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Willard the Bear in “Gold (Life) Member” - MAN-LAS-(PHX)-JFK and vv on BD J and US F

Willard the Bear in “Gold (Life) Member” - MAN-LAS-(PHX)-JFK and vv on BD J and US F

Old Feb 15, 09, 7:03 am
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Willard the Bear in “Gold (Life) Member” - MAN-LAS-(PHX)-JFK and vv on BD J and US F

This is a “companion” trip report to Willard The Bear’s report, "Gold (Life) Member" - Do you expect me to walk, Goldmember? No, Mr. Bear, I expect you to fly!.

Willard’s travelogues tend to concentrate on things like lounges, seats, wines/champagnes – (furry) creature comforts generally, and are written in from a “Bears eye view”. Being a cuddly toy, Willard is little short on introspection, and has little idea of the concept of “value for money”, I realise that this necessarily misses some of the more mundane issues that Willard tends not to notice that much (since he is far too interested in getting his photo taken!)

So I’m trying out this additional format, with a more Flyertalk styled Trip Report in tandem (and supported by) Willard’s inimitable photographic travelogue.

Oh, and I’m going to try and actually finish this one – honest!

The why’s and wherefores

Whilst I did originally have a justification to visit Las Vegas, the choice of carrier and class was influenced heavily by those bonds that tie us all here on Flyertalk, my frequent flyer program, bmi’s Diamond Club. One of their unique features is that if you legitimately qualify for their top tier (BD*G) for ten consecutive years (and no jiggery-pokery here, you must actually qualify with BIS miles, no paid requalifications etc.) you are awarded that status for life (my life hopefully, not the life of the airline....). As someone who has held a BD*G card for 9 consecutive years, the prospect of missing out on this unprecedented benefit because of one (rather annoying) ultra-micromanaged client travel policy was too much to (ahem) bear. So, the trip was carefully planned to ensure that 38K miles would be breached, and thus the prize would be mine (and Willards).
The bmi January sale offered up a very good deal business class fare for MAN-LAX (books in J, miles x 2 in Diamond Club), and some investigation with good old KVSTool yielded one of the many A?????UP fares that seem to exist in the US domestic market, offering a restricted First Class fare on US Air (books in A, miles x 3!) for something comparable to an economy fare. LAS-JFK was the right price and would have just about done the job, but LAS-PHX-JFK offered significantly more miles (due to minimum mileage accrual on the LAS-PHX segment) and a better range of connections, all for the same price. So, this four day, 16,000+ mile marathon was born!
....And, of course, Willard had been pressing to get out of the house and back onto a plane!

Manchester Airport Hilton

Arrived somewhat earlier than expected, had no trouble requesting a shuttle pick-up at the Airport railway station, and no problems with a slightly early check-in. Cannot fault the HHonours Gold recognition, with an upgrade to a Deluxe Room, even on a very highly discounted pre-paid internet rate. Room was newly refurbished with a plasma TV, though the bathroom looked a little rough around the edges, and there appeared to be some water pressure problems in this (5th Floor) room.

Like most European Hiltons, the restaurant menu and wine lists appear to be tailored to those on expense accounts, so everything seemed to cost an arm and a leg by local standards, unless you are on a rate including dinner, I'd suggest using the free shuttle service to T1 or T2 and eating at one of the landside restaurants for a more budget friendly eating experience.

Breakfast was a bit of a disappointment, not only because the staff initially questioned the inclusive rate deal, but also, in my opinion it did not offer value for money (cost was over GBP 15 for the full buffet) as the buffet was relatively limited, and I was surprised to find microwaved scrambled eggs at this price point. Again, unless you are on a B&B rate,I suggest you breakfast elsewhere.

Overall Rating
Good solid airport hotel providing all you would expect for transits and early departures, would recommend this hotel as being good value at up to GBP 10 – 15 over the budget Bewleys Hotel next door (due to hidden costs at Bewleys), currently GBP 69 (as at Jan 2009). So, a good option at up to GBP85 – somewhat difficult to justify (unless you really want your Hilton points) at it's more normal GBP 129++ rack rates – also quite expensive on points.

Good Points
Location, and Free Shuttle bus. Staff seem very helpful, and aware of the special needs of most Airport hotel guests (i.e. they don't keep you waiting, are honest about how long things will take, don't mess you about, etc.)

Bad Points
Somewhat overpriced a lot of the time, if you are in the GBP 120+ budget, the SAS Radisson is a better bet, as it is actually attached to the airport, and accessible from the T1-T2 walkway.
Restaurant and Bar both think they are catering to a captive audience – would benefit from some budget options if they want to keep guests on-site in the evening. Breakfast either needs to be half the price or twice the quality/choice.

You can see the Willard's eye view starting here

bmi Flight BD751 MAN-LAS

Booked Class: Business (J) – Flown Class: Business Seat: 1K
Scheduled Departure: 09:05 – Actual Departure: Around 09:40

Used the “Night Before Check-in” service offered for long-haul flights out of MAN, and this worked well, though since I was the only one in T3, it's difficult to say what the time saving would have been if there had been a queue, since there was only one member of staff provided for this facility, also, see comments below regarding baggage.

Priority security is a welcome addition to the bmi Terminal 3 experience, and the Fast Track security lane ensured a zero waiting time to get to a scanner lane. If I had wanted to get a lie-in, using “Night Before Check-in” would probably have allowed me to shave my arrival at MAN to just over an hour before the flight (but as always, YMMV). As it is, I was through and stood in the lounge in less than 10 minutes.

Didn't check out the business lounge, but the Diamond Club lounge (accessible to bmi Silver/Gold and all *A Golds) was showing some cutbacks, however there was still some croissants and muffins, and I even saw one determined soul partaking of the spirits. Lounge was around half-full, mostly with people on the bmi domestics that leave between 08:00 and 09:00. As is normal we were told to wait to be collected from the lounge by a member of the MAN-LAS cabin crew, and, as is also usual, this was very late in coming, causing some visible twitching from other passengers in the lounge. When boarding for these services (inevitably) runs late, they really should keep making announcements, as it is very stressful sitting in the lounge when the screens are flashing “FINAL CALL” for your flight, and this detracts from the presumed benefit of the escort to the gate for Business and *G passengers. Once the escort arrived, we had the usual, rather comical, procession through the terminal, with bemused onlookers wondering what this long “snake” of people was doing following someone in uniform.

We only partially queue-jumped at the gate, so there was still some delay as others were still boarding. There also seemed to be confusion caused by the Night Before Check-in I'd done, which resulted in me not being asked to provide APIS information, and not being handed the usual I94W/CBP forms, however, it has to be said that the flight was not met by F14's when it entered US airspace, so perhaps ESTA is indeed starting to take over from this!

Once onboard, the service ran smoothly, with a glass of champagne proffered and accepted (and I'm pleased to see that bmi have done away with their previous “two tier” Champagne arrangements, where a cheaper, nastier fizz was stocked for pre-departure drinks, and this inevitably tended to get mixed up with the proper stuff during the flight). Coats were hung and amenity kits, headphones and menus distributed. Flight was delayed on the ground for around 30-40 minutes, but we were kept updated by both the crew and the flight deck. The Cabin Service Manager introduced herself to all passengers in “the Business”, and offered apologies for the delays, however, every cloud has a silver lining, and champagne glasses were kept liberally topped up throughout!

