Travel: True or false

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The Independent Travel
You can't smoke your way to America.

False, fortunately for dedicated smokers.

"I want to go to Houston, Texas and I want to smoke," were my instructions to the travel agent. It was no great shock to learn that the only two direct flights from Gatwick were totally non-smoking. In fact, these days almost all flights to the land that gave birth to the tobacco addiction are smoke-free. Often the only option for those who can't go without inhaling is to take a connecting journey and fly to the US from mainland Europe.

The advice I got was to go Air France via Paris. The airline's new "clean air" cabins rule out smoking in seats, but there is a bar at the back for smokers. That sold it. This would obviously be the Party Plane, a Will Self-meets-Hunter S Thompson Fear and Loathing adventure, wherein everyone drinks Wild Turkey, the six-mile-high club attains many new inductees, and the whole happy clan disembarks with nicotine tans to continue the fun.

Well it wasn't quite like that. In economy class there's a smoker's corner, but, presumably for fear of revellers standing and drinking until they fall over, there's no alcohol allowed in the area. The dry bars have a capacity limit (on my flight it was six) and on one leg, thanks to some emphysema seekers experimenting with Red Kamel cigarettes (tar content 17mg), there were queues. The business and first-class areas do, however, have wet bars for both smokers and non-smokers.

The clean air cabins, available on all but a few flights to the Americas, are a considerable investment for Air France. Their press office, however, was a little on the guarded side, initially suggesting that I used patches, gum or other unfulfilling alternatives before explaining how they have installed powerful extractors and odour-killers to ensure that both smokers and non-smokers are accommodated in peace. "Non-smoking does not mean anti-smoking" is the way they put it.

The flight was a success. Well-timed connections and a shorter check- in time at Heathrow meant that the trip took just a couple of hours longer than direct flight. The bargain pounds 253 fare was some pounds 50 cheaper than the flights from Gatwick.

According to the FOREST lobby group, matters could get better, due to plans to deregulate flights whereby European airlines can pick up passengers in London en route for the States. Until then it's Air France (0181-742 6600) for a forthcoming trip to Chicago: my kind of airline.

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