Honeymoon Day 8 – A Graveyard of Sorts

Tucson was fun, much better than I thought it would be. Our time there was Heidi’s idea from the start and to be honest she handled it like a trooper. She treated her avgeek husband like you would expect in this situation. You let him go and say yes dear a lot.

We spent the last two nights in Tucson at the Country Inn & Suites by the airport. Why that one? Well we were using the mountain of Club Carlson points I have and the card offers the 2nd night free on a stay, so for very little we could get a free stay. It wasn’t bad but our check in was comically bad. 3 rooms till we got one that was acceptable. It was like Goldilocks, the first room had a broken shower curtain rod, the 2nd reeked of cigarettes (non smoking hotel as well) the third was just right (and by just right I mean we could live with it). Breakfast at the hotel was basic (but they couldn’t make oatmeal to save their lives) but tasty enough. Nothing really to complain about for the price we paid.

The main reason we went to Tucson was to visit The Boneyard. I will cover more in the airlinereporter pieces about them specifically but we had fun, PIMA was great and they had way more planes than I expected. It was heaps of fun and Heidi wasn’t totally bored.  Great spotting as A-10s were always climbing out of Davis Montham (even managed to see a couple of F-16s doing touch & go’s at the main Tucson airport).

Tucson was a good break for us. We could settle in for 2 nights and relax.  The weather was nice (70s during the day) and we thawed out after the Canyon & Sedona. We also caught up with some friends of Heidi’s (well her best friends in laws) for dinner. It was apparently the birth place of the Chimichanga although I was to scared to try one (who deep frys a burrito… Seriously!). We even found a really cool ice cream shop that had old school sundaes (although as usual I chose wrong & ended up with something smaller than I wanted… Typical).

We rolled out of Tucson early this morning as the sun rose. A lot of highway ahead of us as we cruise along I-10 heading to Anaheim. Tucson was a great stop & one that I enjoyed. We will probably go back some time, there is more I want to see around that area, a good way to escape I guess.

Current Location: I-10W, Mile Marker 70, La Paz County Arizona.
States Visited: 3
Miles Driven: 1369m
Slim Jims Eaten by Heidi: 5
Cookies eaten by Mal: 35

Honeymoon Day 6 – Being Shown the Kimpton Love

I hadn’t intended on giving Sedona it’s own post, it was an in between stop for us.  A stop for us to switch off and give us a break between the Grand Canyon & Tucson. We could have driven that in one day and perhaps had an extra night in the Canyon, but we didn’t. We decided to break it up & we could see more (plus this way we avoided Phoenix).  When we originally decided to stop in Sedona we wanted to try the Kimpton, to give them one last go at keeping out business. After the incidents on the starvation, I was a little dubious about what might happen. However that need not have happened.

We made good time into Sedona & Heidi was at the wheel the whole time. We stopped at the Oak Creek Vista trailhead for a quick lunch stop. Sadly the temperature wasn’t much better than the Canyon but it was still higher at least. The quick stop gave us a chance to stretch our legs and feed our stomachs (we had packed a lunch from the morning buffet).

We rolled into Sedona around 2pm and went to the hotel first, thinking we would have a room to go to. When the Amara told us that the room wasn’t quite ready, they would look after our stuff & give us a call once it was ready but it wouldn’t be to long. So we left our stuff & the car and hiked up the hill to town. We went for a walk wondering if this was going to be a moment of truth.

When we got the call to come back, we came back down the hill to the resort, checked in & headed for our room. We were on the far side of the resort (which isn’t all that big). Our room was at the end of the left wing, on the upper floor, it didn’t look all that big from the outside & I was wondering if the upgrade didn’t happen. Then we walked in. The room was huge, I wouldn’t call it a suite but it was awesome still.  More a junior suite with a large 2 person Jacuzzi tub in the bathroom. We were in the room mere moments till we saw the Amenity.

Kimpton hotels are pretty awesome to their elites. All their entry level members get free wifi & $10 worth of bar credit (at the bar or mini bar). But as an elite (which i am till the end of this year) you also get a tailored Amenity. They will put whatever you want in your room. Like nuts & diet coke, that’s what you get. Our last Kimpton Stay was a shock because we didn’t even get our Amenity, we got someone else’s. Not this time. We walked into this:

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The hotel knew we were on our honeymoon, we had told them in advance. We had tweeted how excited we were to be staying at a Kimpton, I guess they did some research on us. They had done it right, all our snacks wer packaged up like takeaway boxes like you might get on a flight. We even had bottles of water with our names on it. We were Muir Airlines!

The amenities were spot on for us. Cookies, Fruit, Diet Coke & Water. Add on some Prosecco to celebrate our wedding & that would have been amazing on its own. The staff even wrote us a little note to say that they appreciated our stay, the kicker is what was on the TV, us. We were on TV, the TV in our room. What the hell. I remember stammering to Heidi “look at the TV”. The hotel had downloaded the YouTube video of our wedding and was playing it via a USB stick in our room.

It isn’t that often that you get to see a bug moment of your life in a hotel room in a state several hours flight time away from home. They had really done it, pretty much Kimpton had our loyalty now, one small gesture like that will keep us staying (though inner circle probably will slip). The Amara as a whole was a great hotel. Nicely furnished, not to large of a resort but not to small either, a good mix of both. The staff were great and really helped us enjoy our one night in town.

