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JANUARY 12, 2005
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  • Seatguru.com
    We made SeatGuru.com Website of the Week when they just got started, but that was a few years ago. Today they are worthy of another mention, because they now list over 25 airlines (with countless aircraft types), with domestic and international carriers. The reason I thought of them again is because right now I'm sitting in a seat that doesn’t recline. If I had enough room, I'd be kicking myself for not double-checking SeatGuru.com to find out this kind of useful information. If you want to find out which seats have the most legroom, which ones have laptop power, and a whole bunch of important info including whether they recline or not, log on to SeatGuru.com.


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"Maps courtesy of MyTripJournal.com. Start a travel website of your own for free now."
G’day mate! Last week we left off in Sydney, and this week we head back home (though hopefully later this year we will be able to tour more of Australia). I was scheduled to depart on Air Pacific with a four-hour layover in Nadi, Fiji but my ticket was issued for a few days later, and standby did not look good. I really wanted to go home, because I was getting burned out. I prefer to be gone for no more than three weeks at a time, and I had already been away for more than 21 days.

I asked my sister Georgette (who had met me Down Under) if she would mind if I left a few days early. When she said no, I booked a ticket on United using frequent flier miles (it cost me 90,000 miles and $75 in taxes for a round trip business class ticket). People always complain they can never use their frequent flier miles, but I rarely have trouble cashing in with United. Of course, booking last minute and traveling alone is always easier. If you can’t do it that way, then the best chance for using miles is to call 330 days in advance (that’s the earliest anyone can book a seat, whether you’re using miles or not). What I also like about United is that it’s very easy to use their website for booking an award ticket (100 times better than USAir.com, which I just used recently – more on that later). The website also saves travelers the $15 ticketing fee. Another perk to flying United is that their 747’s have electric outlets in First and Business Class sections. I really needed to use my computer to catch up on work.

I took a taxi to the Sydney Kingsford airport ($30 AUD). What was cool is that as we pulled in I saw my plane arriving from Melbourne. I was excited, and told the driver, "I’ll be on that plane in less than two hours." He looked at me blankly, like: "Who cares?" Tip: It’s cheaper to the airport from downtown Sydney by train ($11 AUD and 13 minutes) or the Aussie version of Super Shuttle. (Georgette saved $20AUD with the Shuttle, and loved it).

The airport experience was pleasant, as usual . The Business Class line moved quickly; so did clearing customs. That gave me plenty of time to peruse the airport shops (which were not overpriced at all), and get free snacks (cookies, nuts, chips) and drinks at United’s Red Carpet Club -- it’s for members or travelers in Business Class. (First Class has its own separate club.)

The flight to LAX was a piece of cake. I worked most of the 12 ½-hour, 7,490 mile flight. When I wasn’t working I was enjoying the leg room (the seat reclined almost all the way), or flipping through the eight different channels of in-flight entertainment (though Singapore Airlines 500-plus choices and on demand blew this out of the water). Singapore and Thai Airway’s food and service were much better, but I was happy with United’s too. For starters we had shrimp appetizer (though I don’t eat seafood), a salad, then stuffed chicken and broccoli. I wasn’t strong enough to pass on the chocolate mousse cake, so I shoveled that baby down. Really, the only eventful thing that happened was when I used the bathroom. Whenever I flush the toilet on a Boeing plane, it makes so much noise and causes such a draft that I think for a split second I’ll be sucked out. You would think by now I would be used to it. (AirBuses are much quieter.)

I was one of the first people off the plane, and my bag was the first to come out. Because I live close to the airport, that meant I might have been home before some passengers were even off the plane – how about that?! I was happy to be back in L.A. To keep from falling victim to jet lag, I went to a fun party in Malibu. It was hosted by Brentwood Magazine (I recently wrote an article on St. Lucia for them). I went with my cousin Dennis, and we both got a kick out of the bar made completely out of ice and the "Chocolate Lady". Only in L.A. will you find a beautiful woman serving dessert almost buck-naked, covered in chocolate. The other highlight was running into our friend Sarah Kozer from "Joe Millionaire." She’s always a blast to hang with.

A few days later my sister Georgette arrived from Australia. She spent a few days with me, to break up her trip back to Connecticut. We got along great, and went out to a bunch of restaurants with family and friends. One person who came by to say hi was the one and only (drum roll please…) Amber Airplane! In case you are new to my newsletter, Amber is my ex-fiance. It was great to see her again. She looked really good and happy – well, she has a new boyfriend. It turns out I owe Amber an apology. Remember that picture she ripped up when she moved out? I thought it was a picture of our first night together in our house, and that really hurt. But Ms. Airplane told me that if I had put the entire picture together, I would have seen it was a picture from a later date (at the same table). She said she ripped it up only because she looked fat. Women!

The first restaurant I took Georgette to was Fonz’s in Manhattan Beach. This is an excellent place for anyone who loves great food (seafood and steaks) and excellent service. The atmosphere is fun, not pretentious at all, and it’s only 15 minutes from the airport. That makes it a great choice for dinner before a night flight. Fonz’s, 1017 Manhattan Avenue, Manhattan Beach, CA; tel.: 310- 376-1536.

