So it begins…

25 03 2008

With a nice sunrise shining off the towers outside my building.

Out of the door by 8, I make my way to the free rental car I booked — 2008 Cadillac STS.  Nice ride to go to YYZ.

 

Traffic is surprisingly busy, but nonetheless I am at the check-in counter in 45 minutes.  Nice friendly conversation with the check-in agent — she is surprised how much my luggage can hold.  30 seconds (and an iris scan later) I am in the USA, and at security.  2 minutes later, I am in the MLL, on the phone with Aeroplan rebooking her flight to YCG.  It only took an hour, but she is booked.  Initially the agent was not in the best of moods, but by the end was friendly — helps I am in a good mood I think!

Had a quick continental breakfast, and off to the gate.  No opportunity to take a photo of the airplane I am on because of the configuration of gates, but it is an E-175.

Departing 24R, we had a bit bumpy take off, but then nice, clear, and smooth above the clouds. 

 

It clears up rather nicely when I get over upstate NY.  Instead of the normal loop down the Hudson for an eventual Expressway Visual approach, we land to the south.

 

Quick run to the gate (bag is 3rd off!) I make my way to the M60 bus and over to Columbia to meet Sal — who is putting out fires left, right, and centre.

Sunny and crisp in NYC as we eat lunch in front of Alma Matter.

 

I let Sal get back to work, and make my way slowly to JFK.  I decide to take the A train all the way to JFK — longer, but I have time.

Mostly underground, we come above just before the airport.  We pass over an abandoned graveyard — the most striking thing I have seen an a long while.  If only I had the guts to use my camera more on the Train.

Check in was suitably chaotic – but eventually I got my bag checked, along with being put on the waitlist for Crown Class.

One last pic, of our plane waiting for service:

 

 

Tomorrow, Amman!

-Brian





Weekend in LAX (B6, VX (F), AA (C), B6) – Part 1, to LAX

8 03 2008

I had been watching the eventual emergence of Virgin America on flights with a first class product from JFK to LAX/SFO in competition with AA and UA (and to a lesser extent DL), and thought I should give it a try. In looking at fares, there were some good deals to be had on VX, with AA matching!

I am rather the *A whore, so kept watching to see if UA would match, but they seemed to be leaving such shenanigans to AA *grins*, so off I went to book it.

The question then came to be – how to get to JFK. Looking around, I noticed that B6 had a great deal if you booked with an Amex card, 69$ r/t BUF – JFK (!).

I jumped at it, priceline’d two nights at the Westin LAX, booked rental cars to get down to BUF from YTZ (Hertz) and in LAX (Avis), and I was all set!

Friday night.

Quick check-in at the B6 site, with the idea of maybe taking an earlier flight if I can – would enjoy an afternoon in NYC, and given how JFK can be, more time available the better!

Saturday.

Up early, all packed the night before I walk the two blocks to the Queen Subway stop. On the empty train north to Bloor, with a quick change to the Bloor line to the end for the express bus to T1 and my rental:

From LAX on VX

Why pick it up at YYZ instead of at say, Union Station? Well, I save 60-70$ at YYZ, and the upgrades are much better.

50 minutes after leaving home I am comfortably ensconced in the leather seats of my navy blue Volvo S40 with NeverLost (at 15$ a day ;)) Plugged in directions to the Whirlpool Bridge and off I go.

Traffic was light on the way to Buffalo until Niagara Falls – traffic is backed up so off the highway with the nanny, um NeverLost, helping me find my way… Eventually I make it to the Whirlpool bridge. 30 seconds later I am in Niagara Falls NY on my way to BUF.

Boy is the parking lot full! Eventually I find a spot and park the car, grab my roller and camera bag and walk to the terminal. JetBlue has a couple flights before mine is scheduled, so I ask about stand-by. They had a flight cancelled last night, so everything is backed up, so not on the first, but maybe the second. I can either hope to get on for free, or pay 25$ to guarantee a seat. Hearing that all flights to JFK are delayed because of early fog, I decide to spurge 😉

A quick walk through security I am getting a coffee at Freshens on the US side of the terminal. Sadly, I won’t be visiting the friendly US Club today 😦

From LAX on VX

As a small aside, I have to say how nice (for the US) it is to go through security at BUF. No yelling, friendly (and plentiful) TSA agents, and rather fast as well! If all TSA operations were like this…

Eventually I make my way over to the other side of the airport, to our gate. I stand back, watching the crowd gather, somewhat unhappily in parts. Some of the folks were supposed to fly out last-night.

From LAX on VX

They board the last few rows of the aircraft, then the rest. I make my way on, greeted by a young FA. I make my way to my seat, my rollaway and camera bag over-head. Nice leg room, nearly as good as UA E+… with a tiny television screen in front, much like E+ on UA 777s . My seat mates had no end of trouble with the controls – I have to admit they were rather slow to react, and in the first row at least, not well placed.