Originally Posted by bmi

The Menu
lunch

starter

sweet potato soup

seasonal salad

marinated and griller halloumi with hummus * (my choice)
chicken brushetta with mango salsa and raita

main course

wild mushroom ravioli

poached haddock kedgeree

roast chump of lamb with saute' potatoes and mint jus * (my choice)

steak, Guiness and mushroom pudding, served with potato wedges

a selection of sauces and dressings are available to compliment your meal

dessert

chocolate brownie

banana and toffee pudding

cheese plate – Capricorn and fourme d'Ambert

fruit plate

ice cream

express meal option

In order to allow you to maximise your personal time – to sleep, work or relax – we are pleased to offer an express meal option on this flight, in place of the 'a la carte menu.

personal bakery selection with either:
- a mixed seasonal salad and soup
or
- your choice of one of the main courses

Please let a member of the crew know if you wish to opt for an express meal today.

the mad hatter tea service

smoked salmon on brown

egg and cress mayonnaise on white

mini Thai fishcake

chocolate and orange mousse

fromage frais berry tart

mini sultana scone

mini plain scone

strawberry preserve

Cornish clotted cream
Fresh strawberries

anytime

Welsh rarebit tartet in tomato pastry

cheese plate

fresh fruit plate

ice cream

Irish coffee

freshly ground coffee

Twinings tea selection

hot chocolate

Horlicks

Green and Blacks chocolates
Originally Posted by bmi
wine list

champagnes

Champagne Cattier Brut Antique Premier Cru
Chigny-les-Roses
France

white wines

Pinot Blanc
Cave De Turckheim
Alsace
France

Semillion Sauvignon Blanc
Deep Woods
Margret River
Australia

red wines

Clos Bagatelle
Saint-Chinian
Languedoc
France

Monvi
Colli Perugini Rosso
Umbria
Italy

Cabernet Sauvignon
Mill Creek
Sonoma County
USA

Sandeman 20 year old Tawny Port

Glenlivet 18 Years

Courvoisier XO

Chivas Regal

a selection of aperitifs, spirits and beers are available from the bar.
After take-off, drink orders were taken (I stuck with the champers!) and drinks were quickly delivered with (very more-ish) savoury biscuits. The Cattier champagne was definitely on a par with the Pol Roger they used to serve on my previous trips (possibly a little better), and this more than made up for the slight disappointment at not having a choice of champagnes (a previously posted menu had a choice of Brut or Rose' Tattinger, which would have been rather nice, but the Cattier was infinitely better than a mixture of Pol Roger and whatever-was-cheap-at-the-cash-and-carry, as was previously the norm in the Business).

The in-flight chef changed into his outfit (the whole idea of an in-flight chef is a wonderful bit of theater on the part of bmi, and definitely enhances the experience) and started moving round the cabin taking lunch orders. I couldn't discern what order he was taking them in, but I do confess to being a bit surprised, as a bmi *G on a paid business ticket, to be told that one of the meal options (the steak pudding) was already gone by the time he got to me. I don't think this is necessarily a problem with the ordering process, but if bmi are going to continue to attempt to offer a “First Class style dining experience” then they need to be loading enough food to ensure that all of the paid business passengers will always get their first choice (just like, e.g. Lufthansa, Singapore et. al. do in First). However, on this occasion, it wasn't a problem, as I'd already decided on the halloumi followed by the Lamb. I explained that I'd stick the the Champers for my starter and then switch to a red wine for the main course, and the option of a full tasting of all three reds was offered (including spitoon, if required) was offered, with a grin – nice touch!

The tray table was set and starters arrived in due course – the halloumi lived up to the menu's promise, and the hummus had exactly that kind of coarse texture that separates home-made hummus from that which comes from a tub in Tesco/Sainsburys. Main course of lamb also matched the billing, with an appropriately sized piece of lamb, not pink, to be sure, but not dried out by any means, on a bed of saute' potatoes and veg. I eschewed the option of a full wine tasting, and went for the Italian Red, which was a good, full-bodied choice, and matched the Lamb well. When queried on dessert, I asked to delay, and must confess that I was sufficiently full that I never did bring myself to order an afters!

So, on to the new bmi business class seat.... bmi refitted the cabin just over a year ago, reducing the capacity in “the business” from 24 to 18, and, in a very aggressive move, refitted the old business seats into the premium economy (new economy in bmi-speak) cabin (with a reduced pitch and recline) thus moving from 2-4-2 to 2-2-2 in PE, and also reducing capacity in that cabin. It's no secret that the new business seats had more than a few teething troubles, and the lack of a screen in the first row (thus meaning that a third of the passengers in the new business cabin had no access to the advertised IFE system, and had to settle for portable DVD players) is the kind of monumental gaffe that bmi is, unfortunately, well known for. However, all that is behind us now, and 1A/C and 1 H/K have been fitted with a kind of bolt-on “dais” that houses pop-up screens, whilst 1D/G have screens bolted onto the bulkhead. Willard has modeled the seats extensively in his travelogue (see link below), but the question still to be answered is, how are they in use?
Well, for my money, the worst seats in the cabin are 1 D/G – the positioning of the bolt-on screen is terrible, looking too low for viewing when sat up, and pretty much at foot level when reclined, and since these seats are well forward of the rest of row one, the end of the bed extends pretty much to the bottom of the screen. My advice: avoid these seats like you would avoid amoebic dysentery!
The rest of the bulkheads are somewhat better, and the 1A/K seats are the only window seats that have sufficient room left when reclined to allow the window passenger to get out without disturbing your seat mate – good if you travel alone but like to look out of the window. The pop-up screen is smaller but closer, and overall I think the trade-off (additional seat pitch vs. smaller screen) is acceptable. One missed opportunity though is that whilst the bolt-on dais offers a small extra drinks table, there are no storage “cubby-holes”, like the rear of the seats offer to the person behind, so the bulkhead seats are distinctly short of places to put things, so everything ends up on the floor.
The seat itself is in chocolate coloured leather, and is nice and wide, but has relatively basic lumbar support, this is a real failing, and if you have lower back problems, you will struggle to get comfortable, and will end up with the supplied pillow behind your lower back, rather than where it should be – behind your head. I didn't sleep on this sector, so cannot comment on the fully reclined position (yet) but the adjustments of the recline, seat cushion and leg rest allowed a good range of “lounging” positions, though the leg rest was a little finicky about what positions it would move to, necessitating adjustments of the overall recline in order to get to a position where the seat would allow the leg rest to be raised sufficiently. Also, I'm not exactly tall (under 6ft) but the pull-out footrest would not extend far enough to be comfortable, so I gave up and left it stowed.
I didn't have any of the problems others have experienced with reliability, but it did appear that 2D/G jammed and had to be reset at one point in the flight. The IFE was fine for watching the (non-on-demand) movies, but I had serious problems trying to get it to do anything else, and completely crashed it trying to browse the games on the system. Once reset, this problem was avoided by leaving the interactive options well alone and just using the system as a multi-channel TV (perhaps not the best outcome, but better than it keeping crashing!). Also, I couldn't get the in-seat power in my seat or my neighbours seat to work, even with a range of adaptors and cables – at the time I wondered if my laptop PSU was duff, but testing later at the hotel confirmed all the leads and the brick were fine, the problem appears to be in the seats.