But if you want pretentious and great food, go to the Ivy on Robertson. I was there a few weeks back. I’ve written about their sister restaurant, Ivy on the Shore before, but never this one. It is definitely one of L.A.’s swankiest restaurants. So many stars eat here that there is usually a black SUV parked in front with tinted windows filled with paparazzi. My favorite place to sit is outside on the patio, under the heat lamps. The food is delicious, and the portions are huge -- which almost justifies the absurd prices. The Ivy, 113 N Robertson Blvd, Los Angeles, CA; tel.:. 310- 274-8303

I wasn’t in L.A. for more than a week before I headed back to the airport. This time I flew United to Chicago, so I could do my monthly segment on WTTW-TV’s "Chicago Tonight". On the plane I decided it was time to take the antibiotic I had just picked up to cure an upper respiratory infection. I figured since I was going to a very cold climate, I better take it before my asthma got worse. An hour after popping my pill, my stomach started to bubble. I quickly grabbed my pharmacy bag and read the side effects: nausea (no), stomach pains (yes), diarrhea (uh oh). I flagged a flight attendant down, and bought one of the $8 lunch boxes from Eli’s (turkey, cheese and cold egg croissant served with canned Dole fruit and yogurt). It wasn’t very good, but it helped my stomach chill... for a bit.

When I landed at O’Hare I knew it would be smart to get to my hotel as quickly as possible. (I am one of those people who has a thing about using public restrooms.) It was rush hour, so I took the Blue Line (it takes 45 minutes, and costs only $1.50). Would you believe that yet again one of the magic carpets was broken? Every time I use CTA (Chicago Transit Authority), one of the four people-movers downstairs in ORD is always broken. It’s become pretty comical.

On the train my stomach started rumbling again, and I got worried. I got off at Clark and Lake, and took a $5 cab to the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers. By now my stomach was so loud that passersby must have thought an Asteroids game was nearby. The Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers is huge, and the check-in line took way too long. There were only three people in front of me, but the clerks were s-l-o-w. I thought about making a mad dash to the men’s room, but I figured it would be a copout after I’d made it so far. When the front desk agent kept asking me questions, like do you want a king-size bed, I just kept nodding my head yes to everything. By that point I couldn’t even think. I was surprised I could show my ID, which they require from all guests.

I finally grabbed my key off the counter and waddled as fast as I could to the elevator. Of course just as the elevator doors were about to shut, I saw an arm shoot its way between the doors, and in came a group of business people. I wanted to scream when nearly everyone pushed floors lower than mine. It was like torture. To make matters worse, the only two people left in the elevator were me and a gorgeous woman. She gave me a big smile, but I didn’t even smile back. I just quickly turned my head at the wall sign that showed the floors. When I reached the 22nd floor I bolted out of there so fast out that for sure she must’ve thought I was either a complete freak or gay.

I studied the room number signs on the wall, because I didn’t want to go the wrong way. To my dismay my room, 2254, was at the last one listed, which meant it was at the end of a very long hall. I almost started to cry. I was sure I couldn’t make it. That would have been a huge problem, because I hadn’t brought a change of clothes for the TV show that I would be on in 30 minutes. As I hobbled down the hall I prayed that my magnetic room key would work (too often they don’t). I had been upgraded to a mini-suite, and my room was in a little corridor with another door adjacent. Too my surprise (and relief), my room door was ajar. I didn’t care if the maid was in the room, or had accidentally left the door open. All I knew was the toilet was mine.

I threw my bag and key on the bathroom floor and praised god I had made it. Sitting there looking for anything to read, I looked at the different department buttons on the phone. When I noticed room 2255, I grabbed the room key cover from my pocket. Sure enough, to my horror it read 2254. Not a second later I heard, "Bob, what are doing back so soon?" Whatever was left of my stomach dropped. I didn’t know what to do or say. I was relieved to be in the bathroom, but horrified at the outcome. Would I be arrested, my ass kicked, or just thoroughly embarrassed? I just grunted. Luckily she said, "I’ll meet you at blah blah in an hour," and the door closed! Again, I thanked god repeatedly.

BTW: My real room was nice. It had a comfortable bed, good views, and the high-speed internet was only $9.95 for 24 hours. Those help make this hotel ideal for business travelers. So does the enormous size (it’s great for conventions), a fine restaurant (Don Shula’s) and a good location. Unfortunately, the pool and workout room were cheesy -- but at least the hotel had them. Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers, 301 East North Water Street, Chicago, IL; tel:. 312-464-1000 (Check out there special offers)

