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    Air Force One
    I don't know about you, but I've always wondered what it's like to be on Air Force One.  Thanks to a great website called HowStuffWorks.com, we can now take a virtual ride in the president's 747.  
    HowStuffWorks teaches readers the basics about anything and everything -- including what sets Air Force One apart from other planes, such as a floor plan, special features, flight operation, and history.
    I didn't know that "Air Force One" isn't technically one plane -- it's actually the radio call name for any U.S. Air Force plane carrying the President of the United States. And I also didn't know that as soon as the president steps aboard any Air Force plane, it is then referred to as Air Force One by the crew and all air traffic controllers, to avoid confusion with any other planes in the area.  Also, if the president rides on an Army aircraft, that aircraft is called Army One, and whenever he boards his specialized helicopter, that craft is Marine One.
    There are actually two planes that usually fly under the name Air Force One.  They are nearly the same Boeing 747-200 jets.  Both have the same structure as a normal Boeing 747-200B, and similar capabilities. These planes are almost as tall as a six-story building, and as long as a city block.  With a full tank of gas, the plane can fly halfway around the world.
    Another special addition is the in-flight refueling connection. As with the B-2 and other combat craft, in-flight refueling gives Air Force One the ability to stay in the air indefinitely. That could be crucial in an emergency situation.
    The planes can withstand an air attack. They're also set up with electronic counter measures (ECM) to jam enemy radar.  The planes can eject flares to throw heat-seeking missiles off course.  Every Air Force One flight is classified as a military operation, and is handled as such. Air Force crews at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland carefully inspect the plane, and the runway, before every flight.
    Just like a normal jetliner, Air Force One has a crew to fly the plane, and a steward crew to prepare and serve meals and clean the aircraft. Every crew consists of carefully screened military personnel. Even crew members who prepare meals must operate with a high level of security. For example, when buying food they must hit stores undercover. They must select markets at random, to protect the president from a poison attack.
    In 1943, Franklin Roosevelt became the first president to take to the air when he rode a Boeing 314 "flying boat" to a wartime conference in Casablanca. In 1958, presidential travel took a giant leap forward when the Air Force introduced two Boeing 707 jets into the fleet. The Air Force began using the radio call designation "Air Force One" during Eisenhower's administration, and the public took notice after Kennedy took office.  In 1990 the Air Force replaced the planes with the 747s in use today. They may be replaced as early as 2010, when they hit their 20-year mark.
    For more information about Air Force One, or anything else to do with flying, log on to HowStuffWorks.com.
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Happy New Year!  I hope you started out with a great New Year’s Eve.  I don't know about you, but for me New Year’s has always been overrated.  Maybe it's because I don't drink, or that I prefer to stay off the roads that night.  In fact, unless I’ve been invited to an exceptionally great party, I prefer a quiet evening with friends and family.  I do like to watch the ball drop in Times Square, but on TV -- not in person!  I think people who go there to see it live are nuts!  Who wants to be standing outside, in the freezing cold, smooshed up in a tight pigpen? And nowadays, they’ve pretty much added a bulls-eye on their heads. 

But I had the same feelings even before 9/11.  I grew up only 42 miles from Times Square, yet never once did I go there for New Year’s.  In the old days we worried about pickpockets and crazy drunks. These days it's pickpockets, crazy drunks and suicide bombers. No thanks! 

I spent my New Year's in Palm Beach, Florida with my sister Carol, her family, and a few of their friends.  We stayed at my cousin AJ's sweet pad (next week I’ll show you around their place).  The highlight of my night was tricking my niece and nephew into thinking they got to stay up till midnight.  It was pretty funny. After we had a nice meal outside, we still had a few more hours to kill before 2004 arrived.  The kids really wanted to stay up until midnight, so Carol came up with an ingenious idea. “Look -- 10 more minutes to midnight!" she said.  Before I could ask her whose watch she was looking at, I saw her wink. In the same breath I said, "Oh my gosh, you’re right! Get the frying pan covers out to bang.” (My mom always had us do this).  It was so great to see the kids happily counting down with the grownups: "10-9-8-7.... HAPPY NEW YEAR!”  