I was kept well watered as I watched various films on the IFE and played with my laptop (to the capacity of it's battery, due the in in-seat power issues). I think I made a very sizeable dent in their supply of Courvoisier XO, which was served, and topped up, in measures that would have stopped a charging rhino at 300 paces.

Towards the end of the flight (around 2.5 hours to arrival, if my cognac-addled memory serves me correctly) we were served the famous (infamous) “Mad Hatter's Tea Party” platter that has been a feature of bmi transatlantic flights since their inception. As always, it is served on a round glass platter, and whilst I have to say that not all of the constituents served quite matched the menu (the “Chocolate and Orange Mousse” seemed a lot more like a Strawberry Meringue to me, and the “Fromage Frais Tartlet” seemed more like a mini Pecan Pie) but it was all good, and is a deserved favorite that Manchester customers will sorely miss.

Even with the delays, arrival in LAS was slightly ahead of schedule, and, as you would expect, passengers in the Business made it to the (completely empty) US immigration queue first. This is the first time I have arrived internationally at LAS, and it was a real breath of fresh air, obviously helped by being the only international arrival at that time (though it looked like a Mexicana flight had gone through not that long before), but mostly because of the reasonable and (shock horror) friendly attitude of both immigration and customs. This definitely represents a huge leap forward from the hostile reception we brits often get in New York or Los Angeles.

Now, about baggage.... I had some concerns, as previous reports on the “Night Before Check-In” have indicated patchy performance with baggage handling, and it would appear these concerns were justified. All of the other Business and *Gold/Priority tagged bags did indeed come off first, but mine was nowhere to be seen, and it finally came out well towards the end of the line, so cannot have been loaded into the priority container like those checked in in the morning. Worse, it had been munched at some point (whether at MAN or on arrival at LAS we will never know) and was now short one foot, with the screws that used to secure said foot still sticking forlornly out of the (virtually brand new) case. The representative from Swissport had left with the crew, before all of the bags had come off, and there is no baggage query office in the international baggage hall at LAS. To cut a long story short, I ended up turning the corner to T2 departures, where the check-in desks for the BD752 were still manned. Politely indicating that I would not be leaving until I saw a representative from Swissport Baggage Handling eventually allowed me to get the necessary PIR (Property Irregularity Report) that we all know is essential in these cases, but I was cheerily informed that this claim was “for information only” as bmi will not accept claims for “cosmetic damage” to luggage. Agreeing to disagree with this rather wide definition of “cosmetic damage” (a scratch, scuff or dent is cosmetic damage – ripping a rubber foot off leaving two sharp screws exposed would appear to me to materially affect the function of the bag) I left clutching my precious PIR, and found the hotel shuttle bus stands that a Limo driver round the corner had sworn blind did not exist whilst trying to entice me into his town car (no, he didn't offer sweeties, not even to Willard), but it pays to do your research where Las Vegas is concerned, as there do still seem to be lots of predators waiting for green tourists. FYI, exit international arrivals, turn the corner to the left and you will arrive at Terminal 2 domestic arrivals, where the various shuttle operators do operate from, don't let anyone convince you otherwise!

Overall Rating
“The Business” was always a good, innovative product, right from it's inception, and those innovative touches are still there, the new seats do represent a move forward (with reservations....) but also a missed opportunity, IMHO. Still and all, it's a good product, and I would select bmi business over UA First in a heartbeat (even at the same price!).

Good Points
Ground Handling at MAN.
Overall in-flight service, good quality menu that is well delivered, good use of flexibility provided by having a crew member dedicated to the “in-flight chef” role.

Bad Points
Seat is an overall good product, but I would have expected IFE and power problems to be sorted now, and whilst the concept and pitch/width of the seat is good (comparable to last generation First classes, such as Lufthansa, in my opinion), the lack of good lumbar support makes comfort a concern, and reliability may also be an issue.
Priority luggage issues, and lack of any support on arrival at LAS – not acceptable at any level, much less for a premium product.
It's stopping – The withdrawal of long-haul from MAN is a very short-term-ist decision, and is a slap in the face to all those (customers [i]and[i] staff ) who have supported it through the years. Worse, since the majority of the very cabin and flight crew, who have delivered this product and helped turn it from a collection of three-ring-binders into a workable service, are facing the prospect of redundancy, I am genuinely concerned as to whether bmi will be able to “lift and shift” this service to LHR without the very people who have made it work. I've seen the results of an airline trying to deliver a complex business class service with a new, inexperienced crew, and it isn't pretty. Customer loyalty takes years to build up – it can be lost in milliseconds!

You can see the Willard's eye view starting here

(to be continued....)

Willard the Bear - and what exactly is wrong with a "Bear's eye view"???

Last edited by KenF; Feb 15, 09 at 7:05 am Reason: Formatting issues...
KenF is offline  
Old Feb 18, 09, 2:04 am
  #2  
 
Join Date: Nov 2003
Location: BNE
Posts: 2,622
Nice work KenF and congratulations on the lifetime *G ^

That US lounge at LAS is certainly hard to find. It was not until our LAS trip back in October that I managed to locate it myself and it was certainly not worth the hunt!
TEX277 is offline  
Old Feb 21, 09, 9:56 am
  #3  
 
Join Date: Oct 1999
Location: New York
Posts: 6,670
Congrats on the life Gold status!
Great seeing you on the flight over to Manchester and wish you and Willard all the best in future travels!

Look forward to the rest of your report!

Carfield
Carfield is offline  
Old Feb 22, 09, 10:38 am
  #4  
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Join Date: Jul 2004
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Posts: 15,385
Many congratulations on your new 'lifetime' status!

I'm looking forward to the next trip report and fully expect to see Willard, resplendent, in a Gold Jimmy Savile style suit from now on.
LapLap is offline  
Old Feb 24, 09, 11:51 am
  #5  
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Congrats on lifetime *Gold status!
MatthewLAX is offline  
Old Feb 25, 09, 3:22 pm
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Join Date: Jul 2005
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I read this trip report with a sense of sadness. I've used the bmi transatlantic biz service on many occasions and found it generally excellent, but alas it is no more.

Great report, sounds like a typical trip, Mine were all made special by the bmi crew who were uniformly excellent.
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Old Feb 26, 09, 9:28 am
  #7  
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Planet Hollywood LAS - LAS-PHX in US F

Planet Hollywood Las Vegas

Very glad to see the SPG Gold/Plat/Casino VIP check-in queue, just next to the rather huge snake of people waiting at the (admittedly well-staffed) vanilla check-in desks. SPG Elite status (Gold in our case) must have saved us around 30 minutes, as there was only one person in the queue in front. Check-in itself was very well organised and friendly and SPG recognition was flawless – we were offered a choice of Gold upgrade options on this rock-bottom internet rate from the SPG website, we could have either a large king-bedded resort room, or a smaller resort room with a strip view. For this, our first of two planned stays at PH this week, we opted for the larger room, and were provided with our keys (yes, they really did cut an extra key for Willard!) together with a useful set of information booklets about the hotel, and the sheet of discount vouchers included in the rate.

