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Hoover 'to meet flights deal': David Nicholson-Lord reports on plans to rescue a promotion for free aircraft travel

HOOVER is to enter the charter airline business to rescue its ill-fated free flights promotion, which has cost the company more than pounds 20m and led to sackings in senior management.

The company announced yesterday that it will buy seats from 11 airlines on more than 2,200 flights to honour its commitments. It will also be chartering entire aircraft.

Richard Rankin, co-chairman of the task force set up by Hoover's US parent company, Maytag, after the promotion backfired, said that the flight schedule enabled the company to offer flights to 'all customers entitled to travel under the terms of the promotion'.

Mr Rankin, vice-president of Hoover's European marketing services, added: 'We have Hoover-chartered planes flying to European and US destinations featured in the promotion, as well as blocks of booked seats.

'The schedule will enable the travel operators to allocate more flights quickly and give customers better information on their requested flights.'

Hoover declined to specify the exact number of seats or disclose which airlines and flights are involved. About 17,000 seats are said to have been set aside on British Airways alone.

The promotion, launched last summer and offering two free air tickets to the US and Europe for each Hoover product bought worth more than pounds 100, turned into a fiasco when it became clear that the company had badly underestimated the number of people who would apply.

Last month Hoover dismissed two of its senior European executives, made a third redundant and admitted that the promotion had caused it 'tremendous difficulties'.

Mr Rankin said the flight schedule was the most important element of the package. European flights will run from May to the end of October and US flights from May until the end of April next year, when the promotion was due to finish. European flights will be reviewed at the end of October.

Hoover is also to overhaul its administrative procedures on promotions and recruit extra staff to work on the offer. It said it would improve its computer systems and communications to ease customer frustration.

However, critics called yesterday for tighter controls on such promotions. The Association of British Travel Agents described the affair as a 'bad experience' for the travel industry.

Nigel Griffiths, Labour's consumer spokesman, said that the Government should ask the Office of Fair Trading to produce an enforceable code of conduct on free flight offers.

He told ABTA's annual convention in Palma, Majorca, that the code should include confirmation of the ability of all agents to fulfil their obligations and insurance to cover the risks of over-subscription.