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AIRLINES TAKE CARE OF BUSINESS WITH COSTLY CLASS

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Things are booming in business class.

In the competitive airline industry, many big carriers are racing to cash in on the growing popularity of business class, which is more expensive than economy but cheaper than first class.Business class is found mainly on international flights. It has grown as business has become more globalized, boosting air travel abroad.

"It reflects the amount of international business that's happening," said Randy Petersen, editor and publisher of Frequent, a monthly newsletter published in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Jet-powered executives look for service, comfort and more space to work in as they shuttle between the United States, Western Europe and the Far East. And their companies are willing to pay extra for them to arrive in better shape.

A lot extra. A business class ticket from New York to London, for example, costs around $1,400 to $1,500 one way, compared with an economy fare of $450 to $865. First class, which provides even more pampering than the business cabins, is the steepest: $2,400 to $2,800 one way for the same flight.

In return, business class passengers get separate check-in counters and special lounges at airports, and separate cabins in the air with wider seats, fancier food, free liquor and other amenities. They also get a lot more attention than passengers in the cramped coach section: The ratio of flight attendants to fliers increases from economy to business to first.

Who flies in business class? United Airlines says about 80 percent of its business fliers are men, mainly business executives, with an average income of more than $80,000 a year. They average 11 airline trips per year, two of which are international.

Some big U.S. airlines, aiming to capitalize on the business class boom, are emulating foreign carriers with strong reputations for international service.

United, for example, recently announced that it is spending more than $45 million to upgrade its business class service.