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November 19, 2008

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                                 Tahiti to Houston

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Howdy from Houston, Texas! Last week, we left off from one of the most beautiful and expensive places on earth – the island of Bora Bora. This week, we fly back to reality but not before experiencing Air Tahiti Nui's business class product. My Los Angeles to Houston leg was on Southwest Airlines so reality kicked in pretty fast ... but I have to say it wasn't all that bad.

It's always difficult leaving an incredible destination like Bora Bora -- until you receive your hotel bill. Then you're running to the airport! Natalie and I took the Four Seasons Resort's boat along with some other guests for the 25-minute ride to the BOB airport (don't you love Bora Bora's airport code?) There were two flights to Papeete, departing within 20 minutes of each other and they were both sold out so the airport was packed. Who says there's a recession? My first flight was on an Air Tahiti ATR 72 (a 68-passenger turbo prop). The seats are tight but the 45-minute flight was smooth and the pineapple punch they served hit the spot. I kept looking at the older gentleman across the aisle thinking I knew him like he was my neighbor or something. I racked my brain and didn't realize until we landed that it was Gary Hart (I finally caught a glimpse of his baggage tag). Ah! Gary Hart. You remember ... the Colorado Senator who ran for president and got caught up in the Donna Rice scandal? Of course you remember her name!

Once in Papeete, it was just a short walk to the international terminal. Check-in for Air Tahiti Nui was quick and Natalie and I were upgraded to business class. It pays to have friends in the airline biz. YES, that made the eight-hour redeye flight a complete joy! It also gave us access to their lounge, which offered a quiet oasis: private bathrooms, free drinks and snacks (cheese/crackers, nuts, Top Ramen, etc). Although for inter-island flights there's no security in French Polynesia, that's not the case when going international. They have the same lame liquid rules as the U.S. but just like here in the States, I didn't even bother to take mine out including all the mini shampoo and conditioner bottles I'd collected (I give them to the poor or a convalescent home). They didn't even catch the oversized can of $10 bug spray I'd picked up in Taha'a. So much for security. But at least it's quick.

The moment we took off in our comfy, roomy seats that had more than enough legroom, the crew of the plush and colorful A340 began their in-flight service. Everyone was offered a cold drink, menu and a variety of newspapers and magazines. Then we were quickly served a hot meal so everyone could go nighty-night. I slept for a good portion of the flight even though the seats don't go completely flat but overall, it was very comfortable. I even managed to watch part of a movie (not on-demand) on the 15-inch personal screen. The only thing that irked me was when the flight attendants turned on the cabin lights, opened the window shades to let the sun stream in and made an announcement that there were just two hours left and that they were going to begin the breakfast service. What the heck? Who wants to eat airplane food at 5am local time instead of sleeping an extra another 90 minutes? I just don't get it. Especially in Business Class where it doesn't take that long to serve 24 passengers. Instead, I think crews should walk down the aisle and see who's up or not and quietly hand the insomniacs a tray with their choice of a fruit plate or an omelet. Unfortunately, I don't have any breakfast pictures because I was in a comatose state and couldn't muster up the energy to remove my eye mask or earplugs. If you want more information on Air Tahiti Nui and their award-winning service, check out my detailed review about my flight on the way down. For information on Air Tahiti Nui's schedules and fares, call toll-free: 1-877-824-4846 or log on to

I was only in L.A. for a short period as my next stop was Houston for the SATW (Society of American Travel Writers) annual conference. I recently became a member of the well-respected organization and one of the main reasons for joining (besides networking) was to attend their fun annual conferences that I always hear my colleagues raving about. Usually, the conference takes place in some exotic part of the world like Chile, Thailand, Israel … This year it was Houston, TX. YEE HAW! I know ... how exciting! But to be honest, I had never been to Houston so I was pretty pumped about the opportunity to visit.

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To get to Houston, I used a special paper ticket, a green ticket but it's more like the golden ticket because it can be changed (name, date, times, cities) at any time for no charge. I got it from a different travel conference I was supposed to attend but had to cancel at the last minute. The one downside to the green ticket is that it doesn't allow you to log on to and check-in 24 hours in advance to get a favorable boarding number (Southwest doesn't do assigned seating). Therefore, you need to check-in at the ticket counter on your day of travel. I arrived at LAX much earlier (6:45am) than usual for an 8:10am flight. The line wasn't long but it sure was slow. It took a good 15 minutes to reach the counter. Fifteen minutes may not sound long but a short airport line that's not moving seems like an eternity. It was there that I realized why some novice travelers think travel sucks. Because waiting around does indeed suck.

The agent said I needed to check-in at the gate and gave me a security card to pass through security and a handwritten ticket. The TSA line wasn't that long but the agent saw that the boarding pass had a Chinese name. I didn't feel like walking all the way back to the counter so I tried to talk my way through; unfortunately they didn't bite. At LAX, Southwest uses Terminal 1. It's one of the few terminals that has security lines designated like ski slopes. Naturally, I took the Black Diamond (expert lane), which wasn't long but it wasn't used by experts alone. There was even one knucklehead in front of me who didn't know enough to take his shoes or jacket off. Some expert, huh?

