No passenger has ever died because of an air accident on Qantas

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WHETHER ON the cricket pitch or in the tourism arena, Australians tend to speak their minds. In the competition for the tourism dollar, though, this refreshing directness is turning into a bit of a slanging match.

This week, Councillor Henry Love, a politician on the coast of Victoria, dismissed the resort of Anglesea as "just a place you go through on the way to Lorne" - his home town. Surfing Life magazine has the headline: "Golf is a ridiculous pastime," above a story that claims, homophobically: "It is a well known fact that golf is a game for sissies and limp-wristed ballet dancers."

You might imagine that Anglesea golf club would be reeling under this twin onslaught. But the club boasts the sort of marketing that money can't buy. Somehow, all the streets around the course have been given golf-related names: Fairway Drive leads to Birdie Avenue and Bogie Court. It suits the club down to a Tee (Street).

AUSTRALIA'S BIGGEST city, too, gets a regular boost from the partisan airline captain who is fond of signing off with the words: "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Sydney. For those of you with connecting flights - I suggest you have a serious word with your travel agent." Unfortunately, I didn't fly to Australia with him. Instead, I flew on Qantas flight 314. Given that the airline was one of the first to introduce a world-wide no-smoking rule, I was surprised to be allocated a seat in the smoking section.

There is a school of thought that maintains that smokers have more fun on planes, but the prospect of travelling for 8,000 miles surrounded by chain-smokers was enough to make me fume. Eventually I found a seat in the non-smoking section, where all you get is the occasional waft of smoke.

How can this happen? Our old friend code-sharing, of course - the increasingly common device whereby an airline buys an allocation of seats on a flight operated by another carrier, and even gets its own flight number. So Qantas flight 314 is in fact just another name for Emirates flight 68, on which you are welcome to smoke.

TRAVELLERS WITH respiratory problems, who select non-smoking airlines deliberately, should check whether their chosen flight is in fact operated by the carrier on the ticket. So, too, should those who decide on the grounds of safety.

As Dustin Hoffman said in the film Rain Man, no passenger has ever died as a result of an air accident on Qantas. The Australian airline has a band of devotees who travel on it for the sole reason of safety; these days they could easily find themselves flying on British Airways or Emirates instead. Since the BA/Qantas tie-up began, at least one passenger checking in at Heathrow has refused to travel upon discovering that the Qantas flight on his ticket was a BA service.

HE THEREBY missed the chance to try the new World Traveller product, as BA grandiosely terms its economy-class cabin. Call me sad, but on my British Airways flight to the Gulf I was rather impressed by little extras such as the natty two-tier meal trays and the seat-back videos - a Virgin Atlantic innovation that is at last reaching BA.

Even better, the seats on the Boeing 777 are implausibly comfortable. (Incidentally, the plane was masquerading as Emirates flight 6112 - where will this all end?) Emirates also flies its own 777s, but there is big difference: while the industry standard for this aircraft is nine seats abreast in economy, Emirates squeezes in 10.

This is achieved by making the seats thinner and the aisles narrower. Six, instead of five, passengers therefore find themselves seated away from an aisle; in my experience this is probably no bad thing, given the number of times your slumbers are likely to be disturbed by a passenger squeezing past.