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'Smoking airline' plan, as hotels stub out

By Julie Clothier for CNN

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From September, smoking will be banned from Marriott hotels in North America.

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(CNN) -- As more and more hotels go completely smoke-free, a German entrepreneur is bucking the trend by launching an airline for those determined not to kick the habit.

From September, smoking will not be allowed in all 400,000 Marriott hotel and corporate apartment rooms in the U.S. and Canada.

Marriott says the ban has been spurred by public demand and will cover all guest rooms, restaurants, lounges, meeting rooms, public space and employee work areas.

Westin hotels in Australia and the Pacific region are also 100 percent smoke free from July 31 after the company's 77 North American hotels became smoke free in January this year.

But it is not all bad news for those determined to keep smoking.

Former German investment banker Alexander W. Schoppmann hopes his new airline, Smokers' International Airline (Smintair), will begin daily services on March 26 between Dusseldorf in Germany and Tokyo's Narita airport.

He says smoking will be permitted in all 138 seats -- 100 in business-class and 30 in first-class -- onboard the airline's two leased Boeing 747 aircraft.

Most airlines have at least 400 seats in a 747 and some have up to 500 seats. Schoppmann said Smintair business-class seats would have 70 inches (1.77 meters) of legroom, while first-class seats would have 80 inches (2.03 meters.)

There will be no seats in the plane's upper deck, which will be used as a lounge.

Flights will cost 6,500 euros ($8,300) return for business-class seats and 10,000 euros ($12,800) return for first-class seats.

Schoppmann said he has had the idea for a luxury airline with all the services airlines offered in the 1960s for about 25 years. He has been actively working to make it happen for nearly a year and a half.

"I have been a traveler for the best part of 50 years. I have seen the level of service go down and the price go up," he told CNN.

He believes the route between Germany and Japan will offer a service to bridge Europe and Asia, and hopes to eventually extend the Dusseldorf to Tokyo route to Shanghai in China.

"It's not so much the idea of letting someone smoke, it's more the idea of letting people who are coming on board, who are making decisions every day, they don't want to be told off and we are giving them a feeling of being on a luxury airline."

Schoppmann, who has smoked for 40 years, said each passenger would be able to use onboard Internet and would have their own 15-inch (38-centimeter) television screen.

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Smintair plans to start flying in March next year.

Non-smokers will also be encouraged to fly with Smintair.

"Allowing our guests to smoke is one of the freedoms we are happily prepared to grant," says the company's Web site.

"Non-smokers will find the cabin air more refreshing than on any other flight with any other airline, as Smintair adds fresh outside air to the conditioning system."

Anthony Concil, spokesman for the International Air Transport Association (IATA), told CNN it was up to individual airlines to determine what their smoking onboard policy was and the association did not have a stance either way.

IATA represents 265 airlines accounting for 94 percent of international air traffic.

He could not confirm whether Smintair had applied for IATA membership, but could see no reason for refusing the airline membership if it met safety and financial criteria.

In order to begin flying, airlines need an operations certificate issued by the government of the country in which they are based to show they meet safety and financial criteria, Concil said.

Ian Willmore, spokesman for UK-based anti-smoking lobby group Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), said he hoped Smintair would not go ahead.

"Hopefully it will hit the ground faster than a flightless turkey," he told CNN. "I hope that it will be stopped by the German government as they move towards a smoking ban in public places. I hope that onboard a plane is considered a public place," he said.

He welcomed the move by hotel chains to ban smoking and said an increasing number of countries were banning smoking in public places.

"All evidence clearly shows that the times has come that smoke-free public places are here to stay. They are obviously the way of the future," Willmore told CNN.

"More and more people don't want a hotel room smelling of smoke. It takes a long time for the smell to go away."

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