I was testing out one of the new TSA-approved laptop-safe bags that Staples sent me. The bags all have several compartments and they all have a designated laptop-only section that completely unfolds to lie flat on the X-ray belt. It makes airport screening so much easier. And all the TSA officers I spoke to said they'd heard about them but that this was the first time they'd seen one. So they were just as excited as I was. I thought they would ask me to take the laptop out but they didn't. In fact, I have used it four times now and have had no problems whatsoever. Although, I do get a lot of evil stares from travelers behind me who think that I'm going to hold up the line when they tell me to pull my laptop out. But each time I clear security, those expressions change to something more like, Dang, he really is an expert! For more information, click here.

Southwest (SWA) has open seating and a unique boarding strategy. They still do it in three zones (A, B and C) but they now do it by position (1-60) so everyone has to line up. My pass read C-3, which meant I was in the front of the line of the third group to go up. The flight was full so I realized overhead space would be limited, even though SWA doesn't charge for checked bags. That's right! You can check up to two bags for free. All the good seats (aisles and windows) were taken and most of the overhead bins were as well. Before I panicked about being trapped in a middle seat, I remembered a great OPEN SEATING TIP: Just before jumping into any old middle seat, look for a couple traveling together who are trying to be sneaky by having one sit in the aisle, the other at the window. Sure enough, I spotted a couple just like this and I knew the moment I asked if I could sit in the middle seat, they would give me either the aisle or window so they could sit together. Worked like a charm! I was now in a tight window seat in the back of the plane but flight time was a quick three hours. Southwest doesn't offer any real food but they do provide soft drinks and snacks (Wheat Thins, Oreos) for free. These days, you gotta love that!

Sorry! No video this week but we do have all the Johnny Jet videos ever made on YouTube.

Next week, we explore Houston! Giddy up!

Note: Part of this trip was sponsored by Air Tahiti Nui.

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Pictures From

The Trip


Four Seasons
Bora Bora


Four Seasons Goodbye


Getting On The Boat


Four Seasons Boat


Air Tahiti Nui Business Class


Lots of Legroom


On The A340


Great Service


Dinner Is Served


Entertainment System




SWA Boarding Card


Expert Security Lane


New Laptop Bag


SWA Boarding Card


Southwest Airlines


Window Seat


Landing In Houston




  • OMG!!! Loving reading your adventures in the South Pacific! It brought back so many wonderful memories of our trip 2 years ago where we were fortunate enough to spend 3 nights pre cruise at the Intercontinental in Tahiti, in a over-water bungalow, then 2 10 day back-to-back cruises to the Marquesas Islands and the Cook Islands. We had stops in the places that you stayed. It was one of the most amazing trips that we have had the pleasure of going on. Thank you for taking me back there. Patricia C - Edmonton, Alberta

  • Johnny Jet!!! Looks like you had a blast in Bora Bora! I've never been, but I'd like to - it looks beautiful. The water is sooo blue. Juliet P – Boston, MA

  • Does Sarah think it’s suitable to bring a 7 year old on that same Peru trip? I noticed she’s from parenting magazine and I thought I would ask. We have enough miles saved for 3 tickets somewhere really really once in a lifetime and we want to bring the 7 year old with us. Love your newsletter and your Info. It’s always great. Karen R – Colorado. REPLY FROM SARAH While I wouldn’t recommend our exact itinerary for an 8-year-old, I do think a kid could do and would enjoy much of it. The Inkaterra properties, for instance, are very comfortable and their excursions are fun for all ages and ability levels. Machu Picchu is great for kids—very exciting and mysterious—and the jungle region is very cool, with all of the animal sightings. The food is not too unusual, so I think a kid of that age would be fine. However, some things to keep in mind: Cusco and Machu Picchu are at altitude, which can be hard on anyone, so a family should be extra sure to plan a low-key first few days to allow everyone to acclimatize. There’s a LOT of walking in Peru. Granted, we walked a lot when there were buses available, but even so, the Incas were really into stairs, and the city of Cusco is small enough that it just makes more sense to walk everywhere. So Karen Rowan will know best whether her child would be up for that. I wouldn’t recommend Huayna Picchu for a child, though: It’s pretty dangerous. While many people speak a little English, we had a few problems because of our lack of Spanish. Again, it’s a matter of personal comfort level, but I can imagine that it might be more frustrating if you’re also looking out for a child’s needs. The museums are not that great, and would definitely be boring to an 8-year-old. That could make staying in Cusco very long boring for him or her, but I met several people who spent time at Lake Titicaca, so I’d recommend a few days there. There’s a floating island people visit, and other outdoor activities. Overall, while we saw only a few tourists with kids, I do think a certain kind of child (outdoorsy, into mysterious things) would really enjoy it. Best, Sarah

  • Just found your website - I lIke It and wIll be checkIng It out more. Could not help but notIce your comments re Singapore: VandalIsm -- In thIs case, spray paIntIng another man's car -- In a foreIgn country Is not, In my vIew, a "mInor crIme". In places lIke Iran or SaudI ArabIa they'll execute a woman for beIng alone wIth a man other than your husband; they'll chop off the hand of a thIef. MIchael Fay ended up gettIng 4 whacks, whIch as far as I'm concerned, he deserved. Could have been a lot worse. LIke prIson tIme .... Mark R – Westwood, CA

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