Sir Freddie's new service is flying high after a smooth takeoff. Phil Davison enjoys the flight
Miami

Last call: flight 6F 613, Gatwick to

It's not the Skytrain. Too many frills. It's no longer even British. But Laker Airways is very much back in business, this time with an American accent. There was nothing American about the accent of the man himself as he welcomed me from a six-inch screen on the back of the seat in front while we soared over Beach. "Hello, I'm Freddie Laker. If there's anything we can do to make your flight more enjoyable, please do not hesitate to contact any one of us," he said before handing over to a posher voice for the emergency regulations.

Well, you could shorten your check-in queues at the end for a start, Sir Fred, and your economy seats are a wee bit cramped. But overall, as an American Airlines frequent flyer, I have to say your -London- service outshone your American rival in virtually every department.

A decade and a half after his no-frills, bring-your-own grub Skytrain service between the UK and the US went out of business, Sir Freddie claims "fantastic" success for its American reincarnation, Laker Airways (Inc.), which began flying between Florida and the UK last July. He claims a load factor of over 70 per cent and hopes to be in profit this year.

Initial flights were from Orlando or Fort Lauderdale but the airline recently added daily flights between and Gatwick.

The name and livery leave no doubt as to who's in charge but, as a US- based operation, he holds only 49 per cent of the airline, with his American partner, Houston oil magnate Oscar Wyatt, holding the nominal majority. Ninety-eight per cent of pilots, flight attendants and other staff are American.

Passengers, though, remain largely British, either holidaymakers headed for Florida or US-based Brits returning to visit family. Sir Freddie believes many are previous Skytrain customers, or their sons and daughters, who sympathise with the old airline which collapsed after a fare war in 1982. Sir Freddie blamed other airlines for ganging up on him by slashing their fares.

"The government just didn't want Freddie Laker to fly again," he said in a Desert Island Discs-type interview broadcast on the in-flight entertainment radio between music tracks selected by himself.

The entertainment service is a big plus of the new airline, with 15 channels of up-to-date movies, British TV comedy shows, cartoons and radio music shows available throughout the flight. On the other hand, the movie Independence Day, on a London- flight that ran into major turbulence and was tossed up and down for half an hour, was not an ideal choice.

"The in-flight entertainment has solved the problem of young kids. You don't see them crawling all over. People want to have a good kip," said Sir Freddie, who lives on a yacht in the Bahamas and runs a tour service and a separate airline, Laker Airways (Bahamas) Limited, which links Freeport with several American cities.

Laker Airways (Inc) hopes to use , as does American Airlines, as a stepping stone to Latin America and the Caribbean. "And with European airfares so high, we'll pick up traffic from there, too," Sir Freddie said.

Anyone who flew Skytrain will hardly recognise the new service. On his -London DC-10s, Sir Freddie has added a business class, with plush roomy seating. Even in economy, all seats are leather, each has a TV screen, food is served on china and, on my flights, was superior to that of American Airlines. Drinks were free and topped up regularly before the first meal.

In contrast to my one-hour queue to check in at for an almost-full flight, my London- return could not have been more comfortable. No check-in queue, only 50 people on the 353-seat plane and the chance to stretch out across four central seats.

"I call it the connoisseurs' airline," said Sir Freddie. "I sincerely believe we have the best service on the Atlantic now"

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