SHANGHAI, China (AP) _ An airline in southwestern China has paid $282,000 for the phone number ``88888888,'' saying it hopes to make its customers happy.

Many Chinese consider the number ``eight'' to be lucky because it rhymes with the Chinese word for getting rich.

``Everyone at the company believes the number was worth the price we paid,'' said Xing Bing, of Sichuan Airlines' corporate culture department.

Xing said the number, to be used as a customer-service hotline, had already had a ``good advertising effect.''

The use of such traditional practices as choosing lucky numbers and consulting ``feng shui'' experts has become common in recent years, though communist authorities frown on what they deem ``feudal superstitions.''

Yet the auction was officially sanctioned, with proceeds to go to charity.

Buying the number was not a way of promoting superstition but of pleasing customers, Xing said.

``The number is easy to remember,'' she said. ``It's a number that will make customers happy when they call.''