Trip Report: Vegas… #Avgeek Style

Introduction

About a year ago, I made the decision to head to one of the biggest airshows in the USA, Aviation Nation. I figured that no matter what happened with my life I was going to head on over here for it. To make things even better, the show is at the Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, yeah that’s right Vegas Baby.

Fast Forward till about a few months ago and I am living in the USA. Still planning to go to the show, but how do I get there. I was pretty much stuck to flying Alaska Air due to the times and the fact that they pretty much dominate Seattle. So I mean ok the airline decision is made but tickets were not cheap $400-500 return in Coach…. OUCH! And I really wanted to go. Really desperately.

Then Icelandair came to the picture, they decided to run a promotion on buying their points. If I bought enough points for a First Class Award ticket with their partner Alaska Airlines I could end up getting the flight for $350 all in. So I could fly first Class, on Alaska Airlines for less than coach… where do I sign up! It was pretty painless, other than the 24 hours it took for the points to post, that was it, Easy as hell. Mind you 4 days after I booked my flights, Icelandair closed the promotion early and stopped allowing redemptions with Alaska. Apparently it got abused a lot ;)

Next up was where to stay. I scoured the web trying to get decent rates at some of the Strip Hotels. But they were all the same cost, all around the same price. I mean seriously, how do you choose when they all look so awesome and are all so similar. So I took the easy way out. I hotwired it. Hotwire is pretty much a mystery bidding website. So you just hope and pray you get a decent hotel. But there are a few websites around that help you with the bidding process. So with their help, and a prayer to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, I made my booking and out came my hotel. Trump Hotel Las Vegas. Awesome! About half a block off the strip but still close enough.

With a car booked with National again (wasn’t going to select a Camaro again, wanted something different after Dayton) I was all set. Now it was just wait, hope and pray the weather is good.

Friday 9th November 2012

After a full day at work it was time to jump in the truck and head on down to SeaTac. Now I finished at 530pm, right in the middle of Peak Traffic, so I knew it wasn’t exactly going to be a quick trip to the Airport. Meh whatever I have time since my flights not till 930pm. So I slowly made my way south to the airport and dropped the truck off. Pretty soon I was safely in the airport, checked in (which took seconds and heading towards security). Since I had time and the main checkpoint was just full on Busy. So I took the option to walk, and walk a lot.. all the way to the A/B/South Gate security. Which is the far end of the terminal. Eh! Whatever. There was no wait (ok maybe 1 or 2 people) but as usual my 100% hit rate on the backscatter machines stayed intact.

Once through security I walked all the way back to the main area and headed into the Board room (aka the lounge). I didn’t know I had access till earlier in the day when I was on twitter and Alaska Airlines let me know that I had access to the lounge! Awesome, free snacks, drinks and a quiet place to live out the world. What more could I want. It was just as expected, and it was a good way to just chill out in peace. Having an amazing lounge is one thing, getting access to a lounge when you don’t really want all that much. Its fine!

With a solid 30 minutes before departure I headed over to the N gates where my flight would be departing from. Alaska has a habit of board really early and getting everyone on as quickly as possible. I have read stories of flights ready to go 20 minutes before scheduled departure. Low and Behold boarding was early.

Alaska Airlines AS614
Seattle to Las Vegas
2135-2354
Boeing 737-900 (N319AS)
First Class – Seat 2A

Boarding: 2050 (Gate N3)
Push Back: 2133
Take Off Roll: 2143 (Runway 34C)
Top of Descent: 2306
Touch Down: 2341 (Runway 25L)
Shut Down: 2350 (Gate E15)

I wasn’t the first onboard as there was a number of preboards first but I was in the first wave and was safely in my seat settling in, even if it was earlier than we were meant to. But they needed that time as it seemed there was just plenty of people all fighting over bin space, and lots of announcements being made suggesting people clear the aisles quickly etc. The announcements seemed to get longer and longer, but I know that essentially they were just there to make sure everyone understood.

We were doors shut and pushing back before the scheduled departure time. We had to taxi all the way from the N gates down to the southern end of the field but we didn’t wait long at the threshold at this hour and were soon skyward, heading for Vegas. This was not going to be an eventful flight really. It was late, so most people were trying to sleep (for some reason?), and I didn’t expect all that much of a party atmosphere being it was Alaska (if it was Virgin America yeah) but there was a couple in the first row who were getting into the spirit of things (newlyweds maybe?).

Either way my flight was filled with Coffee, snack mix (cant they just load nuts) and a sad excuse for a “Chicken Salad” which was pretty much some lettuce and a piece of cold chicken. Come on seriously? Whatever! Don’t be greedy Malcolm!

