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February 13, 2008

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                                 Los Angeles to Kona

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Aloha from America's 50th state! This week, I'm on the island of Hawaii (also known as The Big Island). It's the largest of the Hawaiian islands and a lot different from Maui, which is where I was just a few short months ago, en route to Australia. I returned to this island paradise so soon because I was invited to be the keynote speaker at a major Hawaii tourism conference. Instead of just flying in and out, I opted to make a mini-vacation out of it. All I really had the chance to do was enjoy the two incredible hotels where I was staying: The Waikoloa Beach Marriott and The Four Seasons Resort Hualalai. If you are up for some fun in the sun, then grab your bathing suit, sunscreen, a good book and put on a smile, baby! We're in Hawaii! If you just want to see the pictures, check out the four-minute Johnny Jet video at the end of the story. If you've had enough of Hawaii (not possible), then maybe Jerome Shaw can pique your interest with a jaunt to Las Vegas' little brother, Mesquite, Nevada. Otherwise, read Dave Zuchowski’s riveting reviews of two new Lonely Planet books: The Africa Book and The Asia Book.

Before we head to Hawaii, let me tell you about two things: My incredible weekend in southern California and a recent jetBlue announcement. On Saturday, I spoke for the fourth time at the Los Angeles Times Travel & Adventure Show in Long Beach. It's regarded as the best newspaper show in the country and judging by the huge crowds, it's the biggest, too. Everyone is there to grab marketing materials from tour operators, tourism boards, inventors of travel gadgets and to listen to incredible speakers. My panel was about online travel and it featured George Hobica from, Juliana Shallcross from and our moderator was Jen Leo, who runs the L.A. Times Daily Deal Blog. The highlight for me was attending the speakers dinner, which meant I got to break bread with many of my travel idols … Arthur Frommer and his daughter Pauline, Rick Steves, Robert Young Pelton and Phil Keoghan from The Amazing Race. I thought I traveled a lot but my boy Phil (who incidentally shares my birthday, May 31) has been back to his home country of New Zealand five times since January 1! Now that's insane. But I almost fainted when Arthur Frommer said that he gets a kick out of my column and looks forward to reading my story each week. If only my high school English teacher (who gave me a D) had heard. She would have fainted with shock. And my mom – her smile would be ear to ear.

Yesterday, Los Angeles Mayor Villaraigosa literally rolled out the red carpet for jetBlue flight 9001 after it touched down at LAX. Onboard was Dave Barger (the airline's CEO) and an army of employees for the big announcement. jetBlue Airways is beginning a major expansion of its service in the western United States, including offering daily service to JFK and Boston from LAX. For complete details, see this press release.
Also, check out: JetBlue's California sale fares from $39 O/W*

OK, now we’re ready to head to Hawaii. I arrived at LAX an hour before my nonstop flight to Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. I checked in online the night before and I wasn't checking bags, which saved me time. Surprisingly, to everyone's advantage, United Airlines switched aircrafts the night before and instead of flying on a single-aisle 757, we got upgraded to a 767 . That meant 86 more seats and two aisles. A friend of mine was working the gate and offered to upgrade me to first class. While I appreciated the gesture, I asked whether first class would be full and coach empty? He confirmed that that was the case and I kindly declined the upgrade. Needless to say, he thought I was crazy. But there was method to my madness. Without a doubt, it's much better to have a whole row in coach than be cramped up front on one of United's two-class airplanes. United's first class service to Hawaii has seats that don't fully recline and that don't have leg rests. And believe it or not, there's little legroom when the passenger in front of you reclines. So as I was saying, a whole row in coach was my better option.

Having the whole row (and I mean all seven seats, configured 2-3-2) made the four-hour and 48-minute flight a breeze. On takeoff and landing, I sat next to the window to catch the view, and in between, I moved over to the middle section to lie down and score a little shuteye. The two flight attendants working the Economy Plus section, which boasts five extra inches of legroom, were complete opposites. One was super-friendly and cool while the other was clearly burnt out and perhaps needed to retire. They offered Buy On-Board food service but I had brought my own snacks. The only fun thing about flying United to Hawaii is that they play the Halfway To Hawaii game with passengers. The pilot provides all the flight info, like departure time, speed, headwind, arrival time and passengers are challenged to guess what time we crossed the midpoint. The winner gets a bottle of champagne and a round of applause. As usual, I was off big time … by nine minutes.