Although we didn’t do much, we still had a great time. We did go for a little explore through the trails around Sedona (and by explore I mean getting lost on some trails for an hour or so). Sedona overall is a great town, somewhere we would like to come back to spend a few days in the future. But if your thinking of going, go to the Amara, you won’t regret it, we didn’t.

Current Location: Exit 175, I-10E Arizona.
States Visited: 3
Miles Driven: 1005m
Slim Jims eaten by Heidi: 3 

Honeymoon Day 5 – From Desert Heat to Canyon Cold

After we rolled out of Vegas at 6am Saturday morning we were heading East towards Arizona. Retracing some steps I took the very first time I visited the USA though this time I was at the controls and not trying to sleep off any hangovers. The drive was stunning as the sun started rising over the mountains.

We made a pit stop in Kingman AZ for breakfast. Quick stop at the Dunkin for coffee & a bagel and back on the road we go with Heidi at the wheel.   Another pit stop in William AZ for a walk, a snack & some beverages & then North towards the Canyon. The road was easy going & our first real road day together on this trip. We were aiming to be in Grand Canyon Village by 1300 at the latest as we had a helicopter flight booked. I had applied for an industry stand by rate for one of the longer flights and it was a deal for $35pp.

We made it into town around 12 so went for a walk, grabbed some lunch & tried to check in but they wouldn’t let us. Not a big deal. We headed off to the airport for our flight. This was Heidi’s 2nd helicopter flight in as many days & she was still super excited.  I thin I have created a monster. I am going to say that the best way to get a perspective on just how vast the Canyon is you need to see it from the air.  No real commentary from our pilot bug a good flight. I was in the back with Heidi next to me on the window. Didn’t worry me at all, we only paid 1/10th the price others did.

After our flight we headed into the National Park (here’s a tip, purchase your pass at the Imax Theatre, same price, no lines & no wait at the park entrance)  and headed for the rim. Originally we were going to head to the rim around the main visitors center for sunset, however there was massive crowds, way over the top. We decided to go East towards Desert View & the sunset point out there, it would be less crowded (it was). The winds were up and the temperature had dropped dramatically. In Vegas it was in the 70s during the day, at the Canyon it was high 30s plus windchill. Ugh. We had an early night with Mexican food & TV in bed.

Woke up the next morning to a snow & ice layer on the ground. A temperature of high 20s was a rude shock. Not something you want to deal with when you are meant to be out hiking. We revised our plans after recovering from a rude awakening by the fire alarms going off at 5am (joy) and decided to just stick to the rim walk for a few kms, mainly for safety & keeping our bodies in one piece.

The Canyon walk was good & worth the hour or so we took to stroll along. At one point we came across an entire flock of Mule Deer, just wandering along as though we didn’t exist. Still really beautiful & Heidi had a blast running about amongst nature. We finished our Rim Walk by the fire thawing out at Bright Angel Lodge before Hopping the shuttle back to our car.

The Canyon is ever as beautiful as I remember it, the colors at sunset were stunning. Although we didn’t come prepared for temperatures at that level (my hands froze solid at one point & I went through considerable pain as they thawed out) we still enjoyed the time we had there. Right now we cruise out of the park headed for Sedona & our most expensive night on this trip, but hopefully the one that is going to be the most relaxing & luxurious.

Current Location: State Route 64 between Tusayan & William AZ
States Visited: 3
Miles Traveled: 777m
Slim Jims Eaten by Heidi: 3

Honeymoon Day 4… The Vegas Aftermath aka my stomach hurts

Vegas was a good couple of days. Heidi has never been before so it was a good mix of new stuff for me (on my 4th time around) and also seeing the traditional touristy things for Heidi. I picked Heidi up at the airport after the first flight in from Seattle. The flight was actually early and I made it to the terminal pretty much as she was walking off her flight. Timing it well and the 15 minutes free parking meant that I could be there as she cleared out of the secure area, scored a big hug for that. Took Heidi back to the hotel so she could get some breakfast and finish off some Uni work she didn’t quite get done and then it was off to explore Vegas.

The first thing we did was check into our hotel, the Mandalay Bay. After 2 days of searching www.mycheapvegas.com I managed to find a really good rate for a Bay Suite that was less than what other hotels were charging for a room (conferences in town and the Rock n Roll Marathon had something to do with that). But the check in process really summed up just how this hotel was either hot or cold. There was never a real middle ground, the hotel was either really good for something, or just horribly bad. The first person to check us in at the Invited Guest desk (a suite check in benefit we had, along with also the fact that my Mlife Gold status has that benefit) was borderline rude. Treated like we didn’t deserve to be there and that just put me off immediately. Had Heidi not been there I may have made a scene, one thing for certain, she didn’t get a tip (aka $20 trick). When we came back later to get our room, the person greeting us then gave us a great welcome. However even though I had made a point to make sure they knew it was our Honeymoon, no one really seemed to care.

The Mandalay had it’s good and bad parts, the rooms were large and spacious and I did love the bed (however it wasn’t to Heidi’s liking). The bathroom was large and we had a giant Tub but the room itself had three major flaws:
1. No power plugs anywhere near the bed at all, they seemed to be centered around the desk where there was an ample supply of 6 plugs
2. The lights were terribly awkward to control and were predominantly lamp based, again a pet hate of mine.
3. This one really got Heidi’s goat, but there was no coffee available in the room. Not just no supplies but no way at all in making any. Not even like MGM where they provide a Keurig machine and charge you $6 for the cup and the pod to use. Nothing at all! Way to go Mandalay Bay, you just made an enemy of my wife.

