News: Charter space race; Flywho; Xmas in South Africa

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Long-haul charter flights will get more comfortable next summer - but only for travellers who book on the right airline. Holidaymakers on transatlantic charter flights have traditionally emulated contortionists in order to squeeze into the cramped seats with minimal legroom. But one of Britain's leading holiday companies, First Choice, says it will remove 58 seats from each long-haul aircraft and offer a standard of comfort that exceeds even scheduled airlines.

First Choice Airways' Boeing 767s will offer a seat pitch of 33 inches, beating economy class on both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic. The company is also installing widescreen seatback TVs on its long-haul fleet. Destinations served by the jets include Orlando's Sanford airport and a wide range of Mexican and Caribbean airports. First Choice says that because the cost of leasing aircraft has fallen so sharply, the company believes it can fly fewer people without putting up fares.

The company is also promising non-stop flights from the UK to Hawaii from 2009, when it becomes the first British operator of the new Boeing 7E7 aircraft. This is being promoted as the plane that does away with jet lag, thanks to the relatively dense and moist cabin air. The route from Gatwick to Honolulu, state capital of Hawaii, was last flown in the 1980s, with a stop in Anchorage, Alaska. The non-stop journey will take about 13 hours.

* The start-up airline FlyBlu has decided to change names after pressure from the US carrier jetBlue. The founder, Aden Murcutt, has chosen FlyWho as the new name. Flights from Birmingham to the Florida airports of Sanford, north of Orlando, and to St Petersburg on the Gulf Coast were due to begin this summer; Mr Murcutt says they will now start next June. Seats are set to go on sale from 1 January through its website, www.flywho.com.

Xmas flights to South Africa hit

Hundreds of passengers who had booked cheap Christmas breaks in South Africa have had their plans thrown into disarray. Civair, a new South African airline offering a low-cost service from Stansted to Durban and Cape Town, has postponed flights indefinitely. Civair's chief executive, Andy Cluver, told The Independent that a financial backer had withdrawn support. He said customers' cash had been paid into a trust, and they would get their money back, though local exchange-control rules mean refunds could take one month.

Finding alternative seats to South Africa for Christmas will prove difficult and expensive. Jayne Blackler of Quest Travel said: "Flights are pretty busy." The best deal she could find was £2,239 return for Air France flights from the UK via Paris and Johannesburg.

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