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News of the Weird

The Associated Press
Thursday May 16, 2002

United offers $5 flights 


CHICAGO — For some travelers, it’s going to cost more to get to the airport than to fly. 

For about 45 minutes on Tuesday, United Airlines customers were able to buy roundtrip tickets to U.S. cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles for as little as $5 because of an error by a computer that distributes fares for major airlines. 

United will honor the tickets but did not yet know how many were bought or the destinations, spokeswoman Chris Nardella said Wednesday. 

“We discovered the problem and we fixed it, but there was a 45-minute window when customers were able to book these tickets,” she said. 

The incorrect prices were posted when Airline Tariff Publishing Co., a clearinghouse for all airlines’ fares, was loading new sale fares onto United’s site, Nardella said. 

The site stopped giving customers a promised $5 discount for booking online, and when workers tried to fix it, it began selling flights for as low as $5 instead, she said. 

It wasn’t the first time United sold tickets cheap via the Internet. 

In January, 142 passengers bought tickets to international destinations for as little as $25. United first said it would not honor those fares but later agreed to do so. 

And in August, 120 customers booked trips to Bombay from Chicago for $140 or $180. 


Scary marketing 


LOGAN, Utah — A car dealership that wanted to drum up a little publicity managed to succeed. 

Kevin Day Mitsubishi mailed 10,000 plastic bottles as a promotion, setting off a panic among residents suspicious of anthrax attacks and mailbox bombs. 

The bottles were labeled, “Hurry open this right away to receive your message in a bottle.” They contained an invitation for car buyers to try to win a $5,000 discount by matching a marble inside the bottle with one at the dealership. 

“What it’s designed to do is get people’s attention,” said John Sandifer, general manager of the dealership. “I’m just beginning to wonder how good it worked.” 

Residents flooded police with calls when the bottles started turning up Tuesday in mailboxes. 

“It’s completely ridiculous that they would be doing something like this after this big scare with mail bombs all over the country,” Cache County sheriff’s Lt. Dave Bennett said. 

Logan Postmaster Kim Taylor said mailing an innocent package is not illegal. 


Freeze-dried trees 


SANTA FE, N.M. — From the drought-stricken Southwest city that brought you painted grass comes another agricultural oddity: freeze-dried trees. 

Furniture store owner Chip Livingston said several people honked at him or rolled their eyes in disapproval as he put in 18 of the 2-foot, Christmas tree-shaped trees along Santa Fe’s major business thoroughfare. 

“We want everybody to know they’re fake,” Livingston said. 

Well, not quite. 

Lynn Olmen, a buyer for the business, said the trees are grown in California, cut after eight years of careful trimming, then freeze-dried in a “highly technical but nontoxic process” that ensures they will hold their shape for up to 10 years. 

Santa Fe has been under water restrictions since April that ban the planting of grass and limit the watering of trees to once a week. 

The store’s manager, Mary Thomas, decided dried trees would be a better choice than flowers while Santa Fe struggles with water shortages.