The facilities around the hotel were great, and although the main pool was closed for the winter, Moorea was more than ample for Heidi’s needs (way too crowded for me personally). Our most memorable part of the Mandalay was technically not even at the Mandalay Bay but at the Four Seasons Las Vegas. A hotel within a hotel, the Four Seasons lobby and check in are below the main casino floor but they occupy a good portion of floors towards the middle of the main tower. They do however have a hidden gem that is Charlie Palmer Steak. This isn’t your typical Vegas steakhouse where you pay $120 for a piece of steak with no sides. We opted for the set menus at $50 for 3 courses including “Bottomless Wine Pairings” it is amazing value. The “Cut of the Week” menu that I had alternates on a weekly basis but the value for money is amazing. We expected to end up with smaller portions like you may expect for a set menu (ala restaurant week) however the portions were full size. Well worth it as my Steak would normally go for $40 on its own!

Apart from the Mandalay Bay we spent quite a bit of time outside of the hotel. We spent time exploring Caesars Palace and their shops (as it has a very large H&M that Heidi wanted to check out). We also spent some time wandering through the Venetian and grabbing some treats at Carlo’s Bakery (famous from the TLC show Cake Boss). I am a sucker for a baked good and one that is from a celebrity chef. SOLD! Not bad but the Tiramasu that Heidi decided to have was quite expensive for the size. My Cookie though was super tasty. We also grabbed a couple of cup cakes from the Cupcake ATM which was a weird experience of itself. We had a good time exploring Cosmopolitan in search of their secret pizza place and it was worth it. Yummy thin pizza, New York style, and cheap too! Of course this is Vegas and what trip would not be complete without a buffet. Of course you all know Heidi and I love going to Brunch. But in Vegas, Brunch is a weekend only affair and we couldn’t have that. So we went with a breakfast buffet instead, one that we could enjoy without feeling guilty over the quality. There was many hours of research, checking out best value and best quality and in the end it came down to Aria. Their buffet even had like 9 different types of Ice Cream. We had breakfast with my friend Kevin and I think Heidi and I ate way to much food. I know I had 4 of those 9 ice cream flavors along with other tasty treats (Banana Waffle, with Bananas foster sauce and Pumpkin Ice cream is AMAZING).

I was able to get Heidi her first ride in a Helicopter (though you will have to wait till I write that up for AirlineReporter to see what she thought of it) and I also checked out the Neon Sign Museum. It was really interesting to see a good portion of Las Vegas history from all the signs that the city was just so well known for. Also a piece of interesting trivia. Put Las Vegas Neon Museum into Google Earth and see what you see when you Zoom in, you will thank me :D

We rolled out of Vegas early this morning with the overall feeling that it was a great couple of days. It really pushed in the fact to both of us that Vegas in small portions is ample enough time. You can always come back another day to see something else, because I am sure it isn’t going anywhere any time soon. We left heading further east towards Arizona and the Grand Canyon hitting up some old school Route 66 but heading into the National Parks.

Current Location: Holiday Inn Express & Suites Grand Canyon
Miles Driven: 725m
States Visited: 3
Nights on the Road: 3
Slim Jims Consumed by Heidi: 2

Honeymoon Day 1… Road, Road & More Road

This won’t be a normal trip report for one of my long vacations. Instead this will be more just random blog posts to cover what has been happening. The flights on this trip are pretty boring and average. I took Delta down to LAX, woop de doo! But some fun stuff did happen. Heidi dropped me at the airport which was rough for her because she didn’t get home from work till almost 1am. Then to have her drop me at the airport just after 5am… sorry hun! But the good thing was at that time of the morning I got from our home in Renton, through to the airport and time for a quick hug and kiss goodbye. Then checked in to drop off a bag (I had to wait in line mind you in Sky Priority behind a few people) and that was still painless.

Once through security I checked my watch and it was only 5:30am. We had walked out the door of our apartment at 5am. That is amazing! I remember when it took me at least 30 minutes to get even remotely close to Renton from my old house. That process I just described would have been a solid hour at least! Love living in Renton! My Virgin Australia Gold Expired in October, so unfortunately I am now Silver (Still get a free bag!) but for some reason Delta still thinks I’m a gold. I still have my Gold Cards as well. A quick little deflection (read lie) about the expiry date and the lounge agents let me in! SCORE!!! Not that I needed it but it was still nice to have a free coffee and avoid the large line.

Our flight down was 45 people total and it was painless. I had a full exit row to myself and lots of relaxation. We arrived 30 minutes early and then we sat on the tarmac waiting, waiting, waiting! We landed 30 minutes early and got to the gate 20 minutes late. Yep, awesome right? Way to go Delta! It was shocking when people were just getting up and down and walking the aisles while we were being held on the taxiway. That went down well! At least the bags were quick and I was at the National lot in good time (though a solid hour after I wanted to be). Then came the tough game of choice. I was trying to avoid the Impala incident from September and had strict orders from Heidi that first preference should be a Dodge Challenger. But sadly I couldn’t see any, so I ask (because it is always worth a try) and off the guy goes to the storage area to find one. Sadly they had not a single one on lot, where as that same time last year, it was all they had! O how times have changed. Instead I was tossing up between a GMC Arcadia (a car I haven’t driven before) or a Chrysler 300C (a car I have driven a few times). Called the Wife quickly and got ordered to take the 300 because she didn’t want an SUV (but she had to concede on the fact that the car had keyless start, aka Push Button). So in the car and off to Vegas it was!

