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August 6, 2008

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                                 JFK to LAX

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Greetings from Los Angeles! With my impeccable sense of timing, I made it back home just in time for the earthquake. I was here for a few days to attend the largest business travel convention and a couple of parties; one sane, the other not so much. This week, I have some tips and tricks for you, about flying coast-to-coast, news and pictures from the National Business Travel Association conference I attended, including shots of many airlines' new premium class seats, and pictures from a six-man volleyball tournament that should really be played on October 31. We also have Buzzy Gordon's review of travel gear for people on the go and Marc Meredith introduces us to The Custom Hotel, a boutique airport hotel in Los Angeles, which he says is anything but typical. Plus, our newest writer, “Million Mile Flyer”, gives us a quick review of service on jetBlue.

Before we get started, I want to thank you for your incredible support. I wasn't expecting to get the kind of response that the news of my brother's cancer garnered. I read every one of them; a few are listed below in this week's reader email. I felt a lump in my throat as I read them and my brother was deeply touched as well. Emails like those are what motivate me to pack my bags each week and write about my life and my journeys. I hope to encourage and inspire others to travel, to meet new people and to see the world through new eyes.

I used to think that traveling from New York to Los Angeles was such a big deal. In fact, I used to get anxiety just thinking about sitting on a plane for five plus hours. Fortunately, these days I've done it so many times I treat it like the hour-long commuter train from Connecticut to Grand Central – except, of course, that the fare is a lot more expensive. Speaking of fares from JFK to LAX … they were ridiculously reasonable until a week or two ago. As long as I was flexible with my travel dates and times, I could find coast-to-coast fares (on, of course) for just $159 each way – even at the last minute. Virgin America and American Airlines were the cheapest airlines; Delta Air Lines was just a few dollars more and United wasn't even in the same ballpark. In the past month, I have flown back and forth numerous times to go to meetings/events in Los Angeles and spend time with my brother in New York. However, the fares haven't been too kind as of late. Last-minute fares this week were -- get this -- $535 each way! The absolute cheapest deal I could find with over a week's notice was $220 one-way.

Frequent trips and countless hours on the Internet pricing out fares, this is what I've learned. First of all, if you see a bargain fare, jump on it! Or at least put it on hold for 24 hours; American allows you to do this on their website. Second: Using miles at the last minute is a joke. I have a healthy amount of mileage on United, American and Delta but none of them have had flights that are convenient for me -- and if they do by chance -- the hefty "last-minute" service fee makes them not worth it. United and American have similar fees. They both charge $100 for tickets booked six days or fewer prior to departure. It's $75 for seven to 20 days (American charges $50) and $0 for 21 days advance notice. Delta charges $75 per ticket for 20 days or fewer and there's no charge for booking 21 days in advance. Obviously, the goal here is to plan ahead. I rarely do that so it kills me to use 25,000 miles, plus have to pay a $100 fee, especially when I used to be able to spend a little bit more and buy a ticket outright, which allowed me to upgrade and earn miles. BTW: Does it make sense to you that the airlines charge a fee for last-minute mileage tickets? It seems to me that these are the flights they would want people to use their miles on since the seat is most likely going empty anyway. When you book way in advance, you're probably taking a seat away from a paying customer. Go figure.

It's no secret that flying out of JFK is usually not a pleasant experience, especially if you're departing in the late afternoon or evening, when all the international flights are jamming the taxiways. It's an even worse experience when there are storms. When I booked my $159 fare, the only flight available from JFK was either at 6:30am or 8:30pm. Well, I sure as heck didn't want to get up at 4am, so I chose the later flight. I monitored the weather and when I saw afternoon thunderstorms forecasted, I knew there was going to be trouble. Sure enough, there was. Flights that day to JFK were delayed an average of four hours and some were even canceled. I called American Airlines' customer service agents three times until I could get someone to change my flight to the following day for free. I made the right choice because my original flight was severely delayed and my new one (AA Flight 21) left the gate on time and took off within 12 minutes! I overheard the flight attendants seated next to me (I was in an exit row) saying to each other, "Can this really be true? Are we in Boston or New York?" As a bonus, we arrived into Los Angeles 30 minutes early. When was the last time that happened? Useful websites, besides your airline's, to check on flight status:, The FAA's Air Traffic Control System Command Center, and

My last two flights from JFK to LAX were both on American Airlines. Each time I booked my ticket, I reserved an exit row (use the airline's seating charts or I also requested an upgrade since I have elite status (you need to fly at least 25,000 actual air miles in a year or 30 segments). One of the perks of membership is that you can upgrade for cheap -- $150 each way, coast-to-coast. American Airlines flies a wide-body 767 with three classes of service (United and Delta fly single aisle 757s; Delta also has some 737s). On one of the trips, I got upgraded, which made the flight that much easier. Besides the extra space, the better meal and the bottles of water, they pass out Bose headsets and personal entertainment systems with movies, shows, videos, games and music on demand. But to be honest, getting the exit row in coach wasn't that bad either. On a short flight, I don't care that much about the entertainment, free drinks or food. What I care about is space to work and I had just as much legroom, if not more. I don't mind spending $10 to buy one of their turkey sandwiches with chips because that's what I would pay at home and it was decent. If you do care about entertainment on this route, then fly Delta, Virgin America or jetBlue to Long Beach. NOTE: One observation about American Airlines is that their new, modern JFK terminal requires a heck of a lot of walking, including going up and down long escalators to get to the gates.

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Copyright 2008 JohnnyJet, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Pictures From

The Trip


Manhattan Beach, CA


JFK Terminal 8


AA 767


Biz Class On AA


AA's Bose Headsets


AA's Personal Entertainment Systems



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