Circling the World in Truly High Style

Rohit Khare (
Sun, 8 Jun 1997 17:29:02 -0400

Travel: Circling the World in Truly High Style
By Susan Carey Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal
The hottest ticket in air travel today is one-way -- around the world.

Companies that arrange plane trips that circle the globe, or cover
large parts of it, are finding no shortage of "destination collectors"
willing to plunk down $20,000 to $50,000 a person to spend two to four
weeks traveling on a private jet with a small group of like-minded
strangers -- people like Chuck Goodwin, who last month took a 25-day
air tour with stops in Mexico, Peru, Easter Island, Tahiti, New
Zealand, Australia, Bali and Hawaii.
In a lifetime of boarding planes, Mr. Goodwin had never found his name
above a first-class seat or a welcome-aboard feast replete with ice
sculpture and oysters on the half shell. He found both when he and his
wife boarded the chartered L-1011 jet in Dallas with 67 other
travelers. Cost for the couple: $61,600. "You can't take it with you,"
says Mr. Goodwin, a retired electric-utility executive from St. Helens,
Since such trips are unaffordable by most Americans, this rarefied
segment of the travel industry is decidely a niche market -- but a
niche that is growing. "We've noticed in the past two years that our
round-the-world air tours sold out quickly and that there was a waiting
list," says Janet McKenzie of Travel Corp. of America, which is based
in Newport Beach, Calif., and has offered one globe-circling trip a
year since 1980. This year, Travcoa is also offering a 16-day tour
around the Pacific.
The Goodwins' trip was arranged by Intrav Inc. of St. Louis, which
chartered the L-1011 from Amtran Inc.'s American Trans Air. Intrav has
four luxury air tours this year, up from three last year. American
Trans Air, which has two all-first-class L-1011s available for charter,
says it flew two luxury trips last year but will triple that number
this year and operate nine or more in 1998.
Round-the-world trips are also offered by Air France and British
Airways on their supersonic Concordes. By Concorde or L-1011, these
trips rival luxury-liner ocean cruises but are quicker and less
expensive. Penthouse suites on the fanciest ships can cost $100,000 a
person or more, and a round-the-world cruise takes three months.
"Three months on a ship and I'd be ready to jump overboard," says James
Hunter, a surgeon from Northfield, Ill. "My life is too busy." But Dr.
Hunter has found the time to take two round-the-world air trips, an air
tour around Africa and the recent trip with the Goodwins.
Another passenger on that trip, Mark Talve, who lives in Manhasset,
N.Y., and owns a steel business, says: "I could never see on my own
what they arrange to show me." He adds: "I've done my share of
traveling in coach. I'm enjoying the fruits of my labor."
The L-1011 jet enjoyed by Mr. Talve normally holds 360 economy seats
but was fitted out with just 88 blue leather sleeper seats. The back of
the plane was outfitted with 38 first-class seats clustered in fours
around tables and a stand-up bar.
Attending to passengers during 26,000 miles of flying over 25 days were
15 American Trans Air flight attendants, two Intrav "travel directors"
and, at each stop, an army of local guides, drivers and porters. The
guests stayed in the best hotels, ate gourmet meals and took exclusive
excursions. They had two railway carriages to themselves for the Andean
trip between Peru's Cuzco and Machu Picchu and explored the Great
Barrier Reef on their own ship.
Travel directors spared passengers many of the headaches of air travel.
In Honolulu, porters took their luggage to the airport separately, and
two buses took the group directly onto the airport tarmac to the
waiting plane; security checks were conducted in a private hangar.
"I'm quite independent and self-sufficient," says Dr. Hunter, the
surgeon from Illinois. "But they take care of the things I don't want
to take care of -- like luggage. And in the Third World, I don't want
to wonder if the hotel is safe."
Long before the group returned to Dallas, flight attendants knew
passengers by name and preferences. A particular brand of Scotch was
stocked just for one passenger, a particular diet soda for another. One
passenger ate only fish, another wanted sugar-free desserts. No
Friendships developed among the travelers, whose average age was 65.
"The reason these things are so popular is that you have a very similar
group," says Phil Mayer, a retired patent lawyer from Oak Brook, Ill.
Intrav says 10% of its clients are repeaters. Kathy Donald, a homemaker
from Alpharetta, Ga., won't be one of them. "I don't like tours that
last all day," she says. "I don't like regimentation." The constant
packing and unpacking wore her out. The tour, she asserts, was the idea
of her husband, Norman.
Norman Donald, a retired attorney, says mildly, "I just wanted to go to
Machu Picchu."