I planned on stopping at a Target in Victorville to get supplies (water, snacks etc) but missed the turn off, and ended up stopping at the Walmart in Barstow instead. Then it was a matter of just sitting back and eating up the miles. Covered the drive in about 4 hours, pretty good time. The car was faultless (and i could hear this wierd sound, which i thought was in the glovebox turns out it was in the back seat and it was an empty bottle from the previous renter.. not good National!). But by the time I got to Vegas, I was starving! Crossing the border into Nevada has a new bit of scenery with a Giant Solar Power Plant dominating the landscape & then you cross the border and the first thing you see is Casinos (probably empty ones).

Driving into Vegas though is always an excitement, the skyline just screams money. Huge towers, lots of lights, neon, colors, yet the horizon is flat. Flat, Flat, Flat! Still it was good to be back, just a different experience this time since I wasn’t here to see planes (well, maybe I did get a little bit in before the sun went down). Caught up for Dinner with a friend in town for a conference at a Burger place that was really good (wouldn’t say it was the best ever, but it was really good) and then went to Jet Tila’s new Ice Cream place (and I liked it!). Asleep by 1030 on a day that had been extremely long (up at 330am to hit the gym). Needed to get my sleep as Heidi would be getting off her flight around 8:30am the next day.

Current Location: Fairfield Inn & Suites Las Vegas “Airport”
Miles Driven: 300m
States Visited: 2
Nights on the Road: 1
Slim Jims Consumed by Heidi: 0

Honeymoon Time!

Now that Heidi and I are married, it’s time for that age old tradition of the Honeymoon. We had the perfect trip originally planned for November. Heidi & I were flying off to Japan for an amazing trip to Tokyo & Osaka. Staying at amazing hotels (two nights at the Park Hyatt Tokyo) & flying home on Singapore Suites.

Sadly, we have had to cancel that trip. Why? Well it’s complicated but let’s just say that if I go overseas right now, i won’t be able to come back, thanks to a small little clause called “Dual Intent”. So knowing we couldn’t leave the country we decided to again do something different. We both love road trips, driving long distances, seeing things, old school diners on the side of the road. Could we factor that into our honeymoon?

Heidi, ever being the smart woman I love and always the instigator suggested Tucson as part of our trip. We had talked about visiting PIMA & the Boneyard. But we couldn’t just go for that. We talked about Vegas as well. Why don’t we do both? Why don’t we drive all the way there and back to LAX then we don’t lose another flight & the costs (we lost about $500 all up cancelling Japan). So then we started working out where to stop, how long for, what we wanted to do. We kept getting our plans solidified & with a wealth of points & credits available from Barclaycard , Capital One & Amex meant we could get away fairly cheaply. I have a boatload of Club Carlson points from my time working their credit card & with an offer that states that as long as I have their card every 2nd night of a stay is free when redeeming points. Score!

So in the end we decided on 2 nights Vegas, 1 night Grand Canyon (Heidi has never visited), 1 night Sedona, 2 nights Tucson, 2 nights Anaheim & 2 nights at Ontario California. When we looked into picking up the car, the taxes were extremely high. If you pick up a car in vegas, they charge you a fee of like $6 a  day, just for picking up there. Even if you were dropping off there, you still had to pay it. So I looked at picking up in LAX and driving through to Vegas. My leave was always a day ahead of Heidi’s, so I checked & the costs were certainly in our benefit. So guess who is driving the car to Vegas? Me!

Our trip doesn’t look that flashy for parts of it. Staying at Holiday Inn Express or Country Inn’s but there wasn’t much choice in some areas & the points come in handy. But we have a couple of splurge places. In Sedona I am giving Kimpton one last shot. My Inner Circle status expires end of this year & after our last try, we are going to see if this will be any better. They have an amazing looking hotel in Sedona & it’s worth giving it a try. In Vegas we found a rate at Mandalay Bay that was pretty spectacular, a suite for $70 a night, yes please!

In really looking forward to this trip. It will be the longest vacation I have taken since I moved to the USA so it should be relaxing. But it is also the first real time Heidi & I will get a chance to get away from life & relax, enjoy our married life & let our hair down.

Bring on the fun!

Introducing: Mrs. BigMal

Hi! I’m Heidi. I will be publishing occasionally on this site. You may know me as someone who likes the Seattle Seahawks, cats, and tasty food. I also like Mal kind of a lot. We got married this past weekend.

As Mal has told you, we spontaneously got engaged on a road trip to visit my college roommate. Mal’s grandma’s rings were waiting for me in Australia, but it did not seem right to call ourselves an “engaged couple” without something on my finger. We decided a trip to the mall was in order.

Something to know about me is that I have a lot of social anxiety. This surprises some people, because I am a very friendly person, and I have a very social occupation. One thing that makes me particularly uncomfortable is sales pressure. The last thing I wanted as Mal and I tried to pick out a ring for me was a salesperson in a jewelry store trying to show me a bunch of flashy diamonds that were out of our price range.

