Frequent flyers jaded with free flights will soon have an alternative: redeeming their mileage points for a course on how to survive plane crashes. British Airways is to offer members of its Executive Club the chance to exchange points for a four-hour session on air safety, i has learnt.
Next year the airline plans to sell places on future courses for around the price of a return trip from Gatwick to Rome: about £125.
Training passengers to cope with a crash takes the pre-flight safety briefing to its ultimate conclusion. And given the astonishingly good safety record among UK airlines, the plan may seem unnecessarily to arouse anxiety.
Andy Clubb, the BA manager running the course, said: "It makes passengers safer when travelling by giving additional skills and information. It dispels those internet theories about the 'brace position' and it just gives people so much more confidence in flying."
Despite public perceptions, most aircraft accidents are survivable. But experience shows passengers often perish in the chaotic aftermath of a crash. Research into emergency evacuations by the Civil Aviation Authority in 2006, found that a significant number of passengers struggle with the most basic of tasks: releasing the seat belt.
If fire is spreading, every second of delay is potentially fatal. Mr Clubb said travellers who had been trained can accelerate the evacuation, which could save lives. BA developed a passenger-training programme at the request of BP, which sends staff into remote regions of the world where local safety standards are less rigorous. The course covers basics such as practising releasing the seat belt and a simulated emergency evacuation down the escape slides.
Virgin Atlantic has never had a crash in its 27-year history. Yet it, too, offers a course. It charges firms who employ frequent fliers £78 a person for a three-hour course called Expect the Unexpected.