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    This is a great website for everyone who loves the outdoors. LocalHikes.com provides information on hiking opportunities near many metropolitan areas, large and small, throughout the U.S. Use the search feature to find trails close to your home, office or hotel, or browse to see what other hikers are doing around the country. All the hikes on this site were contributed by volunteer reporters.

    I live in Los Angeles, and this area alone has 194 incredible hikes listed. I clicked on one I was familair with, and found not only reliable reviews but also pictures, maps and pertinent guide books. Every hike listed has a place for user reviews, and links for that area. Those links provide local forecasts, directions, nearby areas of interest, topographic maps, U.S. Geological Surveys, and Geocaching (an entertaining adventure game for GPS users).
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As you may recall, last week I left off in New York City. I was headed to Erie, Pennsylvania for my niece Amanda’s 7th birthday. Erie is 500 miles from NYC -- a long drive. I planned to buy a one-way ticket on Jet Blue from JFK to Buffalo, but I waited too long and missed the $60 fare. “You snooze you lose” -- the price shot up to $116. That wasn’t too bad – but it still would have left me 100 miles from Erie.

I priced out one-way tickets to nearby airports (Pittsburgh, Cleveland and of course Erie) on JohnnyJet.com, even though I figured it would be a waste of time because they are usually much more expensive. Boy, was I glad I did! USAir had a last-minute fare from La Guardia to Erie for only $137 direct. (Direct means you stop at least once; nonstop means no stopping). What’s crazy is that I learned it would’ve cost $100 more just to fly to Pittsburgh. Imagine that: It was cheaper to fly to Erie -- which required a change of planes in PITTSBURGH. I’d say “go figure,” but you can’t.

After I booked my ticket online I called USAir just to make sure the reservation went through, and to get a seat assignment. I also asked the agent if I would get secondary screening because of my one-way ticket. She said “No” -- and of course she couldn’t have been more wrong. After checking in with US Air’s neat self-service kiosk (which can even read your passport as identification), I noticed I did indeed have an “S” on my boarding pass. You know what that means: secondary screening. That’s just one step short of a full body cavity search.

I have no problem with secondary screening, but I hate being treated like a prisoner (which always happens). After I put my bag, laptop and wallet through the x-ray machine, the agent made me step aside without allowing me to get them. That meant my personal belongings were left out in the open -- very vulnerable, with the opportunity to be stolen. So naturally during the entire process I kept my eyes on my laptop like a psycho, waiting for one of the TSA agents to stop chatting about last night with a colleague and search me. Finally another TSA agent stepped in. He was cool, and the search was painless. He and I had a few laughs about USAir, and then I was on my way.

We were number two for takeoff. the last time I was at LGA I was number 42, so this was a huge improvement. Nothing like flying midweek and midday -- no traffic to the airport, and no traffic on the runway. Unfortunately, this was the plane. No, wait -- it’s a joke! I found that picture on the internet, with the caption “USAir Cutting Back.” I was really on a 737-300 series. The plane wasn’t crowded, but the flight attendants weren’t friendly. I was afraid to ask them for a refill on my apple juice (they don’t give you a whole can -- just a cup). I guess you can’t blame them. After all, they work for the worst management in the industry, and have no idea if they will even have a job in a few months.

The flight to Pittsburgh was only an hour. It seems every time I fly through PIT I get stranded because of bad weather or canceled flights. This time I was spared. My connection was delayed only 30 minutes. Luckily, PIT is one of the best airports in America to pass time in, with over 100 shops and restaurants. In fact, you would forget you were in an airport if it weren’t for gate announcements and people running with luggage.

My flight to Erie was on a turbo prop (Saab 300), and lasted only 25 minutes. I love going to Erie. It’s not just that my sister has a great big yard on the lake, a comfortable bed and high speed, but where else can you go back 30 years in time? I can’t explain it, but that’s how the city feels. I won’t bore you with the same old things I usually write about (Wegmans, Krispy Kreme, TJ Maxx, Splash Lagoon…). But I will tell you some funny stories about my family.

