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TRAVEL BRIEFCASE

FlyMiwok launches private air service in Southern California

The company will fly passengers between more than 28 municipal and commercial airports from Santa Barbara south to San Diego and as far east as Las Vegas.

November 07, 2009|Hugo Martin

The recession continues to pummel the nation's airlines, but that has not stopped a couple of local entrepreneurs from launching an air service for traffic-weary Southern Californians.

FlyMiwok is not an airline. It's more like an air-taxi company that can fly passengers between more than 28 municipal and commercial airports from Santa Barbara south to San Diego and as far east as Las Vegas.

For example, if you need to get from West Los Angeles to Palm Springs for a business meeting, you can go to the website at www.flymiwok.com to reserve a flight on a luxury Cirrus SR22 single-engine plane to make the trip in less than an hour, going from Santa Monica Airport to Palm Springs International Airport.

By automobile, the journey is a four-hour round trip, in light traffic conditions.

Another alternative is to jump on a regularly scheduled flight from Los Angeles International Airport and deal with the parking hassles, security lines and baggage checks for a 50-minute nonstop flight that will cost you about $1,200.

On FlyMiwok, the prices vary by distance, but on average a flight from Santa Monica Airport to Palm Springs International Airport will cost about $1,950. You can cut the cost by splitting the ride with other passengers.

But the biggest advantage to getting a private flight is that you avoid the delays and hassles of an airline flight. This service is likely to appeal to wealthy business owners who detest delays and have the money to pay for a private flight.

Charter air companies are nothing new. But FlyMiwok lets an online reservation system eliminate the need to call several private pilots and charter companies to make reservations and get a price quote.

The business is the brainchild of Gad Barnea, a former Israeli Air Force air traffic controller and a Silicon Valley software entrepreneur.

It has not all gone as planned. Barnea attempted to launch the business last year but had to delay takeoff after his partner -- an aviation company operator -- went out of business.

Barnea has a new partner, Tom Bressan, head of Santa Ana-based New Vectors Aviation. The operation will begin modestly, with two planes and six pilots. But Bressan hopes to add an airplane each month for the next 14 months, plus at least two dozen pilots.

How can this business succeed when major airlines are struggling to stay in business?

Barnea hopes the prices will remain competitive because the pilots and planes will be hired on an as-needed basis. Also, he expects demand for the service to surge as long-distance commuting grinds to a halt amid Southern California's notorious traffic congestion.

"We want to be there to offer customers an alternative that they didn't have before," Barnea said.

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Fear of flying? This may help

Can an application on an electronic hand-held gadget really change your life?

Whoopi Goldberg says it can. The Academy Award-winning actress and co-host of ABC's "The View" claimed her fear of flying kept her off airplanes until she tried an application developed for Virgin Atlantic Airways for the iPod and the iPhone called Flying Without Fear.

"The program works, I was a skeptic," she said in a statement.

The Flying Without Fear "app" cost $4.99 and uploads onto iPod and iPhone devices.

The program begins with an introduction from Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Atlantic's president, and includes a video-based explanation of a flight, frequently asked questions, relaxation exercises and fear therapy, plus a "fear attack" button with breathing exercises for emergencies.

There may be one snag to this program: Most airlines make passengers put away all electronic devices during takeoff and landing. If you feel a panic attack coming on during takeoff, you're going to have to wait until the plane reaches cruising altitude before you can switch on your iPhone to begin your breathing exercises.

But if Whoopi can do it, so can you.

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Another option for hungry fliers

With struggling airlines eliminating onboard freebies such as blankets and meals, it's a wonder that some carriers are still giving out free soft drinks and peanuts.

Hungry airline passengers have two alternatives:

* Lug a sack full of chips, sandwiches, nuts and other snacks through the security screening process and risk getting your Doritos crushed in the process.

* Wait to buy your food at the airport or on the plane and pay $3 for a bag of chips, $8 for a sandwich and $10 for a chicken salad.

But now a Chicago business that makes box meals and snacks for schools and airlines is hoping to offer a third alternative.

GoPicnic is now testing the sales of box meals at retail stores at Chicago's O'Hare and Midway airports, at New York's JFK and LaGuardia airports and at the Indianapolis International Airport. The meals are already available for sale online at www.gopicnic.com. If retail sales take off, GoPicnic hopes to offer the box meals at airports across the country, said Paul Friedman, a senior sales account manager for GoPicnic.

To be fair, these box meals are not the kind of hearty repast that will make you pat your belly and loosen your belt a notch. But the meals -- including small containers of salami, turkey, hummus or tuna, as well as cheese, fruit, nuts and crackers -- will hold most people over during a two- or three-hour flight.

The GoPicnic meals sell for $6 to $7, depending on the ingredients, but the airport retailers are free to discount the packages to better compete with the $8 airline sandwich.

Other advantages of the meals: You can buy them after you get through security screening, so you don't have to run your salami through the X-ray machine. Also, the food is specially packaged to last several months without refrigeration, so it won't spoil during your wait at the gate -- even if your flight is delayed two or three hours.

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hugo.martin@latimes.com

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