We tried looking at the bigger department stores, where there are few-to-no designated jewelry sales staff, but I really was not seeing anything I liked. It became clear that we would need to go to an actual jewelry store if I wanted to find something that would not turn my finger green. So, my roommate came up with an idea. We would pretend to be looking for a ring for our mother’s birthday, and our mother happened to have the same taste and finger shape as me.

This was very effective (at least for relieving my anxiety, if not fooling the saleswoman). I found something acceptable in sterling silver, determined the correct size, and found out they could have it ready by the next day. The problem came when it was time to pay. Mal wanted to buy the ring, but my roommate and I had not exactly worked him into our story. We decided it made the most sense if he was introduced as our brother. It look some fast thinking, but we were able to explain away his accent by claiming that, being the oldest, he had spent many years away from the United States.

So yes, our engagement began with a big, fat lie. But hey, all’s well that ends well. Here is a photo of the silly thing.

Ring

LAX Spotting

Last Saturday was awesome for the spotting. I got some amazing shots that I am really happy with. Apart from the car issues it was a good time with friends. But this is what you really want right?

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My first shot of a jetblue Mint A321 in the wild.

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The same for American.

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A British Airways A380

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Continuing the all Airbus Post with a Hawaiian A330.

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Finishing off the Airbus run with the Emirates A380.

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Starting off the Boeing side with some freighter action. ABX Air 767 with a DHL nose.

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Lufthansa 747-8I

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Transaero 767-300ER heading back to Russia.

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Etihad 777-200LR heading back on the long flight to the middle east.

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Southwest’s New Mexico One.

But the piece d’resistance Hello Kitty Sanrio Family arriving from Taipei.

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Drama!

I was going to spare my readers on another trip report down to LAX for a same day turn. I mean how boring could it be considering all I went down for was to take photos of planes, hang out with friends and eat some In n Out. I will still post the plane photos when I get around to doing them (there are lots of them, and I am still working on Dallas photos yet). However Saturday didn’t go entirely as planned with my rental car, so let me explain.

I like renting from National Car Rental. They have good service, they allow me to pick and choose whatever car I want from the lot and the rates are pretty good. My rental in LAX for the day is usually $30 all in (the taxes in LAX are beyond stupid) and I usually get a full size car, of very good quality. In the past I have had Challengers, Maximas, Chrysler 300Cs, GMC Terrain, Chevy Equinox, Mustangs, Camaros and also a Hyundai Genesis that had all of 20 miles on the clock (i put it to 28 by the end of my day with it). I have only once had a problem with a car with them and that was a Chevy Equinox that had a tyre pressure sensor issue, but that was also probably due to the humidity in Wisconsin in the summer. They gladly swapped it out for me without a hassle.

So fast forward to Saturday. Looking forward to what is on the line in LAX when I roll up and there is a lot of Full Size Sedans to choose from. There was the occasional Tahoe, Yukon and Arcadia, but mostly it was Impalas. Both the LT & the fancier LTZ version. I went with a California Plated LTZ (I thought I grabbed the Texas plated one, I was wrong). It was a pretty nice ride. Leather seats, power everything, even a GPS sat nav that was disabled. Pretty damn good looking to:

From Dorkfest 2014

It handled the morning pretty well. After picking it up, I rolled back over to LAX and picked up Jason, then we headed off to Proud Bird for some spotting before heading over to the Ralph’s (aka Safeway)/CVS before heading over to In n Out. Parked up at In N Out (after stopping to get some water at CVS) around 11am and it was in a prime spot, right out front. From that moment on, we didn’t touch it for several hours. Here it is sitting on the street outside In n Out

From Dorkfest 2014

After scoffing down a burger around 130pm in between plane arrivals. We were betting on what was going to happen with the All Blacks 777 due to come in. It normally goes to the South Runway but a lot of the heavies were coming north that day. It was all over the place craziness and Jason, John & I flipped a coin (well Lens Cap really) to see if we would stay or head off to Proud Bird to grab the photos. It ended up saying we had to move, so off to the car I went with the boys in tow. Since I was the one who knew where to go, I was driving. Get in the Impala (and this is a version with the touch to start button), push start and expect to start driving away. Nope! Car wouldn’t start at all. It just would not turn over. Tried to get it to fully shut off (but of course being that there is no where to actually put the key it is a bit difficult) and I couldn’t. No matter what I tried it just wouldn’t kick over.

I told Jason & John to head off and I would catch up when I could. I called National and they said that they would have to come tow my car. No way to send someone to just come fix it, it would have to be towed back to the depot and replace it. The stupid thing is, I was barely a mile from the depot! I could freaking run there! (I did consider it). The kicker of the whole thing was that the National Car Rental staff told me it would take 90 minutes for a tow truck. ARE YOU KIDDING ME! An hour and a half to wait for a tow truck. When I could run to the damn depot and get a new car faster than that. I tried a few more times to get it started and it wouldn’t work, so I succumbed to the pressure. I called National back and tried to work out if there was a better way for me to get a new car faster. They told me that since I was so close to the depot. If I went back with the keys, I could swap it out for a new car and they would send someone out to get it later. Awesome! Pulled up Uber and they had cars 3 minutes away! So as I requested the car and hurridly packed all my crap up, things went from bad to worse. The Uber driver called and told me that unless I was in the terminal, he wasn’t going to come get me. Which was stupid because I was right next to the airport! So i cancelled the Uber order and re requested, got him again! Tried an UberX this time and the app kept locking up,so just as I was about to try restarting my phone, a friend came over. He saw me having problems and then right about that second the Tow Truck shows up. SAVED!