The flight was pretty uneventful, I finished my book, had about 10 coffees (hey I had been up since 5 and didn’t expect to get any sleep till 1) and pretty soon we were descending to Vegas. The thing that surprised me most about the descent was outside. Vegas just appeared out of nowhere almost. In the middle of this inky black void there was just lights, and thousands of lights. So many lights. The strip was all lit up, sadly my camera doesn’t handle these shots well, especially out of a moving aircraft, at night, in the bouncy air around the desert. But I can see why people do the helicopter flights now. It was beautiful!

Once on the ground we headed off into the new Terminal 3 at McCarran Airport and it was shiny and new and felt all to devoid of a soul (so in otherwords… 100% vegas). The crappy thing was that Vegas like Seattle uses an off site Rental Car terminal. All the car rentals no matter who you hire with, you have to use that facility. So a good 20 minutes after grabbing my bag I was off the shuttle (due to having to wait 10 minutes, then a slow 10 minute drive to the terminal) at the facility. Thanks to my newly scammed Executive status with National I was choosing my car. Not much to choose from (turned down the offer of the Mustang) and went with a GMC Terrain (aka the Soccer mom mobile) pretty much cause I knew it would be well kitted out, full of all the goodies being a GMC.

Within 10 more minutes I was checking into my room at the Trump and after using the $20 trick (tip the person at check in $20 and free upgrade for you) I was heading up to my Strip View studio on the 53rd floor. The room was HUGE! Just massive. Way bigger than I needed. But I just got myself sorted and hit the sack because I was super tired.

Saturday 10th November 2012

Woke up nice and early after like no sleep and hit the gym, there was already heaps of people in the Gym but it was pretty well set up so there was no problem with getting a machine. The night before had been fairly cold and although I had brought my running gear, was going to take it easy… ish. After my workout, it was clean up time, and work out plans for the morning. I pretty much googled a bakery, found the location and drove their for breakfast, even if it was a bit out of the way from where I was going, but hell I am on holidays and it just makes the adventures all the more fun. Plus who doesn’t love breakfast in a random car park while eating off the bonnet of your car.

I hit the road towards Nellis which was easy since it was essentially straight along I15, keep going till I hit the speedway and that’s where I was to park. They were smart in setting up the parking at the Speedway, unlike the JBLM air show where there was very little of any buses and they were not that frequent. Here at the speedway, they were constantly there, row after row of coaches, not school buses, full on coaches. I guess when you’re in Vegas even the airshows are done in style.

The airshow was great, although the wind was pretty strong, the sun was out (for a while) and the photography was just epic). So many good shots, so much to see, so little time. But the wind picked up really really crazy. So strong that I was absolutely shivering. So after the Raptor demo, I bailed and I bailed quick. I did manage a couple of shots of the Heritage flight but I wasn’t pushing it.

By the time I got back to the car and back towards town it was after 3 so a quick grocery store stop for lunch, and then it was off to McCarran for a little bit of spotting. One big problem. The 3 metre high fence  There was no way I was going to be able to shoot over the fence. I did try to get up on top of the car, but when I heard the roof pop in, well that stopped that, cause I don’t feel like explaining that to the rental company (it popped right back thank god). The spotting was a lot of Southwest but it was such a good spot, if I had the truck I would have been super happy shooting for hours. Even better, no need for liveatc as they pipe the ATC through FM (101.1FM for anyone visiting). I gave up as the sun started setting and figured I might as well head back via the strip a little. That meant one thing. The Vegas sign. There was a bit of a crowd but what I didn’t expect was to be crashing a wedding, at sunset, in the middle of the Strip, underneath the Las Vegas sign. AWESOME!

Back to the hotel, and change, shower, warm up and it was off to dinner. I pretty much found the first place on Opentable at one of the big name restaurants and figured, what the hell. Bad Idea. The food was good at Nob Hill Tavern, but it was such a small serving and at such a high price, well, I bailed, but not before a yummy Pumpkin Soup with Brussel Sprouts. I will pay that! So I indulged a little (I am on holidays right?), I had seen somewhere on the web mentioned this totally out of the way ice cream place. So I headed up there and they had pumpkin ice cream… WIN! Great way to end the night, sitting in bed, watching tv and eating pumpkin ice cream.

Sunday 11th November 2012

More of the same routine this morning, Workout, shower, off to breakfast. A few slight differences though, a 6k run through the Vegas streets with at least 3k along the strip (which was pretty cool). The breakfast was pretty cool though. One of the things I had seen on Man Vs Food was this amazingly crazy place that had just some crazy breakfasts. The usual breakfasts but taken to a whole new level. I was looking forward to this for ages.

