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120x60 - Hotels JOHNNY JET'S
October 27, 2004
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Greetings! Last week we were in Connecticut and New York City. This week we head south to Florida on yet another low fare carrier: Song Airlines. Before we get on board, though, I have two things to say. One: If you live in the Chicago area, catch me on WTTW channel 11 "Chicago Tonight" this Wednesday (October 27) at 7 p.m. Two: Deservedly enough, I have been inundated with emails and phone calls from Red Sox fans. Although the Yankees pulled the ultimate choke, I am surprisingly not that upset. I actually found myself feeling sorry for the Red Sox in Game 4 when it looked like their season was over (don’t tell anyone!).

I think a big reason I have a soft spot for Red Sox fans is because of people like my Aunt Martha. She was a huge Sox fan her whole life, yet never experienced the wonderful feeling of her favorite team winning the championship. I know what that’s like, because the Yankees did not win a World Series from 1978 to 1996. I was at Game 6 in ‘96 when the Yankees finally won, and it was complete bedlam. I hugged people in the Bronx who normally, if I saw them walking toward me, I would cross the street or run --and that jubilation was after only an 18-year drought. Can you imagine what Boston will be like if they win the World Series for the first time since 1918? I think the State Department might have to put out a warning to stay away from New England.

Don’t feel bad for us Yankee fans (I know you don’t anyway). We’ve been spoiled for the past eight years. This loss just hurts a little more, because it was the first time a team rallied from 3-0 deficit -- and it was the Red Sox against my beloved Yanks. It would’ve much been better if the Red Sox had just swept us -- but you know what? Good for them, and the Red Sox nation. (Did I just write that? I can’t believe the words came off my fingertips). So in honor of fans like my Aunt Martha, who spent their whole lives rooting for their team, which came so close but never won: I hope the Red Sox pull it off.

Okay, now down to business. I was surprised not too many people have heard of Song Airlines. It’s one of those airlines inside an airline. Song’s parent company is Delta . They started this offshoot 18 months ago to compete with JetBlue -- especially for the leisure travel market between the Northeast and Florida.

I read the travel news every day, and am amazed at how harshly travel writers rip apart Song. What’s crazier is that I found out these writers never even flew on Song. How can you be a travel writer if you don’t travel?! I guess they were just going off on the airline- within-an-airline concept. Well, before I judged them I wanted to try them out. So I bought myself a cheap ticket, and took them for a spin.

It was a good time to buy a ticket. At this time of year tickets to Florida are real cheap -- and that’s without the hurricanes. Ticket prices start increasing around Thanksgiving. I purchase my ticket online (it saves a few dollars), so I logged on to the JohnnyJet.com homepage and did a flight search in our new search boxes. Out came fares for $59 each way, on a bunch of airlines. Incredible prices, huh? What’s great about low- fare airlines is that they don’t penalize fliers traveling one way (I needed only a one-way ticket), and they force the legacy carriers (American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, United and USAir) to offer the same deals in markets they’re in to compete. With prices so low, why not just go to Florida for a day? Surprise your loved one with a night on the town in Miami!

On most low-fare airlines, the best way to get the cheapest price is to purchase a ticket 14 days or more before the flight. Fares rise 14, 7 and 3 days before the flight. They also go up on the day of departure. Every plane has a limited number of seats available at each price, which is why it pays to purchase as early as possible. The problem with purchasing early is that plans change—mine sure did. I decided at the last minute to spend two extra days in Connecticut, hanging out with my dad. When I called Song to change my flight, the agent told me there would be a $25 change fee (good deal), plus a fare change (not a good deal). I ended up paying $67 to change my ticket. That’s more than what I originally paid, and more than a person buying a seat for the first time on the same flight. That’s what happens when you buy an advance ticket, and change plans.

My dad dropped me off at LaGuardia (Song also flies out of New York’s other two major airports: JFK and Newark). Song has its own check-in machines, but not its own check-in counter at LaGuardia (they do at other airports, such as Fort Lauderdale). At LaGuardia, Song uses Delta’s counter and agents. Because I missed my scheduled 1:10 p.m. flight, I needed to talk to a human being about flying standby on the 3:55 flight. I was directed by an agent near the self-serve kiosks to stand in the Delta line. There were only six people in front of me, but the line took 20 minutes (it felt like two hours). The agent then informed me there is no standby on Song, and I would have to pay another $25 change fee to get on the next flight.

Most major carriers at least let you fly standby for free on day of departure, so I couldn’t understand this charge -- especially since the flight was wide open. I knew they were just trying to rake me for another $25, so instead of shelling out the dough I asked politely to speak to a supervisor. It turned out the supervisor was the man who directed me to the Delta line in the first place. I figured I had a good shot at getting the fee waived, because I was very nice to him earlier and had already paid one change fee. But I found out he was a total jerk -- a grumpy New Yorker burned out by his job.

