The Amazing Kreskin is no fan of airlines
The Amazing Kreskin is no fan of airlines

Even magicians can't fix the airlines

You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, and you don’t need a mind reader to know how miserable people are on commercial flights these days.
“Oh my God! Please, I don’t even want to think about it,” says The Amazing Kreskin, a performer who is in fact described as a mind reader, when asked about airline travel.
Kreskin, who has been flying domestically and internationally, often every week, during a busy 60-year career, calls himself an “mentalist” (a fancy word for “magician,” if you ask me) and makes no serious claim to psychic abilities, though he doesn’t hesitate to suggest otherwise. Atop his website’s homepage—beside a photo of him standing under a full moon and staring intently from behind large horn-rimmed glasses—it says, “Even now I know what you are thinking.”
Be that as it may, he’s not enough of a magician to make the problems that plague today’s airline passengers disappear. Go on, pick a card out of the big deck of complaints: delays, endless fees, long lines, missed connections, sharply reduced service to many communities, knee-crunching seats, security hassles and airport terminals that have become the only places I know of aside from yoga classes where you routinely find grown people sitting on the floor.
Top entertainers, of course, can often travel by business jet, whether on their own airplanes or on chartered aircraft. Many others, especially those who work a lot of corporate and private events as Kreskin does, also often start their journeys at Van Nuys or Teterboro, rather than at Los Angeles International Airport or Newark Liberty International Airport.
So The Amazing Kreskin (his legal name, though he was born George J. Kresge) has no problem conjuring up the various ways that flying privately, when he can do it, makes his job easier. “Corporate jets are always on time, and they have never, ever lost my luggage,” he says, adding that airlines have often misplaced his bags, including stage props and other vital items. Once, when he was working a cruise ship bound for the Bahamas, the airline that had just lost his luggage hired a boat to ferry it to him. Apparently the carrier feared bad publicity from an entertainer who has been on The Tonight Show nearly 100 times and is known for being outspoken.
When you think of Kreskin, you might be reminded of the similarly named Amazing Randi, the magician and Houdini-like escape artist, who has also often traveled on business jets. James Randi, 86, has devoted most of his time in recent decades to debunking charlatans, including allegedly “telekinesis”-endowed spoon-benders, faith healers and psychics claiming supernatural powers.
The magician—the subject of a wonderful new documentary called An Honest Liar—traveled with Alice Cooper on the elaborate “Billion Dollar Babies” concert tour in 1973 and 1974. Randi’s job was to dress as an executioner and operate a marvelous trick guillotine of his own invention that chopped off the shrieking Alice Cooper’s head in a spectacular bit of bloody stagecraft that left audiences gasping.
That was at the start of a time when major rock bands on the road were moving from tour buses to private jets—most notably the fabled lavish Boeing 707 “Starship” employed by Led Zeppelin for their tumultuous 1973 and 1975 North American tours. Rock concerts had by then become giant theatrical extravaganzas. Led Zeppelin’s act featured lasers, pyrotechnics, mirror balls and tons of other equipment. Alice Cooper’s tour, the stage centerpiece of which was a giant Egyptian statue, likewise traveled with a huge entourage and enormous amounts of equipment. Even back then, there was no question of depending on an airline to deliver the baggage on time for a sold-out concert.
“It was wonderful,” Randi recalled a few years ago in an interview in The Gauntlet, a website for heavy-metal fans. “I would ride in the front cabin with the pilot,” who would have to explain to other pilots in passing planes that the giant dollar sign emblazoned on the tail signified that the “Billion Dollar Babies” tour was on board.
There’s no such flamboyance for the much lower-key Kreskin, a trouper who soldiers away year after year with a still-popular stage act centered on feats of seeming clairvoyance and hypnotic suggestion and glorified card tricks delivered with self-deprecating patter.
Keeping that act fresh requires intense preparation and concentration during long periods on the road, says the 80-year-old entertainer. “On a commercial flight, you can’t do any of that, so I just crawl into my window seat and sleep. I go out like a light.
“On a business jet, I’m alert, awake; I’m doing all kinds of things,” he adds. “Flying private in the U.S. reminds me of something I love, which is traveling by train in Europe, where you can work at a table with your stuff, converse with the people with you. You just can’t do that on a commercial flight anymore. Some of the best business meetings I’ve ever had have taken place on a corporate jet, and a lot was accomplished even before we got to where we were going.”
A workaholic who isn’t married, Kreskin says he has never been inclined toward leisure travel, but if he were, he wouldn’t take an airline. “You kidding me? On a vacation? I would want to be on a slow boat, one with paddles to keep it going,” he insists. 


Joe Sharkey, the author of six books and a longtime BJT contributor, wrote a weekly business travel column for The New York Times for 16 years.  

 

Show comments (2)

Years ago the taxi industry in NYC was on the top of the heap...fares rising every year...scam drivers hoodwinking passengers for every cent that could obtain (especially from foreigners) Then came UBER....Hello!!!!! Industry now bankrupt. Sooner or later the airlines will be brought to their knees because someone will come along and offer something better to passengers. Then there will be lawsuits....infringement rights....and all of the other legal entanglements that American businesses try to use to push the newcomer out of business. Patience! It will come to pass.

You make a good point that someone innovative will inevitably challenge the current airline business model. However, your analogy with Uber is less than perfect. Until Uber came along, New York taxis operated as a virtual monopoly, which was created by the city licensing process, which required drivers to buy hugely expensive medallions. Airlines today enjoy no such luxury and are forced to compete for every passenger. (OK, it's not perfect competition; governments still restrict routes and prevent foreign carriers from competing freely.) The low quality of service we endure on domestic flights is largely of our own making; passengers treat air travel as a commodity and book almost entirely based on price and flight times. Given this, it's little wonder that airlines have cut the frills. Simply put, few of us are willing to pay to be treated better.

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