Buenos Dias from Costa Rica! This week, we’re going to explore options to travel from New York City to JFK Airport, including one for just $7. I then fly to Los Angeles for just $119 plus $12.95 for American’s in-flight Internet. There’s nothing like passing time in the sky on Wi-Fi! From there, it’s off to Liberia, Costa Rica via Miami. If you’re up for racking up some serious AAdvantage miles, then join me on this week’s adventure!
AIR FRANCE TRAGEDY
First of all, our thoughts and prayers go out to all those involved in the Air France crash off the coast of Brazil. When I awoke to the news and heard of the tragedy I instantly got a sickening feeling in my stomach, which I still can’t shake. I just wrote about Rio’s Galeão Airport (GIG) last week and I’ve been on Air France many times; I will be flying them again next month. I’ve also recently flown on that same type of aircraft, the A330-200 with Jet Airways when I did my recent trip around the world. The AF447 plane was only four years old and it had a flawless safety record. It doesn’t make sense why it just fell out of the sky. It’s highly unlikely it was turbulence or lightening. It’s times like these that white-knuckle fliers need to keep reminding themselves that these commercial jets are the safest mode of transportation but I know it’s scary. I’m in no position to speculate but I do wonder if terrorism was involved. Brazil’s security is lax – I made it through with all kinds of liquids and electronics in my carry-on bag so who knows?
What’s even more disturbing is that the officials didn’t even know when or where it happened for a couple of days. This should be another huge argument for why the industry needs to get rid of the dated radar system and replace it with NextGen. According to the FAA, NextGen “uses GPS satellite signals to provide air traffic controllers and pilots with much more accurate information that will help keep aircraft safely separated in the sky and on runways.” This will not only improve safety and reduce congestion but will also keep track of the planes. What if the pilot(s) had made a miraculous landing like Sully did? I know it’s highly unlikely but at least if they had NextGen, they would have known exactly where the incident occurred instead of looking for a needle in a haystack.
Last week I left off in Connecticut. From there, I took the Metro North commuter train 42 miles into New York City. I was running late to the station and ended up hopping on the train just seconds before the doors closed. I had no time to buy a ticket from the machine or counter. So I learned the hard way that Metro North has increased their fares for tickets purchased onboard. The last I heard, it was $2 extra per ticket but it cost me $5.25 extra (per person). That hurt because the fare to go from South Norwalk to Grand Central Terminal is $9.25 (off peak) – that’s a 56.76% mark-up. Here’s a link to Metro North’s websiteso you can check fares and schedules.
NEW YORK CITY TO JFK
I was on the Upper East Side and needed to get to JFK. Choices were: a helicopter for $159, plus tax and it leaves from 34th Street or Wall Street and not frequently. Taxi : $45, plus tolls and tip. Or a car service: I use Dial 7 (212-777-7777) or Carmel (212-666-6666). These car services are $3 more ($48) than a taxi TO JFK but $5 less FROM JFK ($40). Other pluses: you can pay by credit card and the vehicles are more comfortable. TIP: Don’t pay for the $5 “luxury” car upgrade that they will offer. I never do and still always get the luxury vehicle — it’s a Town Car.
There were still more economical choices left: The bus for $15 or the subway/train for $7. Since I pack light and didn’t want to deal with traffic, I took the latter. It’s not for everyone because it requires a bit of walking and it’s not that easy to figure out.
RANDOM EDITORIAL: How New York City, the best city in the world, still hasn’t stepped up to the plate like its European and Asian counterparts and offer a no-hassle, nonstop train service to/from the airport is beyond comprehension. However, they’re making baby steps towards improved public transportation when they introduced the AirTrain a few years ago that goes part way to JFK.
I took the 6 train ($2) to 51st street. I walked underground two blocks to 53rd Street to the E line (it’s a free transfer so don’t go outside). I’ve done this countless times but it was my first time since last summer and I was stoked to see that they’d upgraded the old, depressing, screeching E train car with a brand new one. This had the stops posted, it was much quieter, cleaner, and seems wider than even the normal subway cars. The E takes about 30 minutes to get across Queens to the plush Jamaica Station. Once there, just follow the signs to the AirTrain ($5) about a 100-yard walk and take the elevator up. The 5- to 20-minute ride connects to all the terminals and the rental car lot. The whole trip from the Upper East Side took me one hour and 15 minutes door to door. BTW: HopStop’s directions are perfect.
