Allegiant is America's stealth airline. If you live in a city where it flies, you've probably heard of it. Otherwise, no. Allegiant does almost no national marketing.

So we are lucky to have this low fare airline serving Roanoke.

Unlike most other airlines, Allegiant flies only certain days of the week. For most of the year, we have two flights a week to Sanford, outside of Orlando, and St. Peterburg, across the bay from Tampa. Allegiant saves money by flying into underserved airports like Sanford and St. Pete.

There's no connecting to other cities. There's no first class, but it is a comfortable flight on updated full-size jet aircraft. No free anything on board.

To make the most of your dollar, keep some things in mind:

- You'll pay an extra fee of $10-$15 per flight to book online or on the phone. The only way to avoid that is buy your ticket at the airport. And there's a catch there: Allegiant is open for ticket sales only when there's a flight leaving and their staff is at the counter. That's four hours per week, and that's it. (My theory is that this policy enables Allegiant to advertise the lowest fare but to make it inconvenient to get it. Still, even with the surcharge, Allegiant is almost always the least expensive way to go.)

- There's a surcharge for using a credit card: $4. Save it by using a debit card.

- There's a charge to board first or to reserve seat assignments. If sitting together is essential, you'll want to pay for seat assignments when you buy your ticket. Otherwise, at the counter, the computer will choose your seat and there's no negotiating. I never pay for a seat assignment. Recently, by luck of the draw, the computer gave me my favorite seat, by the window in an exit row with extra leg room.

- If you plan to take luggage, it will cost less if you pay in advance. And something recent: if your carry-on is not going to fit under the seat in front of you, you'll pay a fee to stow it overhead.

- Be careful when you buy your ticket. My experience is that several months out, fares are as high as $198 one way. Later they can drop as low as $59. I have bought seats to Florida for $29. Keep an eye on the trend.

It can be a little complicated to go Allegiant if you're used to the rules on the "normal" airlines. But the discount can make it all worth it.

Oct. 29, 2013

When I travel, I try to see how my fellow Jews live and worship.  I have been to synagogues, or the remains of them, in the Caribbean, all over Europe and parts of Asia.  I have worshiped with the small Jewish communities of Beijing, China and Timisoara, Romanie.

We're going to Israel for the first time next March, and I'll write about that.

On our visit to Georgia, we took a side trip to the beautifully restored Rabati Castle. I asked if we could stop at the synagogue down the hill in the town of Akhaltsikhe.

Our van reached the building at sundown and there was no sign of life.  Our host was determined to get us in.  He found a man who knew the son of the caretaker.  The son went to the supermarket to retrieve Mr. Levy, the man with the keys.

It is a lovely synagogue that could seat 200.  The congregation has 15 of the sacred scrolls, the Torah, including one that is 500 years old.  15 scrolls for the eight members of the congregation.

Akhaltsikhe was a thriving Jewish community until 1989, when Georgia was still part of the Soviet Union and Mikhail Gorbachev allowed Jews to leave the country.  Hundreds of thousands moved to Israel, leaving a few families behind in communities that used to teem with Jewish life.  In Akhaltsikhe, that number has shrunk to eight, and it will almost certainly be at zero in a few years.

Folks drive three hours from the capital Tbilisi every few weeks to worship with the Jews of Akhaltsike, keeping the flame burning.

Stories like this abound in eastern Europe.  It makes one happy to know that Jews of the Soviet era have enjoyed a generation of freedom.  It's a bit sad that that has happened at the expense of the Jews who remained behind, their synagogues and the centuries of living, mostly in peace, amid the Christians, Muslims and others of their home countries.

Oct. 16, 2013

I was in Georgia on Friday and Georgia on Saturday. Two very separate Georgias, you understand.

We flew through Atlanta on our way to Tbilisi, the capital of the nation of Georgia, which was, until 1991, part of the Soviet Union.

Even now, because of a military dust-up in 2008, Russia occupies two provinces of Georgia, claiming that the Russians were not being treated nicely in those provinces. This rankles the Georgians.

I was there on a U. S. government-sponsored exchange to share ideas with a small television station in Borjomi, a couple of hours drive from the capital.