The room was, as billed, huge! The view was, as billed, non-existent! Comparing this to the two other hotels we've stayed at in Vegas, the room was significantly larger than our supposedly upgraded Venezia Towers room at the Venetian (at least 3 times the cost) and also much larger and generally better (but not quite as snazzily furnished) than our Platinum upgrade room at the Westin Casuarina (also significantly more expensive...).
As the shorter of the two stays here, this consisted of the usual Jet-Lag induced afternoon snooze, followed by an evening stroll through the Casino (this is Vegas, everything is reached “through the Casino”, I'm sure if they could work out a way of making you reach your bathroom via the Casino, they'd do it) to the attached Shopping/Entertainment complex. The Casino was amazingly quiet to my untrained eye (it was Sunday evening, but it still looked very, very quiet by my previous Vegas standards). Unlike some other hotels in Vegas, the “Miracle Mile” mall is not closely tied to the hotel, and so room charges at the eateries does not seem possible (dedicated Starpoint hunters will no doubt mourn the missed opportunities), but this does mean that the establishments here compete directly with the hotel, which is good for the budget! The Miracle Mile is a haven for Jet-Lagged tourists, as it is maintained at a permanent “early evening” 24 hours of the day (quite disorientating when you enter from the street in broad daylight, but strangely comforting when you are oscillating between PST and GMT) via the Vegas staples of painted cloudscapes and highly advanced lighting schemes. Anyway, after a short exploration at around 21:30 (local time) we grabbed a light Mexican meal and medicinal Margarita at La Salsa Cantina, and retired to bed.

Luckily, jet-lag was still engaged as I awoke at around 05:00, but it turns out this was a blessing, as I had mis-read the flight times for our departing flight, and would have been in sore trouble if I had kept to my planned schedule. As it was, we checked out at 07:00, again using the Starwood/VIP line, and had no trouble (and no charges) in leaving the main hold case with the Bell Desk so that we could travel hand-baggage only on our 4 US domestic flights.

Overall Rating
Very much a good experience, with much better SPG recognition than I was expecting (especially for a Vegas Casino/Resort!) and good, solid service in all the areas I tried.

Good Points
Location on the strip is good, with the attached “Miracle Mile” mall a very welcome and useful respite from the hotel/Casino services. SPG recognition is also a very positive point, especially when the Westin is so sadly lacking in this area (even with it's higher room rates).
Good solid service, especially from the VIP/SPG Gold/Plat desks, makes this multi-thousand room behemoth as welcoming as a family run local hotel. Was especially pleased not to be “nickel and dimed” for luggage storage, after having had a nasty experience over the same issue at, of all places, a 4 Points.

Bad Points
Seems uncharacteristically overpriced on points, and does not appear to offer point redemptions for upgraded rooms (tried, but there appeared to be nothing attached to the SPEC1, SPEC2 or SU rates at this property).
Resort fee is never a good thing, and, as always, I cannot see why this isn't embedded in the rate, if it applies to all guests.
Like all Vegas Casino resorts, it is a bit big and sprawling, and all routes from anywhere to anywhere lead through the Casino. If you are looking for the intimate hotel feeling, this may not be the place for you (but, to be fair, this applies, to a greater or lesser extent, to all Vegas strip hotels).

You can see the Willard's photo report here

US Airways Flight US005 LAS-PHX

Booked Class: First (A) – Flown Class: First Seat: 1A
Scheduled Departure: 10:05 – Actual Departure: Hmmm, thereby hangs a tale!

US Airways (especially in premium classes) seems to provoke very polarized opinions on FlyerTalk, probably more so than “the airline everyone in *A loves to hate” United! This itinerary on US was booked based on price, no two ways about it, as I was looking for the quickest, easiest way to get the additional Status Miles (i.e. EQMs) I needed in the shortest time, at the lowest cost. Since BD handles US/UA domestic first as miles x 3, a discounted First Class fare was the obvious way to do this, and the BD minimum accrual (600 miles, x 3 in F, making 1800) also helps in this regard. So I had mixed expectations, especially with all of the buzz going on about the new baggage restrictions just introduced by US, the steady stream of threads about hassles over Star Gold lounge access, and the general grumbles about the cutbacks in F. However, I figured it couldn’t be worse than flying LCC within Europe, so, caught a cab from Planet Hollywood to, I knew not what, exactly! (Note that I hadn’t been able to book a return shuttle, and, in any event, having to decide on your pick-up time the day before seemed very limiting, so I decided to Cab it back to the Airport, and see if I was treated to one of the unique thrills Vegas offers it’s visitors, that of being “tunneled” to/from the Airport!)

I’m very pleased to report that, without any prompting, the most direct route was indeed taken to the Airport, and I was quickly at Vegas McCarran T1. I’d decided to ignore the kiosks and see what happened, but in the event, the First Class check-in was empty when I arrived, and there was no question as to my eligibility to use it. As hinted at in Willard’s report, I was very surprised to find myself in a discussion about upgrade eligibility for my flights, given that I was flying on a First Class fare, and was already confirmed into 1A. This does seem to show that one of the problems is how few people actually buy a confirmed F ticket (even at the very low level that the A*****UP fare I’d bought represents) rather than either getting an upgrade via the FF program, or doing a “buy-up” transaction at the various points in the process where these are offered. Anyway, having checked that I was actually confirmed into First on all of my sectors, and that my seat reservations hadn’t gone walkies, I got my two boarding passes, had not a single query about my two items of handbaggage (no checked baggage on this side-trip), and thought I’d understood the directions to the US Airways Club, which, for some inexplicable reason, is landside at LAS.

Well, 15 minutes of searching later (just to the right of the First Class security line at the entrance to the A gates, she said….), I ended up asking one of the TSA staff, who pointed out the unmarked door in question, well to the right of the security line, onto the mezzanine balcony/walkway, and well into what most passengers would consider the “administrative section” of the airport.
No problems getting into the club with my BD *Gold card, very friendly welcome in fact, and, at this time of day (about 8:15 ish by the time I found it) only two other people in the lounge. Food options were, as expected, very limited (muffins and crackers) and after a quick check of my E-Mail (courtesy the free WiFi in Mcarran, not anything US Airways provide) I went back to the concourse to hunt down breakfast, considering whether I should leave a trail of some sort so that I could find my way back to the lounge.

