By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Already we've seen some wild examples of how that power can be abused. The press had a field day recently with the story of 50-year-old U.S. Army Colonel Kassem Saleh, the so-called "Casanova Colonel" who romanced and proposed to 50 different women he had contacted through Internet dating sites, luring them all with his "intoxicating" prose, according to one would-be fiancée ("more romantic than Shakespeare or Yeats," she gushed).
But the Casanova Colonel was never able to fly out of Afghanistan on the weekends to actually meet any of the cyber-flings in his harem. Barry, on the other hand, claims he scored weekend stayovers with 14 of the women he met online during the course of his first 12 months with America West.
Sargent is intrigued when told about the airline bachelors mixing online dating with free flying. "It's almost more power than any geek should be allowed to have," he shudders. To the average lonely computer nerd, actually flying to meet all the Internet babes you cyber-flirt with is a little like stepping out of The Matrix.
Of course, even for a major click-and-go player like Barry, poetic justice sometimes rears its ugly head. When America West first announced it had finalized a code share agreement with Hawaiian Airlines last October, allowing employees to fly nonstop out of Phoenix to the islands for a nominal interline fee, Barry was immediately on his computer, searching for words like "Maui," "Kauai" and "Molokai."
He came across a picture of a beauty in Oahu who was way beyond what he was hoping for: a drop-dead gorgeous island girl wearing a flower in her long, flowing dark hair and a skimpy white bikini over her toned, tanned body.
"I sent her an e-mail with my picture attached, never expecting in a million years to hear back from her," Barry recalls. To his astonishment, however, he did. The beauty wrote back several times, in fact, each time encouraging the eager traveler to look her up when he got into town. When she finally sent him a phone number and told him to call her as soon as his plane touched down, Barry was packed and running to Phoenix Sky Harbor.
In retrospect, he should have called the number before he was standing at the passenger pickup lane at Honolulu International Airport. "It turned out to be the phone number for an adult massage service, where she was apparently one of the girls," Barry grimaces. Did the played player at least indulge in her services? "I didn't even have enough money for a rental car, by the time I found a hotel," he says. "I had to take the bus!"
It was somewhere about an hour into his lumbering ride with Oahu Transit Services that Barry began to see the humor in spending the first half of his two days in paradise picking up downtrodden working stiffs clocking out at the local Wal-Mart and McDonald's.
"I guess I kinda had that coming to me," he nods.
Irish sits quietly at an umbrella-shaded table outside Mill's End Espresso, pensively stirring the ice in her chilled cappuccino.
Unlike many of her single male co-workers, Trish says she hasn't been exploiting her flight benefits on scores of online love finds. But being able to fly free has allowed Trish to develop a number of "serious" long-distance relationships -- including the one she's currently involved in.
"One of the reasons I started at America West was because I was dating a guy who moved to San Francisco," she recalls. "We tried going back and forth to see each other for a couple months, but it was just getting to be too much. Neither of us could afford it. So I took a part-time job at the Reservations Center, and that's how it started. I'd fly to see him on the weekends, or he'd use my buddy passes' to fly down here."
Later, Trish started dating another young guy who left Phoenix to attend college in Pennsylvania. "And it worked out perfect for me," she says. "If I wanted to go out and see him, I could hop on a plane. But I didn't have to see him all the time. In a lot of ways, I think I preferred that to having a relationship with someone in town."
Indeed, while her male co-workers were discovering the macho joys of jet-setter serial dating, Trish had stumbled upon a Cosmo-worthy secret to turning the average couch potato boyfriend into a regularly rechargeable romantic prom date.
"What I found is the relationship becomes kind of exciting," she says. "Because you're only seeing him every two weeks, so that weekend is always perfect. He knows he only has a couple of days with you until he sees you again, so he always makes the most of it." She laughs. "Then you get to go back home!"
Lately, however, Trish has been reevaluating her dating technique. Even with her seven years of employment, Trish has seen just a few too many tearful co-workers packing up their office knickknacks and handing over their badges in the last two years to feel secure in her job. It's hard for anyone who's become accustomed to free travel to give up that primo perk, Trish agrees. But when your relationship is literally dependent upon hanging on to that coveted ID badge, just opening the latest company-wide e-mail from the CEO can trigger a panic attack.