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Airlines improve level of giveaway offerings

Settled in your seat, your briefcase close at hand and the tedium of a long-haul flight ahead, the detail of your business-class perks can assume riveting proportions. There is plenty of time to check out the inflight freebies. So, how well are you being served?

Fly Upper Class with Virgin Atlantic and you can enjoy upgraded pampering. At least, that's the theory behind the "multi-functional comfort kit" introduced in August 1996. Clearly a great deal of money and attention have been lavished on developing it. Possibly embarrassing amounts, as neither Virgin nor Neal's Yard, Covent Garden (whose products the kit contains) were prepared to say how much. However, a selection of travel bags containing various ingredients sold at Neal's Yard retailed for around pounds 15 each.

A black pouch, lined with green satin, unzips to reveal a funky orange box holding selected remedies from Neal's Yard, which might compare favourably with your own bathroom shelf. The fat-handled toothbrush fits comfortably in an adult hand and the eye mask is cotton, an airline rarity. Only the socks, like those on most other airlines, seem to have escaped the designer treatment. With no heel, it's less a case of "one size fits all" and more "one size fits no-one".

Icelandair takes a more minimalist approach. They provide the bare essentials, and encourage you to ask for other bits if you need them. But you can keep the air-hostesses at bay by sticking labels onto your eye masks - "do not disturb" or "wake me for meals" - and the pack itself, turned inside out, becomes a tote-bag so you can carry off your freebies with insouciance.

Some airlines' amenity kits distinguish between male and female passengers. British Airways provide a razor and shaving gel for him and Body Shop cleansing milk for her - but in a move to equality both kits have rehydrating aromatherapy face sprays to relieve dry skin and gel with essential oils to neutralise cabin air.

But inflight style isn't everything. With El Al Israel Airlines you get inflight entertainment too - you can while away the hours with a tiny shoe polish kit and make funny faces into the strangely distorting mirror. The fact that you can't see your reflection in it could be an advantage if the flight has left you red-eyed or not feeling at your best. A note in the pack provided by United Airlines gives you a chance to learn how to say razor, sewing kit and earplugs in nine different languages and with toothpaste, toothbrush, mouth wash, gargle, and toothpick with floss all included you can give your teeth the sort of extravagant hygiene treatment of which your dentist would approve.

When you fly business-class, you'll find that most airlines have woken up to your interests and are well aware of the signals that the design and content of your free kit send out. Expensive, named-brand lotions and potions are fast becoming de rigueur. Listen carefully and they whisper an advert for the airline: "You are in good hands". But bear in mind you or your company are picking up the tab - there's no such thing as a free toothbrush.