On descent, I was astonished by the amount of snow on Mauna Kea's 14,000-foot summit. Not many people realize that Hawaii actually has snow. But for all you snowbirds, don't worry because down at the lowland, it's steamy hot. When it was time to deplane, the flight attendant wasn't kidding when she told me to have a nice trip. I actually tripped and fell down the plane stairs! What a fool! If it hadn't been for the healthy female grad student who broke my fall, someone seriously might have died. Thrilled to have landed in beautiful Hawaii, I somehow missed a step while admiring the scenery around me. And I was still practically at the top of the steps. Then kaboom! I banged my knee pretty good and my sunglasses gave me a bit of a shiner but other than that (and being completely embarrassed, of course) I was fine. Note to self: ALWAYS pay attention when walking down plane stairs.

It didn't help that I was carrying a bag in each hand. And with United's new baggage policies announced last week, accidents like mine might happen more frequently, so be careful! In case you haven't heard, United passengers traveling on discounted domestic tickets after May 5, 2008 will no longer be allowed two checked bags for free. Only the first one will be free; the second will cost $25 each way. I have to say, I think it's a smart move by the money hungry airline executives, since gas prices are so high. You really can't blame them for trying to generate new revenue streams and this move is expected to bring in an extra $100 million a year. However, I think they should have tweaked the policy a bit. Instead of allowing only one bag, they should allow two but no more than 50 lbs. This way, it won't break the backs of the baggage handlers and not everyone would try and bring as much carry-on on board. Unfortunately, I suspect carry-on weight limits will be enforced in the near future. One way to not have to carry one heavy bag for yourself is to buy a huge duffle bag and stick all your bags inside at the airport.

Smart travelers won't be affected by United's move, a move that is sure to be mimicked by other major carriers. Ask any veteran traveler and they'll tell you that they rarely check even one bag. Not only does checking baggage add two extra hours to your flight time since you have to check-in early and wait at baggage claim, but it doesn't allow you flexibility, i.e. traveling standby. Besides, who needs the added stress of wondering if your bag is actually going to arrive? In my humble opinion, Americans need to learn how to pack right. It's embarrassing when I'm overseas and I see travelers schlepping enormous suitcases. I don't even need to look at their bag tag to know that they're most likely American. Don't get me wrong; when I was a rookie, I used to pack like that, too. But one of the things I've learned over the past 13 years, flying about 150,000 miles a year, is that you really don't need that much stuff. Do yourself a favor and the next time you're traveling, try this: Lay out all the clothes you think you'll need on your bed … and then pack half of them. Chances are you still won't even wear everything. The key is learning to mix and match. My friend Natalie, who's such a girlie-girl, had a trunk-sized suitcase when I first met her on a weekend trip. What was she thinking? This girl needed help, so I stepped in and gave her a mini-seminar. When we traveled for more than two weeks to Hawaii and Australia, she brought carry-on only and she still managed to fit all her outfits, her hair straightener and whatever else it was she insisted she "needed". Believe me – if she can do it, so can you!

OK, enough with the preaching. After brushing the dirt off my scraped knees and picking my ego up off the ground, I walked (OK, hobbled) to the car rental pick-up point. I had made a reservation with Thrifty (800-847-4389) and their van arrived within three minutes. It took a quick four minutes to get to their lot and filling out the paperwork took no time at all. Again, if I'd had to wait for my checked luggage, there would have been a huge line and I'd have been wasting valuable time. We're in Hawaii, remember? Note: When renting a car, always inspect the automobile and make sure you record any dents, dings or scratches before leaving the lot so you don't get charged when you return the vehicle. I actually take a short video on my digital camera and walk around the car, pointing any nicks out as backup.

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Copyright 2007 JohnnyJet, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Pictures From

The Trip


L.A. Times Travel Show


What up, Dawg?


Phil Keoghan


Arthur Frommer


My Table at the Speakers' Dinner


Mayor Villaraigosa


Rolling Out The Red Carpet




jetBlue Comes to LAX




United Terminal 7


United to Kona


Whole Row, Baby!


Halfway To Hawaii Game




Snow on Mauna Kea


Looking Good!


Kona Airport


Recording the Dents


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