- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 11, 2006

MIAMI (AP) — Freddie Laker, who changed the face of air travel with his low-cost trans-Atlantic Skytrain service that challenged the industry giants in the 1970s, has died. He was 83.

Mr. Laker died Feb. 9 at a hospital in Hollywood, Fla., said Mary Maino, managing director of his company Laker Airways/Bahamas Ltd., which was liquidated in August.

Mr. Laker pioneered the concept of cheap fares for the masses. Though his Skytrain venture eventually collapsed in 1982, he laid the foundations for low-cost carriers such as JetBlue and EasyJet that proliferate today.

After winning hard-fought approval from governments on both sides of the Atlantic, the first Skytrain from London to New York took off in 1977 in a blaze of positive publicity. As with today’s low-cost flights, passengers had to pay extra for food and drink.

Virgin Atlantic founder Richard Branson, who named one of the planes in his fleet “Spirit of Sir Freddie” in tribute, said the ebullient Mr. Laker was one of Britain’s greatest entrepreneurs.

“He was a larger-than-life figure with a wicked sense of humor and a great friend,” Mr. Branson said.

After being a media celebrity for 20 years during his David and Goliath fight with governments and major corporations, Mr. Laker essentially vanished from public life when his company collapsed.

He bounced back in November 1995, announcing the return of Laker Airways, flying a twice-weekly service between London and Florida, with Laker Vacations offering more than 20,000 holidays in the United States.

But the trans-Atlantic services never really got going, and Mr. Laker was reduced to flying a limited operation between the U.S. and the Bahamas. Services ceased altogether in late 2004.

Mr. Laker, who was knighted in 1978, is survived by his fourth wife, Jacqueline.

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