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Sunday, March 6, 2005; Page P01

UP IN THE AIR

First-Class Flier? Watch How You Book

Looking to buy a first-class plane ticket? The major Internet booking sites -- Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity -- may not be your best option, according to a study released last week by Consumer Reports WebWatch, a nonprofit group affliated with Consumers Union.

"Buying first-class tickets online can be much more difficult than buying economy-class tickets," the study concluded. "Fare-jumping," when a rate for a ticket suddenly changes during the booking process, occurred on Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity. The big three mislabeled business-class seats as first class, and mistakenly returned results for business and economy-class seats even though testers asked for first-class flights only.

CoGo's advice: Call individual airlines or consult an experienced travel agent.

The study did have some good news for Expedia: It did the best job of finding low first-class fares. Travelocity and Orbitz came in second and third, respectively. The study also pitted three airlines -- American, Continental and Delta -- against the big three in one test, but only Continental made a strong showing, tying Travelocity and beating Orbitz at providing the lowest first-class fares.

health watch

Avian Flu and You

Poultry in six Asian countries have been infected by lethal new outbreaks of an avian flu dubbed H5NI, and since December, there have been a handful of human cases reported in Vietnam, and one each in Thailand and Cambodia.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports that the infection of birds "has become endemic" in parts of Asia and that "human infections will continue to occur." Although the CDC has issued a "travel health precaution" only for Vietnam, the advice has more universal applications, particularly in the three countries mentioned above and in China, Malaysia and Indonesia, which has suffered outbreaks of the disease among poultry.

Avoid bird markets and poultry farms and bodies of water frequented by fowl.

• Cook poultry to 158 degrees ( in restaurants do a visual check), and eat only well-cooked eggs (no soft-boiled).


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