Besides my niece I have a nephew Johnny, who is 5. They are the cutest kids you’ll ever see, but don’t let their looks fool you. These kids are terrors, and spoiled rotten. Every time I go to Erie I end up fighting with my sister, because she doesn’t discipline them. As hard as I try, I can’t keep my mouth shut. My Mom must be channeling through my body. I know if she were around, things would be different in that household.

The reason Carol and her husband Tom spoil the kids so badly is because they were miracle babies. Amanda was born with a bad heart, and Johnny was a preemie. But they were spoiled so much, the kids now rule the roost.

Of course I really shouldn’t be talking, because what the hell do I know? I don’t have kids. In fact, I’m not even sure I want them. What I do know is how hard it is to be a parent. I have no idea how anyone can do that job. I have so much respect for my mom and dad.

So I decided to be a good brother and get up early, to help Carol prepare the kids for school. She asked me to drive them, so I did. Britney Spears was on the radio. I turned it off. They screamed, “Come on Uncle Johnny, turn it on!” After I made them say “please,” I turned it on. They screamed louder, and after they said “Please with sugar on top!” I cranked it. It was blaring. I also started dancing while I was driving, which made the kids laugh hysterically. When the song was over Amanda said, “Holy cow Uncle Johnny, that was so loud I’m going to go blind.” How funny is that?

By the way, if you have kids are they obsessed with trading cards called Yugioh? I have no idea what the attraction is, but little Johnny is like a crack addict when it comes to them.

I got back to the house and told Carol that her kids had made her car such a mess, she should get it detailed. Amazingly, the car is only three months old. When we picked it up at the detailer, the worker shook his head and said, “Do you realize your kids played tic-tac-toe on the ceiling with a permanent marker?” Carol chuckled in embarrassment. He said it was the second toughest detail he’d ever done. When I asked what was the first, he said, “Your sister’s last car!”

If you thought Macaulay Culkin treated the burglars bad in “Home Alone,” just spend an afternoon with me and the little ones. When I told Amanda to put her coat on because it was cold out she said, “Shut up Uncle Johnny.” I almost fainted. I chased her into the house and cornered her, but suddenly she threw a metal box at my head. It hurt like hell. The whole time little Johnny sat on the couch eating potato chips, laughing uncontrollably. I felt like I was in a cartoon, and needed to escape.

I called my brother Frank in Connecticut for help, but he didn’t believe me. So I got on the internet and found him a weekend roundtrip fare of $68 on Continental. He had to leave on Saturday, and return Monday or Tuesday. He also had to get up real early, to take a 6 a.m. flight from LGA to Cleveland. A few hours after Frank arrived, he stretched out on the couch to catch up on some zzz’s. I was watching the Yankees on TV, and heard a really loud whistle. It was little Johnny blowing a flute in Frank’s ear. Frank’s eyes popped out like large Marge’s in “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. I said, “You still don’t believe me?” Frank said, “Those aren’t kids, they’re gangstas.” They really are. Get this: The next morning, around 6:30, I was sound sleep. Like an idiot, I forgot to relock the door after getting up in the middle of the night when nature called. Big mistake! The door opened and the kids said, “Look Uncle Johnny, we found a mouse!” I opened one eye and saw a tan thing fly through the air. Immediately I feel a furry little thing with sharp claws on my bare chest. I jumped up like someone had shocked me. Luckily I didn’t step on it, because it turned out to be Amanda’s pet gerbil.

It’s not really fair of me to rag on my sister, because she is an amazing person. First of all, she always looks after me (just like my mother did). Second, she has more pets than Noah did. Carol has two dogs, two cats, two birds, two goldfish, two horses and a now a gerbil. She should be credited with saving thousands more animals too, because every week she has an adopt-a-pet feature on the local FOX-TV affiliate. Through her persistence, many animals have found nice homes.

Speaking of TV, Carol is always promoting JohnnyJet.com Unbeknownst to me, she told the station I was in town. They asked me to go in and do a five-minute impromptu segment on internet travel tips.