By this time I was way frustrated, had enough. Jason & John decided they would come get me and then another friend was calling me to find out where I was. It meant that I didn’t really need a car now and after a total of 5 miles this morning in the new car, and by this stage, barely 3 more hours with it before I had to go back to the terminal, I just wanted to get rid of it.

From Dorkfest 2014
From Dorkfest 2014

More fun times back at the National lot as the Tow Truck driver had no idea where to take it, and to be honest, neither did I. It was just a comedy of errors! I was so over it, so by the time I got back to the lot, the first staff member who was getting me a receipt, well I said “I’d like a full refund please” To which I got “I can’t process that, you will need to go upstairs. So off I went, but the lines were huge. REALLY huge. Wouldn’t stand that, considering they would ask for a Duty Manager anyway so that’s what I did. Pointed out into the parking lot to get the duty manager, to which he promptly gave me his card, took my rental receipt and details and said he would get it fixed.

So now the waiting game begins to see if this gets fixed and refunded. Will I stop booking with National? Nope probably not. Will I drive a Chevy Impala again, not unless I am forced to! I guess it happens to everyone eventually. In the end of the day I still got some pretty awesome photos, had a blast with my friends in LAX and came home to Seattle, sunburnt with 1200 photos and super tired. All in all a pretty decent day, Drama non withstanding.

Trip Report: Drinking the Southwest Koolaid – Dallas to Seattle

Tuesday 9th September 2014

After taking the employee shuttle from the HQ building through the back parking lots of the facilities and around the outside perimeter of the airport, we arrived over at the new Love Field terminal. Dallas’s closer airport to downtown is Love Field and it was old. But with the massive upcoming changes to the Wright Amendment coming up in October the whole airport was upgraded. The terminal feels fresh and new and not at all outdated.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

As I headed over towards the ticket counters I grabbed a few snaps of the new branding that was installed on Sunday night while no one was around. The entire airport was redone so that there was at least one terminal done. Check in took a while as only one counter was open for those of us who couldn’t use the self tagging kiosks (wish I could as I was travelling on an old school paper ticket). The paper ticket issue was resolved swiftly and quickly when I got a chance and I was shortly headed off to security. Having to sit in normal security lines for once was a bit of a change as normally I could use a premium lane with a card from another airline or something like that. Not here in Dallas, since the only airline in the terminal at the moment is southwest, and I dont’t have southwest status.. that aint gonna happen. But the TSA stuff at Love Field were great, friendly across the board and that surprised me. There was even one staff member walking through the lines wishing everyone a good day, at least you know some TSA employees can be nice.

From Southwest Heart

As I cleared security I had just walked past a gate Flight Information Display Screen and low and behold…. delay. This was not good. My flights today would take me from Dallas to San Diego with a brief stop in Albuquerque where I would not get off the aircraft. After a 39 minute connection in San Diego I was to fly home to Seattle. My flights were now screwed essentially. I headed off to find the customer service desk near my gate (Southwest generally have a counter that serves multiple gates at once). After speaking with a gate agent who informed me I would not have a problem and that my flight will connect as they would hold the plane for me, I was skeptical, very very skeptical. I headed off into the terminal and since I was still on my work “Vacation time” and off the clock for the blog for the trip home… I took it upon myself to enjoy a donut, A Dunkin Donut no less! Since not having the chance to see a Dunkin since I was in New York last year and not getting the chance to have one then, I figured I might as well. I felt like a treat as my entire day could possibly turn to shit.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

I also took a brief walk around the terminal, scoping things out and checking out all the goodies. The place was pretty amazing, fresh, modern, plenty of places to sit (since Southwest doesn’t have a lounge) and socialize. Plenty of food outlets especially local options like BBQ or Whataburger (which I am not quite sure how good that is, but apparently the amount of people who had some would have to mean something right?). I headed over to the gate area, found a spot and sat down to wait, tweet, and enjoy my pumpkin pie donut. After a while of tweeting and worrying a plane pulled up to our gate. At least I know I would be getting out of there. However luck was holding out as there had been an equipment swap to a 700 series which meant WIFI!

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

Southwest Airlines – WN802
Dallas Love Field to Albuquerque
1610-1650
Boeing 737-700 (N752SW)
Economy – Seat 16F (Seq B36)

Boarding: 1630 (Gate 6)
Push Back: 1700
Take Off Roll: 1707 (Runway 13L)
Top of Descent: 1705
Touch Down: 1731 (Runway 26)
Shut Down: 1735 (Gate A7)

While waiting for the passengers to deboard, I moved myself over closer to the windows where the side I needed to be on when my group was called to line up and took some photos of the plane, wrote a couple of notes, sent a few texts home. Everyone was lined up quickly ready to go. They all knew they had to get onboard quickly to make up some of the time. The best part was watching people organise themselves into the right order. No one was fighting, everyone just got in line like they should. There is something to the way Southwest’s boarding system works and although some people may not like it, you have to give them props for it.

