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August 13, 2008

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                                 Emirates A380

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Greetings from the world's largest passenger airplane! The A380 made its U.S. debut last week when Emirates Airlines made the first commercial landing of the mammoth, double-decker passenger plane on American soil. The A380 is so special because it's the world's only twin-deck, four-aisle airliner and I was fortunate enough to get one of the coveted invites for a two-hour cruise up the Californian coast. With all the media and hype surrounding the event (including the fact that Buzz Aldrin was on board), I felt like I was witnessing a new era in airline history. To find out what it's like to fly on this plane, see a ton of pictures and check out a two-minute Johnny Jet video, then come aboard and fasten your seatbelt! Plus, this week we've got two more stories for you. First, our resident book reviewer Dave Zuchowski introduces us to a great new book, which explores how travel and tourism are changing the face of our planet and Desmond J. Hussey takes us golfing in Scotland.

I've received a lot of emails inquiring if I'm in Beijing for the 2008 summer Olympic games. I wish! Instead, I'm on the east coast spending time with my brother who's in the middle of his prophylactic cancer treatment (he's doing great, by the way). Like most Americans, we're glued our TVs (or laptops), watching and wishing we were there. The opening ceremonies were downright incredible and I don't know how they can ever be topped. A few months ago, I mentioned that Hilton Hotels had asked me to be a part of their Be Hospitable Traveler program ( Hilton is an official sponsor of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams and they've asked a select group of outside experts (including yours truly) with backgrounds in travel, cultural awareness and character development, to provide unique perspectives on hospitality and the dos and don'ts of international travel for the Olympians. Therefore, I do take some pride in knowing that I am remotely a small part of it all.

You can imagine how stoked I was when the invitation to get a sneak preview of the A380 showed up in my mailbox. I showed up at LAX's Flight Path Learning Center at exactly 8am; it's a great little museum and I've been to lots of industry functions there. They often rent out the space, which is also right next to the Imperial Terminal. When I pulled into the parking lot, there were lots of police officers directing traffic and a small army of TSA agents who had two metal detector machines and screened every guest entering the museum. It was one of the fastest airport security screenings I've ever been through as there were no x-ray machines for bags and we didn't need to take our shoes off, though they still tested them for explosives. Once inside, there was already a crowd gathered, of anxious well-dressed VIP's (successful corporate travel agents, media and other Emirates business partners). I guess I wasn't the only one who couldn't sleep for excitement. I was even more excited that a number of my travel industry friends were in the house, too. LAX’s Flight Path Learning Center is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10am to 3pm. Admission and parking are both free.

Inside the Flight Path Learning Center, quality breakfast sandwiches, fruit and muffins were being served along with coffee, tea and juice. Just outside the museum were multiple rows of chairs, neatly lined up with Fly Emirates hats on top and a bottle of spring water below. More than 100 seats surrounded a podium where the press conference was soon to begin. It was really hot out, which was not typical, but I braved the heat to get a front row spot next to the fence for when the plane landed. It was scheduled to land at 9:15am but it was running 10 minutes late. The L.A. Fire Department had their trucks ready for the celebratory water cannon salute and my finger was holding steady on my camera, poised to get the shot! While plane-spotting, I was shocked to see an American Airlines plane come cruising down the runway in the opposite direction. I thought it was strange but didn't dwell on it. It turned out to be Honolulu-bound American Airlines Flight 31, which turned around just after takeoff when passengers smelled smoke in the cabin. It was all captured on TV because there were three news helicopters hovering above waiting for the A380 to land.

Soon afterwards, an announcement was made that the plane was going to be 30 minutes late because of the American Airlines flight so I escaped the heat and went back inside. While taking a quick snack break, I noticed a well-dressed man taking a picture with a reluctant young kid. I overheard the mother ask the boy, "Do you realize how famous this man is?" I whispered to one of my friends, "Who's the famous man?" When the reply was Buzz Aldrin, I almost spit out my egg, cheese and tomato croissant. When the moment was right I approached him, introduced myself and said, "Mr. Aldrin, I know my mom would be upset if I didn't tell you that the night you landed on the moon was the night of my christening party in Connecticut." I told him that I'd heard about it so many times growing up, about how the weather was terrible and everyone was gathered around our TV, to see history in the making. He just looked at me like he'd heard it a thousand times before but still he was gracious.

I must have missed the announcement that the plane was about to land. When I noticed the crowd inside quickly thinning out, I made a B-line for the door. There it was! It was the second time I'd laid eyes upon the A380. The first time was when Airbus flew the plane out to LAX back in November last year, but it was before any airline had taken delivery. I had received an invitation for that event but I couldn't make it because I was speaking in Hawaii the next day. However, I did get a glimpse of it from the plane's window on takeoff and from the pictures of our own contributor Marc Meredith, who was covering it. When the Emirates plane landed I was in awe. It was so much bigger than the other planes around it but when it got up close, surprisingly it didn't look as big as I had imagined it. I know, I know. How big did I think this thing was going to be? Don't ask but I will tell you that I had an absurd, cartoonlike image in my head, which fortunately it did not resemble.

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Pictures From

The Trip


LAX's Imperial Terminal


Buzz Aldrin


Sandy Dhuyvetter


John Dekker and Stacy Small




Emirates Hats


Emirates Press Conference


Emirates Flight Attendants


A380 About to Swallow a 747




Just Kidding


That's A Huge Bird


Check Out United Taking Off!


Check Out Delta Taking Off!



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