Happy Travels,

Johnny Jet

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    • You are my idol. You have the job I WANT (lol). I have just traveled from Australia on my own for a month discovering the lights and sights of the USA and you are so right about that being a killer flight (especially solo). Although I had an absolute ball, spending 1 month alone doing as I wanted when I wanted was pure bliss. I am an avid reader of your site and newsletters since I fell across it while researching for my trip and am glad to say that I followed your directions and hints and returned safely home with nothing but wonderful memories and the itchiest feet known to man. I am now planning a return visit for later this year perhaps a little longer this time as I developed a taste for the dreaded Starbucks coffee whilst there. I am glad you enjoyed OZ and found the people friendly, just as I did in the USA, maybe it is karma. I think that we have a lot in common after reading your archives and would love to help in anyway I can to assist fellow rookie travelers like myself and to give them the added push sometimes required to take the first step onto that aerobridge like I did to far away places unknown to oneself. P.S. I did book through your site ;) Colleen - Australia
    • Hey Johnny: I so look forward to receiving your newsletter every week, and I must tell you that your report from Australia is exceptionally good. It makes me want to go back there this instant. I honestly think that you should approach 'The Early Show' on CBS or 'GMA' on ABC to be their version of Peter Greenberg....you have all the qualifications, and I'm sure you'd be great. Just a thought. Keep up the great work. Regards, John Thomas - NYC and Los Angeles.
    • Cheese, Johnny, you really ought to get inside the Opera House sometime. The views over the harbor are equally as spectacular, especially at night! And, C'mon, don't be such a tourist! The pizza in Australia is DIFFERENT, not inferior to ours in the good old U. S. A. I have a daughter who’s a permanent Aussie, so after many trips down under, I can assure you one gets used to the cuisine of Oz. K. Hansen - Round Lake Beach, IL.
    • Just wanted to say that you can't judge a whole country's pizza on Sydney pizza! Melbourne is where it's at....we do everything better! Misty - Melbourne, Australia
    • Your news re: Australia was fantastic. It makes me want to go back there again, as I can see I missed some of the best things to do in Sydney, except for the Jet-boat. I'm 77 now, and doing trips by myself --my husband doesn't want to go. I should hook up with your sister. Since you are such a celebrity, I guess Four Seasons treated you very well. Thanks so much for all the info. contained in your newsletter. I appreciate it very much. Mary Halsey -
    • Your pictures of Sydney brought back so many great memories from my trip in December 2003. Your suggestions from a previous trip helped me in the planning. Hope to meet you in New York City one of these days! Bill S. - NYC
    • Your description of your trip was breezy, light and refreshing. You made me feel nostalgia for Sydney. Jerry Perlmutter - Woodridge, IL,
    • Keep those stories and pictures coming. I’ve been steering friends to your website for best fares – they like how your site searches several websites at the same time. Jeff - Richmond
    • I thought your column on Australia was excellent. One of the best ever. Love, Dad
    • That was one of your best newsletters yet. I usually just look at your pictures after reading a few lines. This time I read every word. Good going. Keep up the good work. Gloria – Palos Verdes, CA
    • Loved your newsletter today re Sydney. However, I have two comments. First, you stated "...who wants to travel alone"? I am a woman who almost always travels alone because of the freedom it allows me not to be locked into anyone else's schedule. In the past 4 years I have been to Mexico, Amsterdam, London, Kenya, Tanzania, Japan, China, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand and Fiji...all alone and loved every minute of it. I hope your sister will not let that stop her in the future. Second, I am extremely afraid of heights and wanted to climb the Sydney Harbor Bridge for that very reason (I had already climbed the Great Wall and Mt. Kilimanjaro) so felt I needed to add this climb also. The "Bridge Climb" people are great. I cannot say enough about their climb leaders. I told my climb leader of my fear and he put me directly behind him in line and talked me through the whole thing (while still managing to give a running commentary for the other climbers). Even when we got to the very top and had to cross over to the other side to climb down (I actually thought I was going to faint) he got me through it. I highly recommend it to anyone as the view is unbelievable and yes I will do it again. Love to read about your trips and use your web site. Harriette Henderson - Malibu, CA
    • I showed my girl your newsletter, esp. the "where's johnny jet" part and she flipped. She went right out and signed up! You da man!! A – Boston, MA
    • Good exposure for J-Jet on Frommer’s this month (that’s one of my favorite travel resources….supplemented with J-Jet of course). John A – Pasadena, CA
    • newsletter was unbelievable. When I clicked on "mom", I must admit that I was crying while reading how much you all loved your mom so. My Mom is a Breast Cancer Survivor" and seeing her go through her operations and chemo and all is heartbreaking. I know how you feel. On a brighter note, I just loved your mom's artwork and poems, a beautiful lady alright! When my Mom is out and about she also attracts many people with her personality and how friendly she also is. I am collecting wonderful memories now. As we get older, we appreciate how wonderful our parents really are. One day we will all meet in Heaven and talk about how wonderful your newsletter was and I will let your mom know how special I knew she was!! Take care, God Bless and keep these wonderful newsletters coming! Love, Kat P – New York City
    • Just wanted to thank you and your siblings for posting the touching tribute to your mother. My mother also died from cancer and was just as wonderful and as your brother Frank says, I also still feel my mother's soul. Thanks again. M. E. - Hawaii

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