From Southwest Heart

My turn was called and I lined up and once let onboard I headed on down to the plane. Seeing the WiFi logo by the door was great as it meant that an $8 investment could give me a good afternoon of WiFi and productiveness onboard. It would also mean that i could stay connected while the flight was going so i could keep abreast of the situation at hand. I could research gate positions, maps of the terminals, times anything needed to get me between planes quickly.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

I found a window seat towards the back but first I had to ask someone to step out of the aisle first. He was taking the aisle seat in the hopes that he could get a full row. Nice try buddy. As I settled in and the plane filled up. Someone asked if he would mind moving to the middle at all so he could sit down (this guy was not small but not overly large but obviously could do with some space into the aisle) and the guy on the end of the row rudely said “I ain’t sitting in the middle for no one, go somewhere else”. Not the best way to start a flight. It did mean in the end that the middle seat stayed open next to me for the first leg through to ABQ.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

We pushed back and headed for the runway which was as far away from the southwest headquarters as we could possibly go. I was hoping to get one last photo but sadly that was not to be the case. We took off very quickly without much of a hold and I was pleasantly surprised by that. The climb out was pretty standard with a good right turn over downtown Dallas so I got to see everything I saw on the way in but from a different angle.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

As we climbed out and passed 10,000ft my laptop came out and so did my wallet to process the $8 fee and that bought me WiFi for the next several hours. It wasn’t just $8 per session but $8 per day on a single device. So although I was now only stuck using it on my laptop I was still ok with that. As we climbed out I kind of tuned out to the flight and didn’t even put any music in or anything while we were flying. The first couple of flights were about 90 minutes each so I was more interested in getting work done than doing anything else. When the beverage service came around I tried out what I had found out on the way into Dallas. If you ask for a “Can of Water” you literally get a can filled with water. I had not seen that before the flight and wasn’t sure if it would work. I gave it a shot and it worked! I had a whole can to myself.

From Southwest Heart

I worked away and then as we dipped towards New Mexico and the ABQ Sunport i put away the laptop and out came the camera. I was enjoying it as we came in closer and closer. I had no idea where I was at all but the surroundings were great. I had not been in ABQ since I had passed through quite a long time ago. As we approached ABQ on finals I noticed a couple of C130 hulks sitting in some grassy area so figured that there must have been a national guard base around. Wrong!! As we landed I passed about a dozen more Hercs then about a good 30 or so Blackhawks. Then I saw it, a building that said “Kirtland Air Force Base” and sitting in front of that was an Osprey. It could only mean one thing was stationed there Air Force Spec Ops but really because of the Helicopters it was the rescue squadrons that were present.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

As we taxiied to the gate I flicked my phone back out of Airplane mode in the hopes of getting an update on the flight connection and giving one to home as well. The time was spent trying to get a connection and waiting for everyone to get off the flight.

Southwest Airlines – WN802
Albuquerque to San Diego
1730-1820
Boeing 737-700 (N752SW)
Economy – Seat 6A

Boarding: 1742 (Gate A7)
Push Back: 1759
Take Off Roll: 1807 (Runway 21)
Top of Descent: 1805
Touch Down: 1836 (Runway 27)
Shut Down: 1838 (Gate A7)

Once everyone was off that was meant to get off, they counted the people up and gave the go ahead to move about the cabin. I quickly got up and grabbed my bag heading for the front to try and snag a window seat as close to the door as possible. I wanted to make sure that when I got to San Diego I could get through as quickly as possible. I got the gate updates come through on my phone through Tripit (thanks for the flight delay information guys… ) and then heard someone say “We will have to go through security again… I panicked. Please don’t do this to me!

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

We had a fairly quick turn in Albuquerque and as we pushed back and taxiied out I got a good couple of shots of a Delta 757 landing and taxiing up right next to us. We headed over to a different runway from the one we used on arrival and that had me puzzling. Then we stopped and waited. This was weird because I heard the double chime for the flight attendants telling them to take a seat, and there was no one else ahead of us on the taxiway and I couldn’t see anyone at all. What the hell were we waiting for. Turns out a tiny small cessna was landing on a small cross runway so when he passed us the pilots gave the plane the boot and off we went!

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

As we climbed out I looked down and saw a familiar looking river. One that I had floated over a number of years ago in a hot air balloon. That made me think back to some good times on my first real overseas adventure on my own. Memories! We shortly passed 10,000ft and i went back to work on the laptop. As I worked away the service came around and I got a can of water again. Deciding to focus more on working out this connection. It was true what I had heard, we were going to have to reclear security and I was frantically trying to work out what to do. Without really realising just how long we were in the air, the plane made it’s top of descent dip and next thing I know we get the initial descent greeting by the pilots.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

As we headed into San Diego I was looking around for familiar landmarks. I had only ever flown into San Diego once before and was not sure what I would see from this direction. I think I saw MCAS Miramar off in the distance, but I wasn’t sure but then as we started to turn and descend further the Navy Facilities came into view. Seeing the Amphibs come in to view then the big white ship standing out put things down for sure. We were coming in over the city on the 27 approach and that white ship (which is the US Navy’s Hospital Ship USNS Mercy) meant that the Naval Station San Diego was in sight and that we would be on the ground in minutes.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

As we came in to San Diego I could see plenty of Southwest Aircraft on the ground and numerous lined up for take off. For me it meant that I didn’t have long as the taxi times at Southwest for landing can be quite short. We were not on the taxi way long at all after landing and in the gate moments are pulling off the runway and as we pulled in I noticed that there was a special over near the gate area we were going to. I couldn’t see a gate number at that point but I was fairly certain that it was on our gate. Which special? Nevada One painted to pay tribute to the State of Nevada.