It was out of the strip area, way out in the suburbs. Way way out! But it was worth it. Hash House A Go Go is this amazingly crazy, down home breakfast place. The servings are not small but pretty good value. They had pancakes on the menu and when I asked if it was just 1 on the serve the answer was “yes, just 1 but they are 14inches across, they would be bigger but we couldn’t find a bigger pan.” I wasn’t sure if shes was joking or not, but hey I’m down with that. I ended up choosing the “Meatloaf Hash” which came with 2 eggs, a “Biscuit” and some fruit. Heaps of food, and it filled me up so well I didn’t eat again till dinner.

The airshow plan for today was only a part day at the show, but it was going to be time to explore the statics on display. It seemed like a better idea originally. Spend the day when I have limited time due to afternoon comittments, exploring the statics. Well that was a good idea at the time, but the weather was so much better. O well. I missed out  but the statics were still awesome, and I got to explore the Thunderbirds Msusem (which is a story all of its own). With my shopping done as well (supporting the troops and their families) I headed back into town, checking out random places, and just goofing off (Zombie Apocalypse Store anyone?).

At 3pm I had an a appointment though. At MGV (Machine Guns Vegas) to fire some guns, some Automatic weapons. This was gonna be fun. Firing guns, shooting just like I did the last time I was in vegas. One of my favourite sayings has always been “Happiness is a Automatic Weapon with Belt Feed” I was going to keep that memory alive, this time with an M60. An old school, big caliber (7.62mm) automatic machine gun. Happiness!

The shooting was fun, I haven’t had that feeling in so long. But it all came flooding back. The feeling of shooting a belt fed weapon is just crazy, like nothing else. Pretty soon my shooting came to an end and I was heading back to the hotel, to clean up and get ready for tonights entertainment. Blue Man Group!

I was going to get to see the new Blue Man Group show. The show had only started a couple of weeks prior so I was excited to see the new show. I grabbed a quick light dinner (wasn’t all that hungry after breakfast still) and I headed over to Monte Carlo for the show. Before the show though they have a parade through the casino to entice people to the theater. Interesting!

The show was pretty epic, again I had poncho seats and didn’t even come close to any paint (though a flying piece of jello is a whole different story). Some familiar pieces but all in all a new show. By the end of the show I was tired and ready for an early night as it was going to be a very early morning.

Monday 9th November 2012

It was the usual morning adventure for me. Up at O Dark Hundred for a work out, check out and off to the airport. Just getting into the gym was a challenge on its own with security deciding that they didn’t like me accessing the gym before it was open, even though several staff had said it was ok (though the lady working that morning was adamant that was a no and a 10 minute fight on the phone I got my way.

The morning ws a repeat of my arrival, just in reverse. Leave hotel, drop car, get on shuttle to terminal. Then it was just check in (which took ages) and security. Boring boring boring. Because Vegas had no place for me to go other than the gate and nothing open other than Burger King, the gate it was for me. I just camped out at the gate and chilled out. By the time boarding was called I was failing badly. I needed coffee… STAT!

Alaska Airlines AS603
Las Vegas to Seattle
0700-0935
Boeing 737-900 (N320AS)
First Class – Seat 3F

Boarding: 0615 (Gate E15)
Push Back: 0654
Take Off Roll: 0707 (Runway 25R)
Top of Descent: 0853
Touch Down: 0919 (Runway 16R)
Shut Down: 0927 (Gate C16)

After being a gate lice for a few minutes boarding was called and it was off to the front of the aircraft as I boarded to my lovely seat. The sun was rising out the window, giving fantastic views, but the thing that made me happy was the flight attendant was happily serving coffee. Thick, Dark, Black, Strong, Hot Coffee. I was happy+++ While everyone boarded my caffeine levels were being fulfilled and I was trying hard to not get to relaxed. Today was going to be a full on day. I would need it to keep myself going, but I guess a little bit of relaxation up to now, would be a good idea.

We pushed back and following a few southwest aircraft and allegiant we headed to the active runway. With a turn onto 25R, power in the throttles and we were gaining speed, heading home to Seattle. In the air, climbing out, seat belt sign off, photos taken. First thing is first… COFFEEEEEEEEEE. The service began with coffee, plenty of coffee and then a nice warm breakfast quiche. It wasn’t big but it was enough for around what I normally eat.

that was pretty much the highlight of the flight. I read a magazine, drank plenty of coffee and then just chilled out and relaxed, enjoying the peace at 37000ft. Pretty soon we were on descent to SeaTac where as expected, it was cloudy, grey and cold. What else is new. The cloud deck seemed to extend all the way down to the runway as we popped out of the clouds pretty much 30 seconds from touchdown on 16R (first time using that runway). Good times!

We pulled into the C gates after letting the ANA 787 go ahead of us, and I was off the aircraft, scurrying through to baggage claim where my bag was 2nd out, within 5 minutes I was on a shuttle back to the car park and in the truck heading home to more crazy adventures

Vegas Avgeek Style

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