After a further sojourn in the lounge, I left at around 09:15 to clear security and find my gate. The priority lane worked as advertised, and with a relatively friendly interaction with the TSA, I found the A gate satellite for the PHX flight. After dragging Willard away from the fruit machines (only in Vegas!), I couldn’t help but notice two things – the distinct lack of an aircraft at our gate, and the steady stream of very earnest looking passengers querying their seat assignment with the gate staff. When our aircraft finally arrived at 9:20 and started disembarking, I was skeptical that we would keep to our scheduled boarding time of 09:35, much less get off on time, but I was pleasantly surprised when, at just before 09:40 I heard the announcement, which went like this “gabble gabble gabble Phoenix gabble gabble Gate gabble gabble gabble Boarding” (OK, I know gate agents do this speech many times an hour, but, honestly, how a visitor, or indeed a non-local American, is supposed to decode that announcement, I just do not know), following the time-honoured frequent flyer tradition of “look where the other people are going, and do the same” I queued up at the gate, finding myself behind the very same gentlemen who were hanging around the podium, presumably getting their upgrades sorted. The new US Air baggage rules generated some “tears before bedtime” from two of my fellow passengers, though, given that the bags in question were more in line with what I would expect to see a squaddie carrying when on the way to a 6 month deployment somewhere sandy, it was difficult to find any sympathy in my heart as the inevitable threats and waving of frequent flyer cards ensued, and I suddenly realised why my own two bags generated not even one second glance, even though they exceeded the maximum cabin allowance on roughly half of the EU airlines I had flown on in the last 12 months.

Onto the plane, and I quickly claimed some of the fast receding overhead luggage space, and settled into 1A on this Airbus A320. Again, I’d seen mixed views on bulkhead seats in US First, and was prepared to be altering my seat assignment on the rest of my flights pretty quickly if things were as bad as some on FT had implied, but I have to say that, even on this, the tightest of A320 configs (flat bulkhead, no angled cut-out on either side in row 1) the legroom for the bulkhead looked acceptable, and I was sure I could get past my neighbor without him getting up if I were to want to.
Again, I was amazed at how quickly the flight was turned around, and I even got my coat hung (or, to be exact, squeezed into a space behind the seats at the back of this full First class cabin) and a cup of pre-flight orange juice prior to us departing the gate on-schedule for a 10:05 departure, and I was starting to wonder why US had such a bad reputation for on-time departures! US Air regulars are, no doubt, by now snickering uncontrollably, as I’m sure they know exactly what’s coming…..

So, the pilot does his announcements, and advises that, due to inbound flow control at PHX, he has been given an earliest take off slot of 10:30, and he will therefore be taxiing slowly around Mcarran for about 30 minutes prior to lining up for take-off……. I realize that I’m in the good ‘ole USA, where gas grows on trees, and if you are getting more than 10 miles to the gallon then, well, you’re just not trying hard enough, but still, the sheer wastefulness of burning all of that fuel just so you could say that you left the gate on-time did make my head spin a bit, and put some of the problems of the US domestic carriers into a somewhat different light for me, but now you know why I declined to provide an actual departure time above, since, let’s face it, the departure time was fiddled!

We actually left the ground at around 10:35, and, to be fair to our FA, the service seemed to me to be appropriate to the length of the flight. Though the overall flight time was about 45 minutes, we only spent about 20 of those in the cruise with seat-belt signs off. I was offered first pick at the “snack basket” (basically bags of potato chips and granola bars) and, since I seemed inexperienced, I even got a quick explanation as to the contents of the bar cart and the options it provided, and a Canadian Club and Coke quickly appeared, with a bag of the famous “Fiesta” snack mix. The service on this short flight was what I would call “workman like” not overly friendly, definitely geared to the frequent traveler who already knows exactly how it all works, but appropriate to the length of the flight, and not in any way hostile.

Since we would arrive behind schedule, the connecting passengers (of which I was one) were advised individually what the arrival gate of this flight would be, and where their connecting flight would leave from.
We arrived at 12:30 (11 minutes late according to the padded schedule) and due to the obvious mad scramble to get to the next flight, I’m afraid Willard never did get his picture taken in the seat!

Overall Rating
Not First Class as any Asian or European flyer would recognize it, to be sure, but as a short haul business class, the service was acceptable, though I’m glad I managed to pre-book 1A (which, as I understand it, takes Star Gold status) or my opinion might be different.

Good Points
Seat and legroom acceptable for a 2 hour flight, and, though the likes of BA or Swiss would no doubt manage a menu and a tray meal in the same time, the drinks service was reasonable.

Bad Points
Cabin completely full (as it was on all four of my US Airways flights) generating pressure on overhead storage and a rather rushed and pressured feel to the service.
Boarding process needs a translator, and is evidently geared to frequent flyers who know the spiel, and the boarding sequence, off by heart.
C’mon US! Buy some signs for the club at LAS!! It isn’t an NSA ops centre, so why not make it a little easier to find?

Though Willard missed out on his customary picture in the seat, you can see his check-in/lounge/terminal photo reports here

Willard the Bear - C'mon Ken, it's your job to take the photos, and my job to sit around looking cute - get with the program - OK?

Last edited by KenF; Feb 26, 09 at 9:36 am Reason: Punctuation (or, rather, the lack of it...)
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Old Feb 26, 09, 9:33 pm
  #8  
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KenF,

I understand that Willard enjoyed a special meal in New York.
If you click on the link down below in my signature, I know where Willard can have more of the same.

dh
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Old Feb 27, 09, 5:20 am
  #9  
 
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Ah. US's "Feista" mix.

At least it wasn't unsecured in the seat behind you KenF .

Congratualtions on BDL*G ... and it looks like you had a good flight on the BMI service and as you said ... it's a shame it's stopping

and dhammer53 ... mmm.. Pizza . Willard looked very pleased
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Old Apr 2, 09, 3:32 pm
  #10  
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US F PHX-JFK, Sheraton JFK

US Airways Flight US005 PHX-JFK

Booked Class: First (A) – Flown Class: First Seat: 1A
Scheduled Departure: 13:15 – Actual Departure: nearer 13:00

On your marks, get set GO!, well, if this is a 70 minute connection on US, I'd hate to see what a tight connection looked like! Was in the first 3 pax off the plane, and, since I had already checked the terminal plan in the in-flight magazine, I knew exactly what to expect on this A10 to A25 connection at PHX, and proceeded at full-speed ahead, making it in just a shade under 12 minutes, certainly looked too tight for even a quick trip to the lounge, and, as I arrived at the gate, they had just called First Class for boarding! That's a little tighter than I like for a connection (if I'd had luggage in the hold, I can't see how it would have made it). Given that I'd just arrived in time for the first call for F passengers, and was 3rd in the queue, I was a little surprised to find that the cabin was virtually full when I boarded (all was revealed on the JFK-PHX sector). This A320 was the slightly better configuration with a slight cut-out in the bottom of the bulkhead forward of 1A/C, and generally looked a little bit better cared for.
The FA in charge of F was in the best mold of US cabin crew, friendly, efficient, humorous but still just deferential enough for even the most dour of business travelers, in short, a real credit to US Airways. As per last time, coats were taken and a pre-flight drink proffered (water or juice offered, but various other requests were honored). Take-off was slightly ahead of schedule (and given the early boarding, this wasn't exactly a surprise!) and we were spared the 30 minute tour of the tarmac on this occasion. Again, once out of the climb, a drink and a grab at the, by now, infamous “US First Snack Basket” was offered. Drinks were refreshed regularly and, at about 1:30 into the flight the meal service was offered, this being a choice of a sesame chicken breast with a thai salad, or a chicken panini with a pasta side-salad. I seemed to get the strong impression that I was offered first choice of meal, but, being in 1A, this could purely have been because of location rather than status or fare. I was advised that the panini was effectively a large sandwich, and strongly directed to the thai salad, which proved to be good advice. Drinks service continued throughout the meal, and indeed the rest of the flight, and, after a short period on the white wine (a fairly basic Chardonnay/Sauvingnon clone), I took the advice of my seat mate and changed over to the red, a much more distinctive Merlot.
Very little else to say about the flight, in the sense that, overall, the 4(ish) hour flight pretty much met my expectations, with the US Domestic First seating being appropriate and comfortable for the length of flight, and the cabin service being friendly and attentive. A comparison with various European Business classes on flights of similar length yields the view that the “hard” product (planes, seating etc. ) is generally as good or slightly better than the average LH/LX/BD (midhaul excepted)/SK etc J/C flyer would expect. The soft product, on the other hand is a bit on the weak side, with the usual perennial problem that all non-USA flyers notice on their first flight on any USA domestic flight, that is, lack of lounge access for paid F passengers (not a problem for a non-US *Gold card holder, but that's not the point), very confused priority boarding procedures, lack of proper hanging closet space, low-rent beverage selection (though I'd have to say that the selection of spirits on my US flights so far has been impressive, but the wine selection has been, to be very charitable, of variable quality), catering more suited to economy (especially for a 4 hour flight!) and surprisingly limited overhead space for the First class cabin.
We arrived significantly early in JFK, and thus began the comedy of errors (on my part) that formed my planned mini-meet with dhammer53.