From Southwest Heart

Once they pulled into the gate there was a mad scramble for bags and then they made a blessing of an announcement. “Would all the passengers travelling to Seattle, please make themselves known to the two staff waiting at the end of the Air bridge. You will be escorted to your gate so that you do not need to reclear security”. That sentence was probably one of the best I had heard all night. I made it off the plane quickly and identified myself and then we had to wait a few minutes to collect a few more people (as they wanted to move us in two groups).

From Southwest Heart

When we left the gate area heading towards the exits right before heading out of the secure area they moved us left towards an exit door and that meant one thing. A Tarmac walk. They told us “No cameras” to which I promptly ignored and off we went outside across the tarmac from one secure area to another. It was then that I saw that Nevada One was most certainly sitting on our gate. As we walked into the secure area again I saw a whole heap of people sitting around and thinking they hadn’t boarded yet that was good, then I saw they were gate 2 not 1 and had to quickly run off towards our gate.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

Southwest Airlines – WN238
San Diego to Seattle Tacoma
1905-2155
Boeing 737-700 (N727SW – Nevada One)
Economy Seat – 4A

Boarding: 1855 (Gate A1)
Push Back: 1907
Take Off Roll: 1910 (Runway 27)
Top of Descent: 2120
Touch Down: 2145 (Runway 16R)
Shut Down: 2150 (Gate B6)

I made it to gate 1 and there was still people standing there. Not quite sure what was going on I asked the first person I saw if they had boarded the Seattle flight to which the gentleman said that since there was only 50 people on the flight they were going to wait for a bit to since they couldn’t depart early. THANK GOD!! I had made my flight and when I looked at my watch it meant we may not be delayed all that much. This made me a very very happy man.

I had a chance to take a deep breath and take my space in line. I headed over to the boarding lanes and got myself in the right spot. Asking someone who was standing there already what his number was so that I could work out if i was in front or behind of him and he said that he didn’t care he would board whenever he wanted. That is so not how things are done buddy and I would have been extremely unhappy if I had the ability to care right that moment. But I didn’t so I just waited to board. When it was time to get on I was giddy, I had never flown a special livery before.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

Boarding Nevada One was like any other flight, except the plane was just painted differently. We boarded very quickly and since the load was so we could have all had rows to ourselves. As it was I had a row of 3 in row 4 to myself and I was a happy chappy. Quick chat to the young lady in the row in front of me and demonstrating my muscles as I helped her with her carry on. When we pushed back I checked my watch to enter the data in my log book and it turns out we were departing ON TIME! I had gone from 50 minutes late departing Dallas to making up all that lost time in San Diego. Sure I didn’t get a chance to grab any food so since having that donut in Dallas all i had was a cookie i had stashed in my bag and forgotten about and that was all I was going to get till I got home.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

We headed for a taxi to the end of the runway and the sun was setting fast. The light was getting amazing but it was making it tough for the camera to focus and that meant I missed a fantastic avgeek shot of a 737 making a right turn in sunset. A brilliant composition missed by seconds. When it was our turn to hit the sky, we leapt off the pavement and made a right turn out over North Island Naval Air Station and out over the coastline. The sun kept fading and the photos were just being snapped continuously. Once clear of 10,000ft I pulled the laptop out for the final time and got to work.

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart

This sector was going to be boring. I was going to work, and just work. The drink service got me a full can of Diet Dr Pepper (as shock as water in a can was to me, Diet Dr Pepper onboard a flight had me flawed) and some wifi and a small pack of peanuts had me going to a happy place. We cruised up the coast and I flicked between my work and twitter most of the way and just relaxed, something I had not fully done since leaving Dallas. It was a good feeling. We passed the coastal parts of Southern California at first, then flew straight north as we flicked over the inland of Northern California. At one point I saw Reno off our right side on the map.

From Southwest Heart

We started descent roughly over Portland and I slowly packed up my stuff, not before informing my ride that she should head towards the airport to pick me up, sure was going to be happy to be home for once and not have to spend another hour in the truck getting home. I was coming home to someone that was as happy to see me as I was to see her. We got our descent briefing from the cockpit and he said we would be down on the ground in ten minutes and had to take a northerly pattern to come in towards the south. I just laughed inside at that, no way we were landing in 10 minutes, we were no where near seattle at that point, 20 minutes at least. As we descended towards the city I was struggling to keep my eyes open at this point.

Right turn over Freemont & Ballard and tracking for a 16R arrival all while not being able to get a great shot of the Space Needle due to being in the dark. We landed right as another 737 was taking off (not that i could tell who from in the dark, but probably Alaska and we started taxiing over towards the terminals. We had to hold at 16C for another aircraft taxiing infront of us and then at 16L for a departure. We taxiied quickly around to the B gates and pulled up pretty much right where I had left a couple of days earlier.

Through the terminal, down to get my bags and my bag spat out around #5 in the queue. I was extremely happy to find out that it had made it as it was full of all the airline swag I had managed to gather. Heading up to the departures level to be picked up (always a smarter idea at night when there is barely anyone using it) and it was off home. From touch down to home in 20 minutes…. can’t beat that!

From Southwest Heart
From Southwest Heart