I shouldn’t just bag on my niece and nephew either, because they can be great kids when they aren’t on sugar highs. In fact, according to their babysitters, these kids aren’t half as bad as other clients. (That response really scared me.)

Amanda and Johnny are both incredible athletes. I was pitching baseballs one afternoon, and decided to see how Johnny would react to a 30-mph fastball. The kid hit it like he was Derek Jeter. It was unbelievable! Not only that, I took training wheels off his bike. It took him a mere five minutes to learn how to ride without them. Out of 20 kids in his class, he was the only one without training wheels.

As I mentioned earlier, the real reason we were in Erie was to celebrate Amanda’s birthday party. This was a special birthday, because she just received good news about her heart. So Carol went all out (she always does). Amanda’s favorite activity is going to Build A Bear, a store where kids actually build a bear. It’s a pretty ingenious idea. Kids pick out an animal, have it stuffed, put a heart and a sound chip in, sew it up, clean it, dress it any way they want, then make a birth certificate. Build-A-Bear Workshop, Great Lakes Mall, 7850 Mentor Ave., Space 334, Mentor, OH 44060.

The only problem was that the closest Build-A-Bear is 90 minutes away, so Carol had to rent a bus. All the kids were sitting on the bus quietly waiting for the driver to leave, when Frank walked on and riled them up like he was a cheerleading captain. He asked, “Who wants to have fun today?” They all screamed. Then he said, “Who here likes candy?” They screamed louder. Finally he yelled, “Who wants to watch Sponge Bob?” The all went bonkers. Tom ran off the bus to get some videotapes so they could watch. Now get this: Frank got off the bus and drove in another car with a few other parents! We were so mad at him.

After the long trip to Ohio we came back to the house, had pony rides, cake and the crushing of a pińata. All in all, quite a trip.

Next week – minus my nephew and niece -- we are off to Chicago, and…?

Happy Travels,

Johnny Jet

P.S. Do me a favor and browse our sponsors and book all your online travel through JohnnyJet.com. It will help keep this newsletter free of charge. Thanks
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  • I love your website... espically the story about your mom. You are an awesome guy! I hope that I follow in your footstep when I'm called to do so. Jeff - Texas
  • Bro, you had me flat out laughing out load this morning at work while I was reading your last newsletter about your stomach issues. Oh my god that was way too funny. Kyle - Redondo Beach, CA
  • Just read your newsletter and am dying laughing at the story about the jamba juice-plane ride!! How very uncomfortable that must have been. Nicole B -Fort Lauderdale, FL.
  • It's a good thing I went to the restroom before I saw this email, I just about peed. Johnny, you are too funny. You make my sides ache. L - Los Angeles
  • I'm surprised at you for not doing your research on Surfer's Paradise. My mother lives in the next town over & her town & the other little ones just along the beach from Surfers are quiet, not gaudy and have some beautiful rental properties. :-) Nicole S. - New York, NY

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I agree that the E train is the cheapest way from Jamaica Station to the city, but I don't think it's the fastest. I'd recommend to your readers that LIRR to Penn Station is probably the fastest way to get to the city from Jamaica. To mirror your journey, take LIRR to Penn Station, then the 1, 2, 3, or 9 subways to 42nd Street and then transfer to the shuttle to Grand Central. If it's a lousy day, you never have to go outside. If it's a nice day, you can opt walk along 42nd St. to Grand Central instead of taking the shuttle.

Of course, all this depends on how much luggage you have, I wouldn't attempt this with tons of bags! That is my only complaint with the Air Train - the train stations aren't directly linked to terminals.

Nicole S. - New York, NY

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Escapes for Under $500: Montreal
Where can you find European charm and style, Canadian warmth, and a "small-world feel" for an entire weekend for under $500? The answer is Montreal; a city that many of you readers said you'd like to know more about. With a strict budget, I set out on a recent three-night, two-day trip to make the travel costs viable, without compromising on quality and pleasure. Click Here To Read Article

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