Overall Rating
Not as bad as I had feared after reading the range of opinions of US Domestic First Class on FT, but obviously a shadow of a once good product. Definitely better than flying in Coach, and if I was getting this “for free” as part of a connecting itinerary to an international Business Flight, it may represent value for money. Nothing like what it needs to be to support the “full fare” Fxxxx fares on these routes though.

Good Points
Seat acceptable (not wonderful, to be sure, but acceptable) for a 4 hour flight.
As always, good cabin crew can make anything look good, and we had a very good FA on this flight.
Regular and attentive drinks service – puts the UA “cabin matrons” to shame.
Flight actually ran early! Was I really on a US flight?

Bad Points
Cabin still full, and even with the new “slimline” US hand baggage restrictions (which, from what I could see, still allowed you to bring the kitchen sink, but now drew the line at the dishwasher) the pressure on overhead space was severe.
Catering barely acceptable for a flight of this length, and, with only 3 rows (12 seats) in F, it could have been made so much better, with very little increased cost to US (C'mon, how much does it cost to print up a menu?).

Sheraton JFK, and the Flyertalk Itineraries really works! bit

So, having arrived nearly an hour ahead of schedule in JFK, and with the arrivals board in T7 showing dhammer53's flight scheduled to arrive in just over an hour, I, rather foolishly in hindsight, decided to try to check-in at my hotel and then return to T7 in time to meet dhammer53 off his flight from SFO.
Given that I hadn't been in JFK T7 for nearly 10 years, and had never stayed at an airport hotel here, this quickly looked like a bad decision, but, you know how it is, decisions very quickly take on a life of their own, and we all have to live with our mistakes!
It may be just me, but the signage in JFK is pretty bad, as I found myself following signs to “Hotel Shuttle Buses” multiple times, only to have them suddenly stop in the middle of nowhere! After giving up and asking at the information desk, I found that the signs were trying to lead me to the JFK rail transit system, where, at the stop marked for “car rental” there was a huge selection of courtesy phones to connect you to your hotel in order to get a shuttle sent out. Then, all you had to do was to follow the signs to..... erm, er, no, they take you so far, and then suddenly stop again! After being directed to the (unsigned) shuttle bus plaza, I got my bus to the Sheraton, but time was no longer on my side.....
Check-in, for my Starwood award stay (the paid rates at this hotel were off the chart, but the award category was suitably low) was painless, even with my now lowly SPG Gold status, no discernible upgrade (mine was an end of block room, but still only offered a “roof, air conditioning plant and back of billboard" view), and I was advised there were no Club rooms available for upgrade that night. So I raced up to my room, ditched my bags, grabbed Willard and made it back to the lobby to grab the shuttle back. I'd left voicemail for dhammer53 saying I'd try to meet him off his flight, whilst he had left a VM at the Sheraton saying he'd meet me there, so we'd crossed – however, based on the timing I'd seen on the arrivals board, I would still make it. The shuttle dropped me back at T7, so I was spared the fight back through the transit system, and, wonder of wonders, as I arrived, it looked like the first passengers from dhammer53's flight were just coming through. However, after 15 minutes, with many quizzical looks from passengers wondering who this fool was holding up a teddy bear (who was, for most of the time, busily waving his paws), I began to feel things had not worked out as I would have liked, and a quick 'mobile call later I surmised that I'd just missed dhammer53 as he was now well on the way to collecting his car! So, back through the transit system (at least I knew where I was going this time!), a few friendly compliments on Willard's “meet and greet style” from my fellow travelers, and I waited for the Sheraton shuttle to pick me up (again!) to go back to the hotel (again!).
I made it back to the hotel before dhammer53 and waited in reception, and was very surprised (and grateful!) to be greeted sometime later by a New Yorker bearing Pizza! And great Pizza it was too, with a selection of various typical styles of pie, we camped out in reception (and, as dhammer53 indicated, no-one from the hotel seemed to mind!), munched Pizza, and talked of those things that Flyertalkers always do when they meet – Awards, Upgrades, Mileage Runs, and First Class. dhammer also made a very convincing case for Pat, Willard and I to join him on one of his annual Brooklyn Reality Tours that he has organised for FT-ers for some years now.
So, after saying thanks, and goodbye to our FT guest, Willard and I retired to consider the room, and the effects of Jet Lag that were beginning to assert themselves.
At least we were 4 timezones closer to home, and we managed some sleep, but were still awake ridiculously early by local standards. The room was compact, but had a comfortable and relatively new king-sized bed, an LCD TV mounted on the wall, a large desk, and a view that only someone with their hands held tightly over their eyes could love. The bathroom was “compact” by any standards (shower only – no tub) but serviceable.
After setting up the PC, there were two WiFi signals available, one for the Sheraton, which was configured to be free, and one for the Hilton Garden Inn next door, which was not. Guess which one I chose
All thoughts of a trip into Manhattan for the morning were quickly quashed, as the Jet Lag had definitely caught up, and it was decided that a lazy day was called for.
We were allowed into the Club lounge by the GM (now that my Starwood Platinum status has finally lapsed, this was not part of the Starwood benefits, but a one-off as I'd asked about the Club floor benefits) and had the traditional Starwood US Club floor breakfast spread (bagels, cream cheese, pastries, cereals, fruit etc.) and an interesting chat with the lounge attendant, who also worked for CO at EWR.
After doing some work on the 'photos to date, a trip to the indoor pool beckoned, and the large Jacuzzi helped soothe the Jet lagged muscles, whilst Willard lounged by the pool, we spent an hour in the pool, and were the only guest in both the pool and the gym during that time.
Our flight back was scheduled at 15:59, but there seemed no point in using our late check-out just for the sake of it, so departure was planned for around midday, giving plenty of time to explore JFK T7.

Overall Rating
Overall, a very well thought-out example of the “Airport Hotel” genre, providing pretty much everything the overnight transit traveler needs.

