By Ray Stern
By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
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By Stephen Lemons
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"I can see how other guys might be jealous," he admits with a laugh. "I mean, for the last seven years, I've been able to lead this life where I can date a girl in L.A., I can date a girl in New York, or Mexico. You can go wherever you want -- for free, with no restrictions -- whenever you're not working."
Of course, making connections with a different girl in every port can be a challenge. "I had a friend in New York City who set me up on some dates," Jerry says. "Another time I flew down to Acapulco, and I met a woman who worked for America West there, and we started dating."
But Jerry does it the hard way, says Don, an older, single-again administrative exec who began working for America West immediately after his divorce, at age 40. Feeling lost in the new singles market, Don flew solo during his first month of travel eligibility with the airline -- until he discovered that there were attractive, available women in every city he wanted to visit, just waiting right there on his computer.
"The first time I used my flight benefits, I went to Vegas by myself, then the next weekend, I took a day trip to San Francisco," recalls Don. "And it was beautiful, walking along the piers. But I kept thinking how romantic it would have been if I had been with somebody. Then on the flight home, I sat next to this woman from Chicago who told me she was returning from a date she made with a guy on the Internet. Turns out she worked for United [Airlines] in Chicago. And it suddenly hit me, like Boing!' I could make dates with women all over the country on the Internet, and actually fly in and have them chauffeur me around!"
For Don and the handful of other single male co-workers he's since divulged his Hef-worthy secret to, the combination of online dating and free flying has proved to be pure horndog heaven.
"It's always such a romantic thing to women," he marvels. "Just the fact that you're traveling 500 or 600 miles to see them. Even though for us, it's cheaper than driving your car across town!"
Indeed, for Don and his pals, life sounds a bit like a B-movie version of You've Got Mail: savvy users of online matchmaking services who know how to woo a woman in every city -- and who have the free pass to person-to-person booty calls in more than 80 destinations throughout North America.
"The thing about dating someone in another city is you don't have the typical commitments," says Don. "You don't have to see them every other day or every weekend -- only when you tell them you can fly. So it's kind of on your terms."
And if the relationship fizzles out after the initial face-to-face meeting (as is often the case with online romances), hey -- even better.
"A lot of times when you meet someone online, you never get beyond that first date," Don allows. "But that's okay, because at the very least you get to see a new city -- and get shown around it by an attractive woman who lives there. So she knows all the best clubs, the best restaurants, and all the cool, non-touristy places to go. So you always get at least one great night out of it!"
For the frequent-flying America West bachelor, flight benefits are sometimes the least of his advantages.
Guys boast of weekend stays in exciting cities that cost them no more than the price of a dinner. One 46-year-old divorcé talks about a sex-filled two nights in Salt Lake City that merely put him back $6 -- he decided to treat his tour guide to ice cream after she drove him up to check out the Sundance Film Festival in Park City. A younger man talks about a Saturday night in Manhattan where he purposely played the toad so that the Internet date he was meeting would buy dinner. "Women do that when they want to send the message that it's not going any further," he reveals. "Which was fine with me -- she took me to an expensive place."
In their defense, these unapologetic fly guys insist that making and taking full advantage of willing connections in different cities is the only way they can truly live the life of James Bond on an Austin Powers budget.
"A lot of people don't understand that, yeah, you get the free flight benefits, but you still can't afford to go somewhere every weekend," says Scott, another young single who works on the same floor as Jerry. "You can't get a rental car, get a hotel and spend money in a different city all the time. A lot of America West employees are just staying home watching TV on the weekends, because they can't afford the regular expenses of a trip above the cost of the flight."
The answer, curiously enough, is dating. "When you know someone in a city, it saves a ton of money," says Scott. "Because they pick you up at the airport, they drive you around all weekend -- and if you're lucky," he adds with a wink, "they give you a place to stay."