As you’ll see next week, this trip could have been featured on “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” It was Plush, with a capital P, and it all started with getting there.  After all, isn’t getting there half the fun?

Last week I left off at my sister Carol's house in freezing cold (and snowy) Erie, Pennsylvania.  When my sister asked if I wanted to go down to Florida for the New Year, I said, “Let me think about.”  A nanosecond later, I added, “You betcha.” 

The day after Christmas (which was  my mom's birthday) we left the house at 9:30 a.m. to go to Erie International Airport   (If they have any international flights, they’re coming from Canada.)  We had so much luggage that my dad took some of our bags in his car too.  The nice thing about flying with my sister and her family is that they don't usually take commercial jets; they fly private.  Yeah, baby!  That’s really the only way to fly.  Don't get me wrong -- I love to fly commercially, because I like to meet people and I like larger aircraft. But when you have a chance to fly like a rock star, you don't say no.  Especially when the security alert is at orange, and just getting to the airport is a total pain in the you-know-what.

To fly from Erie to Florida commercially, you have to change planes in either Pittsburgh, Detroit, Cleveland or Cincinnati.  The minimum flight time is 5 hours and 21 minutes -- and that's if you show up an hour early and don't check bags.  Guess the total flight time for us. Well, it was 2 hours, 40 minutes -- and that includes checking bags and arriving on time.  The definition of “on time” when flying private is to show up a few minutes before scheduled takeoff, so the pilots can load your bags and go over a few safety items.  We drove right up to the plane, walked about 10 feet and got on.  The pilots and ground crew parked our car and loaded our bags.  It was so painless, it was silly!  

Private planes come in all different sizes, from one-seaters to 747s (check out this week's Website of the Week for the ultimate private plane).  We flew on an eight-seat Lear 60.  That's a good-size (and very comfortable) mid-size jet.  After we fastened our seat belts one of the pilots quickly demonstrated the emergency procedures, pointed out where the catering was located, and where the DVDs and two monitors were.  

It was sad taking off though, because my dad stood by the fence waving goodbye.  We wished he was on the plane with us, but unfortunately he couldn't make the trip because he had some obligations in Erie.  Takeoff was quick, and in no time we were over the clouds. We peeked in between them, and saw snowy ground.  As soon as the seat belt sign went off (actually before it did) the kids ran to the candy drawer and asked, "Uncle Johnny, what do you want to eat?"  I said "One of each please" (I was kidding).  I settled for a pack of gum and a deck of cards, and played "Go Fish" with my niece and nephew (I lost both games!).

Being up in the sky, in such a little plane with just your family, is surreal. Especially when you hear a loud noise in the back (it must've been the toilet) and think it's all over.  Being above all the clouds all alone with no sign of life, must be like visiting the Grand Canyon after a nuclear bomb. It's kind of eerie to realize that in the grand scheme of things we humans don't mean much at all.

The actual flight time should have been two hours and thirty minutes, but when we were over Tampa I noticed on the in-flight map that we were heading West, not East.  I pointed that out to my  brother-in-law Tom, and he asked the pilots what was happening.  They said there was a disabled aircraft at the West Palm Beach airport, and all traffic to and from there was on hold.  Great, I thought. Just what I needed to hear.  I suggested we land in Ft. Lauderdale or Boca Raton, but the pilots said all of those airports also had a ground stop.  That did not make a lot of sense.  The pilots said they had never seen this situation before (these pilots were scary young), and agreed with me that a “disabled aircraft” sounds more like a plane crash.  My sister Carol was freaking out and thinking the worst -- like terrorism.  All we wanted at that point was to get down on the ground.  

