Airlines Offering In-Flight Exercise Plan

Wednesday, July 14th 2004, 12:25 pm
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ Imagine a cabin full of air passengers, floating high above the Eastern seaboard somewhere between New York and Miami, squeezing their glutes and flexing their pecs.

Well, at least that's what Song airlines is imagining.

Starting later this month, for an $8 fee, Song will offer passengers an elastic band and a squeezable ball to use for exercise while sitting in their seat. A how-to manual, designed by star gym owner David Barton, will guide them through a workout.

The stated aim of the program is to convince bored and flaccid travelers to stretch and exercise en route.

But Song's new in-flight exercise regimen is also the latest escalation in a war among low-cost airlines seeking the hearts and minds of young urban professionals flying between New York and Florida.

Launched last year by parent company Delta Air Lines, Song is hoping to sweat it out with rival JetBlue, which recently matched an existing yoga program with Pilates to ease the tensions of contemporary American travel.

Song turned to Barton, 40, to design its exercise program. Heavily muscular and compact at 5 feet 4 inches and 175 pounds, Barton runs a chain of gyms that are considered the trendiest and hippest in New York and Miami.

He said in-flight exercise comes naturally.

``Once on a long haul flight to London, I pulled out my band,'' he said of his first attempt to flex his pecs on board. ``I thought people would be annoyed, but they were envious and curious.''

With their ball and band, Barton said, passengers can work the whole body in their seats without irritating their neighbors.

``I often wish that the person sitting next to me would have something better to do than talk,'' he quipped.

Though the passengers have not yet tested the Song effort's appeal, Barton said the early return from flight attendants Barton has trained has been positive.

One admiring trainee gushed. ``I did not think that I would get a burn from the short and relatively easy exercises we were doing the other day, but I was wrong,'' she wrote in an e-mail to Barton. ``My bum is still burning.''

For Song, the program is in keeping with its marketing approach. Song has steadily tried to one-up JetBlue, which has built a devoted customer base with wide leg room, customer service and in-flight entertainment.

From the get-go, Song executives decided the quickest route to brand loyalty traveled through the hearts of affluent urban women.

The point is not to create a ``chick airline,'' said Tim Mapes, managing director of marketing. But his department believes that ``women are so in tune with the needs of their children and spouse, by appealing to women we reach mass appeal.''

Song conducted focus groups with ``high income'' women ages 35 to 45 and auditioned Delta flight attendants who might be ``comfortable with self-expression.'' And they outfitted the attendants in uniforms by designer Kate Spade, instructed them on how to mix an apple martini (for customers) and told them to serve biscotti with the cappuccinos they offer passengers.

Now, thanks to fitness apostle Barton, Song's flight attendants have broadened their skill-set. And some Florida-bound New York passengers will have the opportunity to start sweating before they reach the sunshine.