When he said no the first time, I told him that a walkup fare was currently $104.60, and with another $25 fee I would be paying $50 more than someone walking up to the counter at that very moment to purchase a ticket. He tried to tell me a walkup fare was $204.60, but because I checked just before going to the airport I challenged him. When he saw I was correct, he said, "Well, it doesn’t matter. Rules are rules." I said, "I already paid one change fee. Plus, I’m traveling on the same day, and besides, the flight is wide open. Let the brother slide."

He was such a !@#$%^ that I told him just to cancel my ticket, and give me a voucher for future use. He did; then I walked away. I went outside, and was ready to go back to Connecticut. However, when I tried calling my dad to turn around and pick me up, his car phone was turned off. After a few minutes I cooled down and thought to myself, Am I really not going to Florida because of $25 and some jackass supervisor? Of course not! So I snuck back into the airport (I didn't want El Jerko to see me caving in). I waited in line for another 10 minutes, then paid the change fee.

It’s a good thing I showed up to the airport early, huh? But I didn’t let the experience dampen my flight. I told the flight attendants about my experience. They all agreed that it would have been much different if I had dealt with Song employees, not Delta. They also agreed I should have been able to stand by for free.

A little background on Song: They currently have a fleet of 36 199-seat, one-class Boeing 757s. They operate more than 140 daily flights between major cities in the Northeast, Florida, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Juan and -- beginning December 1 -- Nassau. If you haven’t seen a Song plane, you’re not missing much. From the outside the planes are ugly. They’re painted white, with lime-colored writing and a wavy line flowing through the body of the plane. The inside is quite colorful too, but with much better appeal (and leather seats).

The moment I stepped on board, I could tell it would be a great flight. The flight attendant welcoming passengers was genuinely happy (that’s always a good sign). She not only greeted everyone with a warm smile; she also handed us free, individually wrapped headsets to listen to the entertainment system. Like JetBlue, Song offers personal video monitors at each seat. I liked Song’s inflight entertainment system even better than JetBlue’s. Not only do passengers get the same 24 satellite TV channels of live TV (provided by the DISH Network), but Song also offers two new movie releases for a $5 rental fee. (The films were "Dodgeball" and "Garfield").

These systems allow passengers to play games against each other in real time. I got my butt kicked in Trivia before we even took off. What’s also cool about the video monitors is that they’re touch screens, so you can change the channel or menu selections by tapping the monitor. Song also offers over 24 channels of digital audio, but I didn’t even bother checking out them. I was too busy watching TV.

Like most airlines, Song offers free non-alcoholic beverages. But they pour the drinks in cups twice the size of most airlines (no need to ask for a refill after taking a couple of sips). Another nice feature of Song is that they make fun alcoholic drinks like margaritas. They also make special signature cocktails like this month's pink martinis in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. They sell for $5, with $1 going to the Avon Foundation Breast Cancer Crusade.

Another reason I prefer Song over JetBlue is that Song offers food for sale -- and it’s good! My $8 salad with chicken, candied walnuts, crumpled blue cheese and Paul Newman’s dressing was very tasty. If you’re a healthy eater, you’ll love Song’s organic offerings. The list includes a grilled teriyaki portobello mushroom sandwich with tofu; spinach and roasted pepper on a multi-seed roll, and a Mediterranean vegetable and toasted vegan sandwich with organic brown rice and tofu cream cheese. The healthy menu doesn’t appeal to me, but I did like their "sweet" section, highlighted by Dylan’s Candies (it’s my favorite candy store in NYC). If you’re traveling with little ones, starting November 1, Song will offer organic baby food and kids’ snacks, for purchase on board.

You can earn 1,080 frequent flyer miles (on Delta) from LaGuardia to Fort Lauderdale (FLL). If you don’t have a Skymile membership number, click here to enroll.

The flight was scheduled for 2 ˝ hours, but we made it in 2. It was a great flight – even the in-flight safety demo by the flight attendants was entertaining. They used a recording of an upbeat, fun salsa character. He was so much better to listen to than a tired flight attendant reading safety instructions in a monotone voice. This recording is more effective, because people actually listen. If this salsa guy doesn’t make you laugh, then you take life way too seriously.

What’s crazy is that just a few months ago, many travel experts doubted that Song would make it. Even Delta’s CEO was quoted as saying the unit ought to be renamed "Swan Song." Today it sure doesn’t seem like Song is going away -- Delta is transferring 12 more aircraft from their mainline fleet of B757's to Song (a 33 percent increase in their fleet). If I were Delta’s CEO, I’d have Song take over Delta’s domestic flights. I would also repaint Song’s exterior colors. To purchase Song tickets, click on flysong.com, or call 800-FLY-SONG (800-359-7664).

