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Don't ever say Canada 3000 isn't a gutsy airline.

At a time when world air carriers are scuttling new services and cutting back on old ones, Canada 3000 went ahead this week with ambitious plans for non-stop flights from Toronto to New Delhi. The first flight took off Monday, one day after the start of U.S. and British bombing in Afghanistan. Two other airlines weren't so daring.

Last March, Air Canada announced its intention to start non-stop Vancouver-New Delhi service on Oct. 19. But sometime over the summer, as red ink mounted at the airline, the flights were quietly scrapped. United Airlines also planned to start non-stop New Delhi flights this fall -- in its case from Chicago -- but backed off after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks put the aviation world on hold.

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Canada 3000 made one nod to the current travel slowdown late last week by cancelling plans for non-stop flights from Vancouver to New Delhi. West Coast passengers will now have to connect through Toronto.

The cancelled services were all scheduled to use polar routings, provided wind conditions allowed, that would cut hours off the traditional flight path. By pushing ahead with plans for non-stop flights from Toronto, Canada 3000 claims it will offer the fastest way from North America to India. Because of wind conditions, the Monday flight went non-polar, crossing the Atlantic to Southern Ireland, then continuing through Europe, to the Black Sea, across Turkey and Iran, to the Arabian Gulf and on to India. The flying time was 14 hours and 17 minutes. Use of a polar route, when weather permits, could cut that time to 13 hours and 45 minutes. A weekly Toronto-Mumbai service, with a stop in London, will start in early November.

Canada 3000 expects business travellers to be an important part of its passenger mix -- so much so that the newly-delivered A-340-300 Airbus designated for the India routes has a business-class cabin superior to any other in the carrier's fleet. Its 32 seats aren't quite far enough apart to morph into flat beds, but they will provide slightly more leg and stretching-out room than Air Canada offers in its Executive First cabins across the Atlantic.

Business travellers with a limited budget will find seating more cramped in the 264-seat economy cabin. But passengers in both cabins will get individual video screens and a choice of Western or Indian meals.

Aside from business travellers, Canada 3000 expects most of its passengers to be ethnic Indians visiting friends and relatives.

Round-trip New Delhi fares start at $1,499 in economy and at $7,000 in the business cabin. Mumbai fares are slightly higher. Specials will be available from time to time.

Air Canada has had an on-again, off-again history on the New Delhi route. It last stopped flying in 1999, saying the service did not generate enough money.

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Air India dropped Canada for a number of years after alleged terrorists blew up one of its planes in 1985, killing 329 people. It later restarted service but stopped again in 1996.

It is neither security concerns nor a shortage of passengers that keeps Air India out of Canada, says Yogesh Mathur, regional director for the U.S. and Canada. It is simply that the carrier's airplanes are fully deployed elsewhere, he says. Flights cut at Toronto Pearson Toronto-based business travellers have fewer flights to choose from since Sept. 11, but so far they haven't lost any destinations, says Peter Gregg, spokesman for Lester B. Pearson International.

Two carriers are curtailing service to Toronto because of reduced demand: Austrian Airlines will temporarily suspend flights to Vienna on Oct. 28 and Virgin Atlantic Airways will stop its London Gatwick service by mid-October. The future of Swissair's Toronto-Zurich service is also up in the air as the airline battles a cash crunch.

Other carriers serving Pearson have reduced the number of flights offered to many destinations, particularly to points in the U.S., says Gregg. But so far the airport has not lost direct service to any city.

The number of passengers using the airport fell off significantly in mid- and late September, but by last week was only 15 or 20 per cent below normal, he says. Mileage rewards now on sale There may never be a better time to cash in frequent-flier miles with some U.S. programs.

At least three carriers are temporarily reducing the number of miles necessary to claim a reward. Delta Air Lines, for example, is allowing SkyMiles members to claim SkySaver award trips within or between Canada, the continental U.S. or Alaska for 15,000 miles in coach class or for 30,000 miles in first class. The normal requirements are 25,000 and 40,000 miles respectively. The offer is for travel until Nov. 15. SkySaver awards are subject to blackouts and capacity controls.

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American's AAdvantage program also has special limited-time redemption rates for PlanAAhead tickets involving Canada, the U.S., Mexico and Bermuda. And United has an award sale covering much of the world and has some deals extending into early 2002. An economy flight from North America to Europe costs 35,000 miles until March 31. An economy ticket to Asia and the South Pacific is 40,000 miles until Jan. 31 and a South America ticket costs 35,000 miles until Dec. 15.

The deals will help airlines fill seats at a time of low demand. They also help airlines "burn off" their mileage-point liabilities at a time when seats are empty. Many airlines are also dishing out bonus miles at the moment to stimulate travel.

Air Canada and Air Canada Regional, for example, are giving double the normal number of Aeroplan miles until Dec. 15 for all trips worldwide on most classes of tickets. Aeroplan members can also earn an additional 1,500 bonus miles when flying one round trip or two one-way segments in or out of Toronto Pearson.

The limited-time offer applies to most fares aboard Air Canada or Air Canada Regional for up to a a maximum of three round trips.

dmcarthur@globeandmail.ca

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