The pilots eased our anxiety when they said they just got cleared to land at Boca. A few minutes later they had more good news, we could land at PBI (West Palm Beach). The flight from then on was very relaxing and anxiety-free.  Phew!  Flying down the middle of Florida, I realized I could see both coasts from each side of the plane.  Pretty cool, huh?   It was also the first time I was able to see how fast planes really go, compared to cars.  For the last five miles we were so low that we flew parallel to the highway. The sun was at a perfect angle to watch the shadow of our plane as we cruised past cars on the highway.  It was so cool.  

I still don't know what the heck happened, because when we landed there was no sign of any disabled plane. I didn't hear any news on it either. Maybe the pilots just wanted to earn some more dollars circling around!  Anyway, we rented a car from my Uncle Joe's friend, who operates a small fleet of luxury cars.  Not only were his prices much cheaper than everyone else's, but the ground crew pulled our rental up right to the plane.  Again we only had to walk to the car.  (I will get his contact info next week).  By the time we fastened our seat belts, our bags were already in the trunk and we were off to the airport exit.  How sweet is that?
Next week I will show you around Palm Beach -- and a few other places.

Happy Travels,

Johnny Jet

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  • I rely on your newsletter and website for invaluable information. -Dale from Long Island, NY
  • Burbank Airport also celebrated 100 years of flight on December 17, 2003 by renaming the airport "Bob Hope Airport" -- there was a wonderful ceremony with vintage planes flying overhead and Delores Hope and children arrived for the ceremony on a beautiful cool December day!  Phyllis Diller and Mrs. Bing Crosby were also in attendance and an orchestra was there to play "Thanks for the Memories" when Mrs Hope walked in.  Happy New Year to you and the lovely Amber Airplane!  Lolly and Patrick
  • Johnny--Sorry to hear about your friend, Dr. Wood. I missed a funeral for a good friend who died just before Christmas. It's a tough deal. Glad you made it, though. Sounds like there was a whole lotta shakin' goin' on!  And you really do put out a cool newsletter. It's fun to read and I love keeping up with all the little Jets and all your friends!!  Scott - Alaska
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  • You know more than most agents about everything!  I love your newsletter!  If you and Amber are ever in Calgary lets go for drinks!  A penny pinching travel agent in Canada,   Tanya :)
  • Spent a lot of time at airliners.net, what a great site.  Thanks.  Bob B - Minnesota
  • I thought I would update you on the outcome of our letter to ATA. In a nutshell -- they were extremely prompt in their response, less than 2 weeks.  They apologized, explained their client accommodation procedures.  They also explained that giving us a room was above the call of duty (I don't agree with this but it's a mute point).  The letter was very articulate and listed the things that we listed in our letter to them. They gave us 2 round trip tickets to where ever they fly. These are good for one year. They did NOT however, reimburse for the $231 one way ticket from SJC to SNA.  They explained their reasoning and encouraged us to not loose faith with their airline.  We also still have the two $50 vouchers they gave us at the time all of this happened. Overall, I guess they did the best they are going to do.  I am disappointed about not being refunded, $231 would have bought me 2 round trips tix SNA - SJC.  But now we have two tickets to use to Boston or Hawaii so alls well that ends well.  Again, thanks for your information and encouragement to pursue seeing what ATA could do for us.  I am completely impressed with their letter and the timeliness of their response.  Beth M - Newport Beach, CA

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Pack a couple of packets of Campbells powdered soup - cream of chicken or cream of tomato to snack on when you arrive late at your hotel and room service/restaurant is closed. All hotels have coffee service so you can boil water and while it may not be a full dinner, it beats the pajamas off being hungry all night. Veronica

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Looking ahead: Travel in 2004
In 2004, you should continue to find a buyers' market for most travel services. Although I haven't yet upgraded my crystal ball to high-definition, I can foresee at least the general shape of the year to come. Here are a dozen of my guesses: Click Here To Read Article

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