Michael Strickland's blog on all things travel: news, deals, destinations, dreams and more.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

$9 nonstop fares - no, really

Do you need to fly between Newark, New Jersey; Melbourne, Florida; South Bend, Indiana; Toledo, Ohio; or Lansing, Michigan? For most of you, the answer is probably "No." But if so, news of America's newest low-fare airline might interest you. Jet America opened for business today, and takes to the skies beginning July 13.

The airline's introductory fares, clearly designed to grab headlines, are priced at $9 each way for the first nine seats on each flight. If you manage to get one of those seats, however, then of course you'll pay more. Based on a sample flight that I looked up, the minimum out-of-pocket cost will be $49 after all taxes and fees. Still, not bad for a nonstop round-trip flight on a 737—if you're traveling between any of the aforementioned cities (which, other than Newark, are not exactly high-in-demand destinations).

From what I've been able to find out, it seems Jet America will follow the RyanAir model of making money off miscellaneous fees, such as a $5 fee (each way) for booking online ($10 for phone reservations), and $10 for a reserved seat assignment.

We're getting closer and closer to that coin-operated lavatory....

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Surf the friendly skies

The "World Wide Web" is expanding its reach skyward. This year, a number of airlines are launching GoGo's in-flight WiFi internet service, enabling those of us with WiFi-capable laptops and mobile devices the online access we've been dreaming about. The service is already available on many Virgin America flights, and is rolling out on select American, United, Delta and AirTran routes later this year. (United says the service will be available "in summer" on its JFK-LAX and JFK-SFO routes; I'll be flying the former next month, so I'm eager to see if GoGo is available then.)

Not surprisingly, there will be a fee for access; surprisingly, the fee sounds rather reasonable, at least when you remember how much those Airphone calls cost. For laptops, it costs $9.95 for flights of three hours or less ($12.95 for longer flights), and only $7.95 for those of us using iPhones or other mobile devices. That's a much better deal than $5 for a sandwich that tastes like the cardboard box it comes in. As of now, GoGo will only be available on U.S. domestic flights.

I'm sure this is not welcome news to everyone. But I don't see this changing anything (yet) about the in-flight experience. Laptops are already ubiquitous, and people are well-trained to wear headphones when using them. Browsing the Web is a mostly quiet activity, so I don't see it as any more disruptive as someone watching a DVD on their notebook.

What does worry me, however, is the "gateway drug" nature of offering internet in-flight. It seems inevitable for this to lead to cell phone service in the sky. If that ever happens, then I will suddenly become a Luddite. I would rather fly behind a crying baby or in front of a seat-kicking toddler than next to someone who talks on the phone through the entire flight. (The article I read claimed that Skype would not be available through GoGo.)

Yes, I know that, by my own logic, this won't necessarily change the current in-flight experience, when people are free to talk as much and as loudly as they want to each other. But we've all observed the people who talk loudly on their phones in restaurants, pay more attention to their phones than the road on which they're driving, and bump into you on the street because they're too focused on their phone call to watch where they're walking. Do we really want to fly with those people?

Until then, though, I will happily—and quietly—surf the friendly skies whenever possible.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

A Skyward Glance

Like many people, I go through cycles in my life where at one extreme, I'm content and engaged in my daily life; and at the other extreme, I've had enough and can't stop fantasizing about an escape. I ebb and flow between the two, swayed by life events like the tide is influenced by the moon. Currently, I'm pegged pretty much at the edge of the "escape" side of the scale.

Daily life is quite taken with the logistics of my wedding a month from now, but that prospect is a welcome one; I'm excited to marry my sweetheart, and the event itself will satisfy my desire for escape (we're marrying in California, and honeymooning in St. Lucia). It's the daily work grind and my environment that have me stir crazy. Together, they both make me feel like a rat trapped in a corner, frantically and vainly scratching the walls to get away.

Lately, my view every day has been concrete, my gaze barely rising above the sidewalk on my way to and from work. Today, I happened to glance skyward, and the pinkish glow of dusk on the few clouds in the sky suddenly took me away. In a split-second, I found myself gazing up at past sunsets in other places, palpably feeling the relaxed contentment I have rarely felt outside of vacations.

And then, just as suddenly, reality crashed back in. I felt depressed contemplating that my life—many of our lives, the modern way of life—limits us to feeling this way only a few weeks per year (however much vacation time you get). We in the rat race work 48, 49, 50 weeks a year to earn those few weeks when we can live our lives at our own pace, on our own terms, looking up at the sky rather than studying the lines in the sidewalk.

At times like this, it's seductive to pine for the life of the playboy or the vagabond. One clutches a silver spoon, one carries his life in a rucksack—but both live the life we all crave, following our dreams and answering only to oneself. Sure, the grass is always greener, a lesson that life has taught me. But at the end, when we look back one final time at the summation of our life, will we wish we didn't spend so many of our finest hours under fluorescent lights, at someone else's whim? With each passing day, I grow more afraid of such a prospect.


Friday, May 1, 2009

Diving like a pirate in the Bahamas

Last month, I walked the metaphorical plank and went diving for a long weekend in the Bahamas with my dive club. We boarded the Morning Star, one of three 60-foot sloops in Blackbeard's Cruises' scuba diving fleet, on Grand Bahama Island. The skies were partly cloudy and the air temperature warm, but unfortunately we were plagued with winds in excess of 20 knots for the entire trip—which would have been welcome, considering we were on a sailboat, but the conditions played havoc with our plans to relax and dive. The wind made for a rough three days at sea, and the diving conditions were less than perfect. Nevertheless, we made the best of it, like any good pirate, and had a fine time.