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Virgin Atlantic Offers Smoke-Free Flights

RICHARD BRANSON was flying transatlantic when he saw an ad for cigarettes before the in-flight movie. It was an attention-getting ad, he says, and when he turned around, he noticed it had also attracted the attention of children on the flight. This pricked Mr. Branson's conscience, he says, adding that he did not think it was right to sell tobacco to children. As the chairman of Virgin Atlantic Airways - the airline he was flying - he could do something about it. Branson decided to turn down the ads.

The decision, Branson says, cost the airline $500,000 a year.

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On Monday, Virgin Atlantic began the first transatlantic nonsmoking flights between Gatwick Airport in London and Newark, N.J. For the first month, Branson says the flights are booked at 70 percent of capacity. Smokers have the option of taking a second flight to Newark. If the flights are successful, he says, he will expand the concept to flights between London and New York's Kennedy Airport.

``You have to be careful because it is very easy to lose money quickly in the airline business,'' Branson says. Last year, Virgin Atlantic made $25 million on $250 million in revenue.

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