“Come fly the Friendly Skies.” – United Airlines commercial, circa 1987

Diddy isn’t the only celebrity flying commercial these days. In the past 2 months, I’ve seen Eva Mendes, Ron Howard, Paula Abdul and Carson Kressley – either inflight or at the airport.

I think Brian Grazer was traveling with Ron Howard, but I couldn’t tell for sure. It’s a big no-no to gawk in the Admirals Club VIP lounge; but apparently he was enjoying the complimentary salad bar while bypassing me and that lovely platter of warm goat cheese crostini.

Jeanine was with me on that trip. We were returning from vacation (and my year-end mileage run) and I remember thinking, wow; times must be tough. While some might argue that Ron Howard isn’t exactly A-List, he is at least a thousand times richer than Carson Kressley (sorry, Carson!) and yet, here he was flying with the masses out of JFK. It reminds me of the time that Glenn Close had a middle seat on JetBlue!

Are all these celebs feeling the economic crunch just like the rest of us? The LA Times thinks so:

Stars really are just like us. Celebrities and other VIP types increasingly are bypassing snazzy fuel-guzzling private jets for something less glamorous, maybe even flying — can you believe it? — coach.

Sean “Diddy” Combs recently made a splash on the Internet when he waved his coach-class ticket for a video camera and greeted surprised fellow travelers on an American Airlines flight, complaining that lofty fuel costs had grounded his private jet. Combs’ publicists later said that the video was a spoof to dramatize high oil prices and that, since Combs was only a part owner, the jet was never actually grounded.

For the rest of us, the high cost of flying has wiped the smile off the friendly skies, propelling a wholesale lowering of expectations among travelers…

Even though oil is well off its record highs, bringing the U.S. average gas price for self-serve regular to about $3.05 a gallon, the average price of the high-octane fuels used by small aircraft is about $5.35 a gallon but can cost nearly $9 at some airports, according to AirNav.com, which provides data to help pilots plan flights.

It continues on, so click over to learn why Michelle Williams (the former Destiny’s Child member) isn’t ashamed to be flying with the people these days.

Of course, they’re not all flying coach. Eva Mendes was snuggled into a business class window seat; adequately buffered by her entourage on a direct flight from JFK to Rome until she signed autographs 30 minutes before landing. Until then, I didn’t even realize it was her…although I remember making a note to self when the skinny girl declined the warm mixed nuts. Size zeros always pass on the nuts.

I’ve been traveling for work for over a decade and I’ve seen more celebs in the last few months than in all my-road-warrior-years combined. What do you think? Is it really a sign of the times or just chance?

Photo credit: stock.xchng.