Good Points
Good, friendly shuttle service, even when patently abused by us!
Good range of facilities for such a relatively small hotel, with gym, pool, whirlpool, small combined bar/restaurant, and Club floor.
Friendly staff.
Free WiFi! Note that this isn't mentioned anywhere on starwood.com, and I advised the GM that they should be shouting about this more – it's a real differentiator for the average business traveler these days.

Bad Points
Paid rates seem a little high, though if it is selling at these rates, it's difficult to complain – however, on a business trip, I'd find it hard to justify the cost as an expense for a transit.
Rooms are small, and, though I think mine was an especially bad example, from the area I'd say that if you got a room facing a brick wall, that would be the best view available at this property.
Sorry, I don't like full service hotels with pokey bathrooms, especially when they don't actually have a bath in them – I think it may be a Brit thing!
Jury is out on SPG compliance, I'd have expected a better room as an upgrade, even as SPG Gold, but one data point is not enough to be sure on this.

Though we only got one picture on the flight, Willard has made up for it with a full brace of photos of the mini-meet and the hotel, available for your viewing pleasure here

Willard the Bear – Better late than never, but I’m expecting the next episode in a more timely fashion, please!
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Old Apr 2, 09, 5:41 pm
  #11  
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Originally Posted by KenF View Post
[b]I made it back to the hotel before dhammer53 and waited in reception, and was very surprised (and grateful!) to be greeted sometime later by a New Yorker bearing Pizza! And great Pizza it was too, with a selection of various typical styles
KenF, At least Willard was nice enough to leave us some pizza. ^

There's still room on the Brooklyn Tour. Willard rides free.


dh
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Old Apr 23, 09, 4:48 am
  #12  
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Us f jfk-phx-las

US Airways Flight US188 JFK-PHX

Booked Class: First (A) – Flown Class: First Seat: 1A
Scheduled Departure: 15:59 – Actual Departure: left gate near on-time, some queuing for the runway.

So, after a quick turn around in New York (does the airport technically count as “New York”?), and the multiple visits to the terminal last night, here we are back at JFK T7 again. Check-in for US Airways at JFK is a little hidden, compared to those for BA/UA etc, and I'm afraid the staff here lived up to the expectations set by the US Airways board, rather than the (much better) expectations set by the two crews I'd experienced so far. Having found the deserted US Airways First Class check-in counters round the corner in the far right of the check-in counters, the next job was to distract the two staff members at the counters from their obviously riveting magazines in order to get checked in. As you may already have guessed, this wasn't exactly the most positive check-in experience, but I did get my boarding passes and still had my reserved seats, and after asking about lounge access, I was firmly (and incorrectly) advised that my Star Alliance Gold status would not entitle me to access to the UA RCC (how long has US been in Star now?). No priority security at T7, and this was definitely the most “brusque” TSA experience of the trip, however, it was still professional, if rather gruff, and since the checkpoint was not heavily loaded, I was through security in about 10 minutes.
As expected, the UA RCC knew the rules somewhat better than their US colleagues, and I was admitted (welcomed would be too strong a word!) to the RCC, but my perusal of the literature for the free WiFi access caused me to be quickly warned that this was not available to Star Alliance partners, only UA premium customers and RCC members (does seem a bit stingy, especially as UA are being paid for the lounge visit by BD, but still, rules are rules). A quick tour of the RCC showed it to be a large facility, but, like most US domestic RCC's, it was rather soul-less and tired looking. I took a seat in the work area (well, actually that's inaccurate, it took me three tries to find a seat that had working power, working telephone and a non-broken chair, but I did it!) and spent some time charging my laptop and talking to home via VoIP calling card (aren't local access numbers useful!). Since I'd arrived quite early (through security and into the RCC well before 13:00) and there are only limited food options in the RCC, I ventured out to explore the food options in the terminal, and eventually settled on the Atlantic Bar, near the US Airways gates at the far end of the terminal. Must say that there were a good range of dining options in T7, including a food court and various independent outlets, but I was really only looking for a glass of wine and a light meal (and, no, ten bags of crisps and an overpriced glass of wine in the RCC didn't fit my definition either!), and this place hit the nail on the head. After spending a bit more time in the RCC, the boarding time started to approach, and I headed to the gate (somewhat early, after my experience at PHX!). Judging by the gate, this flight looked relatively full, and there was the usual knot of people around the gate inquiring about seats in First Class. Since this was the first time I'd gotten to observe the US boarding process in full (and with intelligible announcements) my confusion over the hierarchy was answered, as the first announcement was made for “Passengers requiring assistance, passengers traveling with children and First Class Passengers”. After, again, witnessing the aftermath of US Airways' new hand baggage policy, evidenced by some of my fellow front-cabin passengers running through the full DYKWIA routine when their “steamer-trunk-on-wheels” baggage was questioned, I considered suggesting that this announcement might well be more accurately changed to “Passengers requiring assistance, passengers traveling with, or acting like children, and First Class Passengers”. It's sort of surprising to see able-bodied passengers boarding at the same time as wheelchairs and invalids, but it certainly explained why I'd kept seeing the cabin half-full when boarding at the “First Class, Premier, Star Gold and Boarding Group 1” announcement before.
This time I was one of the first few to board, so no problems with overhead space, and this A320 was in the same configuration as the plane from PHX yesterday, and I was also in a position to observe the whole boarding process. Initially, things didn't look so good, as our FA did not appear to be cast in the same, fun, approachable mold as yesterday's wonderful example, and seemed to be veering much more towards the UA sullen “service with a frown” model, and I watched as she reinforced the baggage restrictions at the door as people boarded, though I have to say that I started to have more sympathy when I saw someone try to board with a carry-on wheeled duffel bag that was (and I'm really not making this up!) taller than he was (at least 5 feet long, and looked like it weighed more than a Cadillac). This and other blatant luggage violations caused an intense negotiation with the Gate agents as to how they'd all managed to get this far with their bags.
After this demonstration of what the crew have to contend with, the service started with the usual pre-takeoff drinks and hanging of coats, and whilst our FA never quite warmed to us in the way that the last had, she was competent, attentive and professional throughout – though after seeing her chew out the gate, I certainly wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of her!
We queued for the active runway for around 10-15 minutes, and as Willard's Report explains, the view out over the Hudson brought about some emotional reminiscences (and not the ones you are thinking of, Willard and I have no fear of flying, especially after US had only just made their bones in the “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” stakes, and anyway, I'm sure Willard can be used as a Flotation Device in the event of a water landing!) as the last time I was taxiing out of JFK (nearly 10 years ago now) there was no question of queuing for the active runway, and the sensation was entirely one of exhilaration as the re-heat kicked in on the four Olympus engines, and the great lady of the skies didn't so much take off, as leapt into the air from a standing start! (One of my great regrets is that Willard will never get to experience the sensation of Supersonic flight on Concorde, and I will probably never live to see the day when supersonic passenger services return to this world, and, to borrow a quote from one of my old, pre-Willard siglines, ”I know why the caged birds die, for, like them, I have touched the sky”).
After this flood of bittersweet memories, we took off (at the more normal, sedate pace of the A320) and the cabin service began with the first round of drinks in this (again full) A320 First Class cabin.
No issues with the service, and the meal service commenced about an hour after take-off, with the options being a Salmon steak with pasta, or the Chicken-pesto panini and pasta side salad that I had avoided on the outbound. Always cautious of Salmon on short-haul flights, I went for the Chicken, and whilst I still think a menu would be a really good low cost addition to the perceived quality of service on US First, I was encouraged by the level of diligence our FA was showing in matching the appearance of the meals to the pictures in her service manual as she assembled the constituents from the catering trolley. Drinks service continued throughout the meal (I switched to the same red wine as on the outbound) and refills were plentiful and always politely offered (a great change from our experiences in UA First, where an observer would quickly conclude that rationing had been implemented!).
We landed some 40 minutes ahead of schedule at Phoenix, and there were no delays at all, raising the vague hope that I may even be able to switch to an earlier flight back to Vegas!

