Laid Back and Still Lovely

Article excerpt

Byline: By John von Radowitz

John von Radowitz flies a new 'low cost' business-class route to southern California for a luxury weekend break in style

RECENT wildfires may have caused widespread devastation across southern California, but judging by my visit earlier in the year, they won't have destroyed the laid-back charm and superb hospitality this region has to offer.

As residents return to their homes and the cost of rebuilding adds up, tourism chiefs in LA and San Diego are keen to point out that the area is once again open for business.

Downtown and hotel districts were unaffected and are keen to welcome back visitors, while all the major tourist attractions - of which there are plenty - remain intact and as exciting and appealing as ever.

To tempt you further, one of the usual deterrents for British visitors - the long slog of a flight - could be a thing of the past.

Flights from London to Los Angeles take more than 11 hours, and that much time squeezed into a densely-packed steel tube 35,000 feet above ground is not a pleasant experience.

Of course, captains of industry, pop stars, some celebrities and anyone who can afford it can escape economy class.

But most of us would think twice before parting with more than pounds 2,300 for a round trip to LA, especially for a short visit. That's the cost of a premier economy seat on British Airways; flying Club costs much more.

Now, however, there's an alternative. Maxjet, one of three all-business class airlines operating from the UK, has launched a pioneering new route to bring southern California within range of a luxury weekend break.

The first airline to fly to LA from Stansted, Maxjet calls itself a "low cost" business-class airline. It means that avoiding the economy crush on a Maxjet plane is cheaper than on one of the major airlines.

But the concept of value is all-important here. Is a Maxjet flight to LA a sufficiently pleasant experience to justify paying more than you would for a cut-price economy seat? In short, is it good value? The answer is an emphatic yes.

A round trip to California by Maxjet costs as little as pounds 700, and that's not a special promotional offer for a limited period only.

I guarantee you will be surprised by the luxury and standard of service.

Stepping aboard the Boeing 767 wide-bodied jet, you can't help but smile at the sight of so much space around chunky fat seats upholstered in dark-blue leather. I'm six feet tall and of lanky build, but at full stretch, even my long legs were several inches away from the seat in front.

The cabin crew were polite, attentive, and good humoured, and food was high quality. Generally, the atmosphere was reassuringly relaxed, and after watching a couple of films (from a selection of about 20 on the portable viewer), sleep came easily.

When I awoke, most of the 5,400 miles between London and LA had melted away, and soon we were on the ground. Time to don the shades and head out into the sunny Californian weather - a curse of late to the locals, but a blessing to holidaymakers.

On the drive to our hotel, a tune popped into my head, the old Burt Bacharach classic "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?" Then I realised why. The song contains the line "LA is a great big freeway", and there was never a truer statement.

You do need wheels in LA. A rudimentary subway and light-rail system radiates from the Downtown area, but few people use it. Here the automobile rules, preferably with a snarling engine and drop-down top.

Los Angeles is actually a collection of districts and communities covering 470 square miles, and bearing names made famous in film and song, such as Hollywood, Beverley Hills, Bel-Air, San Fernando Valley ("The Valley"), Sunset Strip and blaze-hit Malibu. …