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American Takes Heat For Flying 777 To London With Five Passengers

Alternative Would Have Been To Deadhead, Spokesman Says

It was probably a great flight for the passengers... but at least one environmental group is up in arms over the news American Airlines recently flew a Boeing 777 from Chicago to London, with only five paying customers onboard.

London's Daily Telegraph reports the February 9 trip accommodated passengers bumped from a cancelled flight. The airline was able to arrange alternate travel plans for all but five of the customers from that plane, one of four daily routes American operates from Chicago to London.

So American put those passengers on their own 777. The Telegraph notes the airline also upgraded them to "business class."

A spokesman for American noted there was no alternative. Had American put the passengers on other flights, the airline still would have had to deadhead an empty 777 to London, in order to handle the return flight from Heathrow.

"With such a small passenger load we did consider whether we could cancel the flight and re-accommodate the five remaining passengers on other flights," the unidentified spokesman said. "However, this would have left a plane load of west-bound passengers stranded in London Heathrow who were due to fly back to the US on the same aircraft.

"We sought alternative flights for the west-bound passengers but heavy loads out of London that day meant that this was not possible," the spokesman said, adding American lost £30,000 -- about $60,000 -- on the flight.

That explanation didn't placate the environmentalist group Friends of the Earth, however -- which noted each passenger on the flight produced 43 tons of carbon monoxide, and consumed fuel equivalent to driving a small family sedan around the world five times.

"Flying virtually empty planes is an obscene waste of fuel," said group representative Richard Dyer. "Through no fault of their own , each passenger's carbon footprint for this flight is about 45 times what it would have been if the plane had been full.

"Governments must stop granting the aviation industry the unfair privileges that allow this to happen by taxing aviation fuel and including emissions from aviation in international," he added.

In any case, we encourage our readers NOT to think of this story, the next time you're stuck in a coach-class middle seat from New York to Paris.

FMI: www.aa.com, www.foe.org/

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