Flying High on Air Freelandia

Voyages around this shrunken planet are not all they are cut out to be. "The friendly skies" are anything but nowadays, as people claw for dwindling seats on jets, ticket prices soar, and the plastic fantastic atmosphere on board commercial airliners distinctly resembles that of a swingles bar.

An alternative to this needless American madness emerged last August in the form of a legitimate and remarkably inexpensive air travel club called Freelandia. Started from the personal pocket of a longhaired ex-Wall Street millionaire, the California-based club donates its profits to charity, serves organic foods, offers bargain-priced crosscountry and trans-Atlantic flights, and promises a safe landing.

After paying an initial $25 membership fee, Freelandians can fly from Newark, N.J., to Los Angeles for $87, about $90 less than a coach seat on a commercial airliner. Flying Freelandia roundtrip from Newark to Miami, Fla., saves members about $70; to New Orleans, La., $74; and to Hawaii, $212.

Freelandia flies several times monthly to Acapulco, Chicago, Brussels, San Francisco, and Mazatlan, among other cities. A spring flight involving Boston is also planned.

Yellow DC 8 and you may end up showing home movies of the flight. "It's an incredible party," said one member from San Diego, Calif. "I always arrive knowing everyone on the plane, and last time I flew east a couple of people started in with guitars and bongos and everybody danced all over the plane. It's hard to believe that someone has finally done something like this. Once in L.A. I waited a week to get a flight on Freelandia, 'cause once you fly this way, it's really hard to put up with the bullshit of other airlines."

The atmosphere on board Freelandia's jet is similar to that of a tribal celebration. Vegetarian meals, organic breads, homemade soups, cheeses, and wines and beers are served which go down and out immeasurably better than the cellophane-wrapped, insignia stamped Salisbury steaks of the more constipated commercial airlines.

During flights, passengers wander up and down the aisles talking, drinking and listening to piped-in rock music; Pong machines, backgammon and chess boards, and a giant denim pillow are strewn about the plane, which has no class sections. Stewardesses and stewards, who walk and talk like real people, wear ultra-violet Flash Gordon-type outfits and berets with the black and white Freelandia insignia of an open hand. What's more, they remain in their original clothes throughout the flight, thus eliminating those strange airborne fashion shows.

Freelandia's founder, is 30-year-old Kenneth Moss, a resurrected middle-class kid from Long Island and two-time dropout at Syracuse U. And self-made millionaire at age 26. Moss bought stocks in disposable thermometers after he left Syracuse and rode the crest of one of the wildest, wealthiest stock market waves in history.

After pocketing several million, he cleared out shortly before the decline, spurred by the sagacity of his three-year-old niece. Moss was spending his days on the telephones in his $850-a-month Park Ave. apartment, or gliding around New York in his Rolls Royce. One day his niece cornered him and snapped, "talking, talking, talking, but you're never DOING anything."

He figured she was right. He sold out, put his money in a bank, and went to Spain to be a holy man. That didn't take, so he bummed barefoot around the world for several years in counterculture style, and then settled down in California with a 21-year-old women named Darcy Flynn.

Moss hit upon the Freelandia idea one rainy night while sitting in his cottage in Malibu. With Flynn, who is now his co-partner, he mused on the pleasures of Bali and how great it would be to go. Well, with millions in the bank and a lot of other people who wouldn't mind going along, why not?

The idea took hold, and Moss and Flynn spent a year and $1.5 million in a mind-mangling fight to get a plane, a license to operate from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and landing rights at major airports.

A newcomer to the intricacies of buying a jet, Moss was swindled out of $45,000, spent another $125,000 on a jet that turned out to be a dud, invested $400,000 in cash, and finally bought a six-year-old DC 8 from National Airlines for $750,000.

Moss cut his hair to avoid a hippy image, and scrapped the original name of "Air Liberation" which he thought would sound too political. "Freelandia" was adopted, inspired by the mythical land of Fredonia in the Marx Brothers' movie "Duck Soup."

Freelandia received its license to operate from the FAA on August 7, 1973. Because it is an air club and not an airline, Freelandia is not subject to the Civil Aeronautics Board's now-skyrocketing uniform commercial rates. Hence the bargain.