I’ll tell you about my trip to Florida in a later newsletter, because I’m returning there soon for my second time in a month.

I know this is newsletter is long, but I gotta tell you about my trip (with my friends Joelle and Joe) to the Queen Mary in Long Beach the other night. If you have nothing to do for Halloween, that’s a good place to get scared. For 13 nights during October, the Queen Mary is transformed into a terrifying place. You may already know the Queen Mary is haunted (they offer "Paranormal Tours" every day). This month there were 7 mazes throughout the Queen Mary property, including inside the Dome (where the Spruce Goose used to be, and where Carnival Cruise Line currently has its check-in). There were even mazes in the bowels of the vessel, which is open to the public only for this occasion (called Shipwreck 2004).

It’s a huge deal. Up to 11,000 people pass through the dark, well-decorated mazes every night. Two of the mazes are 3D, so you have to wear special glasses. The effects are great. Actors dressed in costumes hide throughout the ship -- in places you expect them to be, and others you would never consider. They jump out, sneak up behind you and follow you around (but never touch you). I thought Joelle would have a heart attack. Even Joe and I got the wits scared out of us a few times.

The lines look long, but we never waited more than 10 minutes. They don’t shovel everyone through all together. Instead they give breathing room, so it seems like your group is the only one there. (They also play loud music, so you can’t hear the people in front of you scream). The average age is around 19 and the crowd is kind of rough, but everyone was well behaved and had a good time. Afterwards there is a party in the Boiler Room Club with live bands, plus a huge three-level dance party in the Queen Mary Exhibit Hall. The night we went, though, it was a high school kids.

People with heart conditions and children under 12 are not recommended to go. Admission is $29, and parking is $10. It’s open from 7 p.m. to midnight, and runs through October 31. Cameras are not allowed (we had a special media pass). If you’re interested in spending the night (the Queen Mary is now a floating hotel), ask for the special Shipwreck Hotel "RIP" package. The Queen Mary: 1126 Queens Highway, Long Beach, CA; tel.: (562) 435-3511.

Happy Travels,

Johnny Jet
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  • I always love your newsletters Johnny...I can't travel right now and love that I get my travel fix through you. That said...I just had to give my insincere condolences on the devastating, miserable, historic, oh-so-sorry-to-see-you-go loss to the Red Sox! LOL It was about time for us but I know it killed you...but all of us in Boston are still partying in the streets. Thanks for all the entertainment and keep it up. Sally -Stratham, NH
  • I promise, I won't rub it in that the Yankees just suffered the greatest collapse in baseball history at the hands of the Boston Red Sox. *snicker* I recognize fully that you've enjoyed about 4 millions more championships than I have and the Sox have to beat a very good NL team to finally end "The Curse". They will though. ;) Stephen B - Boston
  • Hello Yankee: Well, well, well, look who's going to the big show. Looks like A Rod may be the vaccine to the Babe Ruth plague. Seems we may have passed in on to the Yanks through the $250 million dollar man. Hmmmm, just food for thought. Have a wonderful weekend, and oh yeah.... RED SOX WIN!!!!!!!! Oh yeah,In the biggest upset in sports history! RED SOX WIN!!!!!!!! Marcy - Florida

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A man was flying from Seattle to San Francisco. Unexpectedly, the plane stopped in Sacramento along the way. The flight attendant explained that there would be a delay, and if the passengers wanted to get off the aircraft the plane would re-board in 50 minutes.

Everybody got off the plane except one gentleman who was blind. The man had noticed him as he walked by and could tell the gentleman was blind because his seeing eye dog lay quietly underneath the seats in front of him throughout the entire flight.

He could also tell he had flown this very flight before because the pilot approached him, and calling him by name said, "Keith, we're in Sacramento for almost an hour. Would you like to get off and stretch your legs?"

The blind man replied, "No thanks, but maybe my dog would like to stretch his legs."

Picture This: All the people in the gate area came to a complete standstill when they looked up and saw the pilot walk off the plane with a Seeing Eye Dog! The pilot was even wearing sunglasses.

People scattered. They not only tried to change planes, but they were trying to change airlines! True story.... Have a great day and remember.... things aren't always as they appear.

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Beyond Cancun: The more authentic, less expensive Riviera Maya
To some travelers, Cancun, Mexico, is paradise—sweeping white-sand beaches, crystal-clear water, swanky all-inclusive resorts, beautiful people, and wild nightclubs. To others, Cancun is expensive, overcrowded, overdeveloped, and miles away from the real Mexico. For travelers like these, including myself, a more affordable and authentic travel experience can be had by visiting the small coastal towns of the Riviera Maya, the unofficial name of the Yucatan's Caribbean coast. Click Here To Read Article

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