FYI: My ticket on American Airlines to L.A. cost just $119 with tax! Those fares are still available even on a last-minute basis (but they will probably go up after June 16th). However, I ended up spending a lot more because I decided to take advantage of my American Gold status (you have to fly at least 25,000 actual air miles on American in a calendar year). Since it was my birthday week, I upgraded to business class. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any upgrade coupons left in my account so it cost me $150. But considering a one-way, walk-up business class ticket is $2,243, it was a great deal. Having that extra space to work or stretch out on a five-hour, 30-minute flight can sometimes be priceless. The downside: The flight attendants fatten you up with a three-course meal: salad, chicken pot pie/open face steak sandwich, ice cream sundae, chocolate chip cookies, and Ghirardelli chocolate. The flight attendant (Kristin) working my side was a star so kudos to her for being so friendly and attentive.
I’m an Internet junkie and I love having Wi-Fi in the sky. I think I was one of the first to use it back in 2006 when Connexion by Boeing had it on a few foreign airlines. Back then, I was on a SAS flight from Newark to Copenhagen and I was Skype-ing my friends over the Atlantic, which freaked them (and me!) out! These days, the airlines block Skype and other VOIP so no talking on the plane, which is a good thing. After Connexion went out of business, Aircell stepped in and they’ve started offering Internet service called Gogo since last year and it’s now on many domestic airlines. The only airline that offers it for every flight is Virgin America. American Airlines is starting to make it increasingly more available and they charge $12.95 for flights longer than three hours; $9.95 for flights under three hours. It’s easy to use. Just register, put in your credit card information and voila! It had all my data stored from when I used it last August and in a few clicks, I was surfing the net. The speed was surprisingly fast – faster than the service I get from Time Warner in New York City. The only downer – I couldn’t send Outlook mail out (maybe I need to change a setting? Does anyone know?) Anyway, it’s highly recommended especially if you want to make a five- hour, 30-minute flight go by fast.
Everyone asks me: Don’t you get sick of traveling? I don’t because I pack light, never have to wait for my bags to come out at baggage claim (or wonder if they won’t!) and I cruise through security. The only thing I don’t like is being delayed, which hasn’t happened too often except this past week. I purposely chose American’s 2pm departure so I would miss JFK’s late afternoon congestion but wouldn’t you know it – the plane kept getting delayed due to mechanical issues. I’m perfectly happy to wait for a safer flight but it does get annoying when they keep announcing a departure time and there’s no plane at the gate. We ended up being delayed two and a half hours and the taxi at 4:30pm took another 55 minutes. The good news is I just received an unsolicited email from American, apologizing for the inconvenience and adding 5,000 miles to my AAdvantage account. I emailed their star PR woman to see if this was typical and she said that: American Airlines proactively reaches out to its customers on flights such as yours. We try to reach all customers although sometimes we are unable to do so as we do not have their contact information. TIP: Register for every frequent flier program out there so you can get rewards like these.
While in L.A. my cousin Dennis and one of my best friends Kevin O’Connor threw me an impromptu birthday brunch for a few of my west coast friends and family. You know you are getting old when your birthday parties have evolved into brunches! Also, thanks to JoelleLederPhotography.com for taking the pics.
MIAMI TO COSTA RICA
A couple of months ago, I was invited to go the grand opening of the JW Marriott Guanacaste (more details about it next week). I was really bummed when I saw my itinerary had me flying Miami to San Jose (Costa Rica), then waiting three hours in their not-much-of-an-airport to take a 12-seater Cessna to Liberia. I knew that some airlines were flying nonstop into Liberia (American from Miami, Continental from Houston, and Delta from Atlanta) so I was puzzled why they had me flying into San Jose. It turns out it was much cheaper ($500) to make the connection.
I despise those small planes and all week, I monitored the weather because I was seriously considering not going if it was storming. When I arrived at Miami International Airport, I decided to at least ask about the nonstop to Liberia. I had a first-class ticket and I told the agent I would give up the plush seat for the nonstop flight even if it meant I had to sit on the toilet. Fortunately, I had one of American Airlines’ coolest agents (Ana Fernandez). She understood my fear and changed my ticket since there were still plenty of seats. Luckily, I’d gotten to the airport early because the Liberia flight departs an hour earlier than the one to San Jose. It never hurts to ask and basically, Ana changed my whole trip. Not only did I get to miss out on the white-knuckle flight over the bumpy mountains but I arrived six hours ahead of schedule so I had more time to enjoy the resort.
MIAMI TO LIBERIA
Flight time on the beat-up looking 737 was two hours and 24 minutes. The movie player broke midstream and the seats were old and the plane was pretty dirty but we made it safely and I was happy as can be. BTW: The meal they served in first-class (filet mignon or salmon) was pretty darned good and the salad was extremely fresh. We flew over the Florida Keys and then hugged the coast of Costa Rica. TIP: Sit on the left-hand side of the plane for a better view.
Next week, we check into the JW Marriott Guanacaste!