And Air Canada, the first airline in North America with no-smoking flights, has expanded its smoke-free service to all scheduled and charter flights in North America as well as its flights to Mexico and Hawaii.

The Air Canada decision, which represents more than 60% of the airline's 475 daily flights, was made as a result of a comprehensive study of customer preferences conducted by the airline.

In April, 1986, Air Canada started the smoking ban on its commuter flights between Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa. A year later the airline expanded the no-smoking policy to its Montreal-New York and Toronto-New York flights, and then to half of its Western Canada flights between Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver.

'No-Smoking Break'

The airline introduced a "no-smoking break" in 1987. On flights lasting more than three hours there would be at least one (and usually two) 15-minute no-smoking periods.

Now, almost a year later, the no-smoking policy has been made systemwide in North America.

When Northwest made its no-smoking decision a few months ago, passenger surveys showed that even passengers who smoked preferred no-smoking flights. Similar findings were contained in the Air Canada survey.

But for nonsmokers perhaps the best news is that no-smoking policies are being implemented at increasing speed in other segments of the travel industry.

Hotels are also discovering that travelers' preferences include an overwhelming desire--at least in this country--for a no-smoking environment.

Until recently hotels did not want to risk offending their guests who smoked. To most hotels a room was simply a room, as long as it had clean sheets on the bed, towels in the bathroom and matches in the ashtray.

But now more hotels are offering no-smoking rooms, and in many cases, entire no-smoking floors. Two years ago 11 Westin hotels were offering floors with non-smoking rooms. Now all Westin hotels market the alternative rooms. Hyatt started its nonsmoking rooms in 1984, with a company policy that at least 5% of the rooms--or one entire floor--in any Hyatt hotel must be for nonsmokers.

Virtually all of Holiday Inns' 1,500 U.S. hotels offer the no-smoking option.

The cost of renovating and upgrading rooms to conform to a smoke-free environment can be expensive (an industry average of $400 per room), but hoteliers think it's worth it.

Big Cleaning Job

The room changes involve scrubbing all walls, deep-cleaning upholstery and carpeting and disinfecting all hard surfaces.

For example, the 350-room Dana Point Resort is redoing 22 rooms as nonsmoking. They are first-floor rooms and are close to the hotel's health club. Each room will take three days to change over to nonsmoking and will cost about $98 a room, plus lost revenue of $140 to $250 a night.

But virtually all hotels now being built are incorporating one or more no-smoking floors. The new 750-room Stouffer Concourse Hotel at LAX has designated 130 no-smoking rooms on two floors.

Even Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe hotels and casinos--one of the last outposts for die-hard smokers--have begun to remove some of the smoke from their reputations. For example, Cleopatra's Casino at Caesars Tahoe in South Lake Tahoe is now an entire no-smoking gaming area.

In Asia many hotels (including the Pavilion Inter-Continental in Singapore, Hilton International in Taipei and Holiday Inn in Manila) offer nonsmoking rooms, suites or entire floors, and several boast that all staff serving the rooms are committed nonsmokers. In some cases you might be surprised to find an ashtray still in the room. (The hotels say the ashtray is placed there only as a holder for guests' loose change.)

The revolution isn't limited to airlines and hotels. In Reno, Avis is test-marketing nonsmoking rental cars. For two months Avis has reserved part of its fleet at Cannon International Airport for use by nonsmokers.

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