Overall Rating
Again, an acceptable, but not overwhelming premium mid-haul flight on US. Nothing to complain about at the price I paid, but not in any way worth the full fare on the route.

Good Points
Even though not quite as warm and friendly as last time, this shows that US staff at their worst (so far) is probably better than UA at their (in my experience) best.
Seating still adequate for this 3.5 hour evening flight.
Another flight that helps to dispel the myth that US is always late!

Bad Points
Either the flexible fares need to come down to match the service, or the service needs to be ramped up to match the fares, especially the choice, level and quality of the meals.
Some IFE (even audio!) would not go amiss on these mid-haul flights.

US Airways Flight US350 PHX-LAS

Booked Class: First (A) – Flown Class: First Seat: 1A
Scheduled Departure: 21:20 – Actual Departure: No significant delay.

So, knowing the score for the transfer between concourses at PHX, I made my way over to A10, and, on impulse, passed the US Airways club by, and went to see if there was any chance of getting onto the earlier flight. Alas, even with a paid First class fare, this appeared to be too much for the gate agents for the earlier flight. I'd made it to the gate before boarding commenced, but though US Elites (All levels Premier upwards) are allowed free same day standby, this doesn't appear to be extended to Star Golds, so I was advised I could only change subject to a fee (shame really, as, from the looks of the gate area, the earlier flight was relatively lightly loaded, whilst, I would later find that my flight was chokka!) though the fact that they had doubtless already processed the upgrades list for the flight may well have had something to do with their reluctance.
Thwarted, Willard and I walked halfway back up the concourse and took the lift up to the Club, resolving to take advantage of the free snacks/WiFi during our extended wait.
Again, no problems with lounge access, and I therefore have to conclude that any previous problems with US failing to honour Star Alliance lounge access rules have now been ironed out, indeed, Willard and I were both welcomed warmly into the lounge. As a US hub, it is to be expected that the lounges should be better, and the A-pier lounge certainly met expectations, though not huge, it offered a range of seating options, a well stocked (paid) bar, and various light snacks (cookies, muffins, crisps/chips etc.) and, most useful of all, free WiFi!
An hour of checking E-Mails and various soft drinks later, we wandered back down for our final flight of the day to Las Vegas.
The gate area was somewhat more crowded than expected, and having arrived early, the food outlets looked tempting, but by this time only a subset were still open and the queues looked a little long for my liking. Boarding was called about 5 minutes later than scheduled, at roughly 20:45, and, having now understood the boarding process (and the announcement) I felt a little less self-conscious boarding immediately after a wheelchair user, so I found myself first into the F cabin for a change.
Very little to say about the flight, boarding was orderly, and push-back from the gate was virtually on-time, with little queuing for the departure runway, presumably this is all a function of the time of day. In-flight service followed the same model as the LAS-PHX flight, with no problems getting my jacket hung, a choice of water or orange juice for pre-flight drinks, a round from the snack basket and time for one (possibly two if you were fast!) drinks from the bar whilst in the air. Overall flight time appeared very quick, with, again only around 10 minutes in the cruise, and arrival at LAS was completely without delay.
LAS was pretty much dead when we arrived, and I had the added “benefit” of finding my way out of the domestic terminal to locate a shuttle bus back to Planet Hollywood. Not quite as badly signed as the international terminal, but without the benefit of the usual flow of other passengers to follow if in doubt, I found my way out of the baggage hall and to the first shuttle desk that came to hand, which happened to be Gray Line. Sadly this quickly started to look like a bad choice, as at this time of night, the busses weren't running that often, and it looked like I'd just missed one, so I had a 15 minute wait at the numbered stand with the usual “am I really in the right place? Which side of this sign am I meant to stand anyway?” type of angst before the correct shuttle arrived, and life then became markedly more difficult as the driver tried very hard to separate me from my hand baggage (really, come on, apart from the fact that Willard was seated on it anyway, my backpack is hardly anything you could mistake for a suitcase, and I fear that the dogged insistence on the part of the driver had far more to do with the interest in triggering the colonial “tipping reflex” than any concerns as to my safety – and if this was the plan, it sorely backfired, as this driver gained the unwelcome accolade of being the only person on this trip not to receive a tip!) and after a 5 minute face-off, which had me very close to returning to the ticket office for a refund, the driver, in his amusing little way, decided to get his own back by waiting for over 20 minutes before leaving for the Hotel, making this shuttle trip an estimated 10 minutes longer than if I'd decided to walk. It is fair to say though that this, and the rather transparent attempt to scam me on arrival, were the only two incidents of obvious sharp practice on this visit to Vegas, so overall the town seems to have belied it's reputation for trying to prey on tourists.

Overall Rating
Good overall, service acceptable, if a little brusque for a short haul domestic flight – nothing to praise but nothing to complain about either.

Good Points
On-time performance.
Boarding process, now that I understand it (though personally I'd have no problem giving WCH[RS] passengers priority over me!)
PHX US Airways Club

Bad Points
Inconsistent same-day standby service – US should really consider offering parity to Star Golds, and probably try some kind of aversion therapy to make the GA's at PHX a little more hospitable!

As before, Willards photo report for these sectors starts here

Willard the Bear – put me in with the luggage??!! String 'em up I say, it's the only language they understand!
KenF is offline  
Old May 14, 09, 11:50 am
  #13  
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Join Date: Sep 2001
Location: Wirral, UK
Programs: BA-Gld, BD Lifetime Gld, LH Pleb, *Wd GPG, HH-Dmd, Amex: can take their Cent card and <CENSORED>
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Just a progress report:

The final episode of Willard's photo report is up, you can read it Here. It includes my chance meeting with United935, and pictures of some of the bmi MAN gorund team, including Brian, the bmi station manager for MAN (and friend of Willard!).

I've got one more episode of the FT-style trip report to finish, but in the meantime I'd just like to express my admiration for the other FT-ers who regularly post full TR's here. This experience has shown me that doing a full Trip Report, including useful information on the Airports, service and destinations is very, very hard work and the people who manage to do this for every itinerary they fly are, without doubt, the unsung stars of FT!

I'm not sure if I'll manage to keep it up, but I'll definitely finish this one! And of course, Willard won't let me stop doing his style of reports, or I'll find myself being smothered by a set of furry paws in my sleep one night!

Ken.

Willard the Bear - Quite right too - glad you've got your priorities right!
KenF is offline  

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