I lost most of my notes for this whole TR when I accidentally reset my iPhone, so if I am missing something, well, that is the excuse…

We push back an hour late (as the plane arrived late from JFK) and taxi to the end of 5. We wait for a WN 737 to take off before us, a small prop or two to land, and a few more minutes for our time to JFK.

We are off! I play around with the television a bit, but nothing worthwhile is on. I found this when I flew on WS a few years ago, all these channels, all full of crap! I notice that we loose signal allot, so I miss all the good commercials! I stick to the NY Times, my iPhone, and the window for entertainment.

From LAX on VX

In flight service starts, I have a pop and some blue chips. The service is rather quick, as we dodge some storms on our way to JFK. We start our decent and fly over the Hudson River, with nice views of Central Park as we fly out over the ocean on a LENDY5 arrival.

From LAX on VX

Eventually we turn left we touch down on 31R, so a quick taxi to the gate is at hand. A nice short flight, can’t complain!

I made my way out and to the AirTrain to explore NYC.

It was a hot and sticky day in Manhattan, and by the time I got to T4 to get my flight to LAX I was REALLY wishing I had lounge access – at least for a shower!

Check in was quick. I had checked in on-line in YTZ the day before, but needed a boarding pass printed off. They machine could not do it, so I had the agent at the gate help me.

Very quickly I was through security, still hot from the City. I had bought some clothes at Macy’s, so switched into them. Even so, the lack of lounge access for F passengers )esp. when there is a Virgin Lounge in T4) is a disappointment.

I had some time to kill so I walked the terminal a bit, enjoying the spotting opportunities.

Sunset departure

Went to buy a water at the (rather pitiful) store, and had to wait in line for a few minutes for a gentleman buy a number of salads, drinks, and other dinner items. He was making very much a show of this incredibly complex purchase, with his inner (?) diva on full display. I saw how he was walking towards the VX gate area – I was glad he would be behind me for the flight… quick enough I would find out how I was mistaken…

From LAX on VX

Eventually I made my way to the gate area to board. The young ground staff were way more interested in chatting with a friend who was on this flight than helping anyone who comes up to the counter.

Eventually, boarding is called. First Class and people needing assistance. I am the first one on, and my first impession is positive. I am greeted by the (what I found out later was) the lead FA. She did indicated where my seat was and I moved into the aircraft. The mood lighting is in heavy use today, all pink and purple, with very comfortable white leather seats awaiting me.

California Dreaming

I settle into seat 2A, as I watch the others board. There is an elderly couple boarding behind me, and the salad guy, and his boyfriend. I quickly can tell (my ears are working) that he is moving his elderly parents from NYC to LA. The amount of fuss shown in purchasing the salads (all put in the overhead, btw) was repeated (+++) in the seating of himself, his elderly parents, and his bf.

After they are settled, a non-descript gentleman settles into 2F, and the rest of the passengers make their way back to economy. While this is happening I am offered a pre-departure drink — anything but bubbly !? They do not have sparkling wine on board. I order a gin and tonic from the slightly embarrassed FA.

From LAX on VX

Then the amusement starts.

Two rather ‘Californian’ women board. By the looks of them, they have both had visits to plastic surgeons, and are in little need of supplementary flotation devices, if you get my drift. The woman who is seated next to me asks if I could switch with her friend, so that they could be together instead of across the aisle. I politely decline. As I am doing this, the bf to the drama queen (seated in front of me) says loudly, in a heavy latin accent: “Don’t give them your seat – they are bitches!”

Oi!

The women, now pissy at me for not switching, ask the other gentleman in row 2 to switch. He also declines. The women, now start talking loudly how everyone else in first class are assholes. The fellow in 1C then starts to tell his parents how mean the women are.

Meh.

We are still at the gate. I turn up my iPod and burry my nose in my book.

Eventually we push off the gate and are on our way. It is evening by then, and as I am not the best at knowing the layout of JFK, I do not know what runway we are using. We line up for about 45 minutes, then we are finally off to the left coast.

Once we reach 10,000 feet I put on my earphones (provided by VX) and start to play with the entertainment system. First thing I notice is is how cheap the earphones are! They are so cheap I can barely hear the audio out of them, and quickly switch to my iPod headphones.

The a/v system itself is very nice, quick and responsive, with lots of options. It is not something I am very big on, but it amuses me for about 30 minutes.

While I was playing with the a/v system, I ordered my gin and tonic from the lead FA. Came in a very nice glass. Shortly after, she sets my table for dinner.

Paper and plastic everywhere. From all the utensils, to the napkin, to the placemat. Not a piece of cloth or metal ANYWHERE.

Some appetizers are offered, again in small plastic cups arranged in a tray. The salmon is nice, but again, nothing but plastic to be seen.

Eventually, the one choice of main is served (yes, I said only one choice). It is a spicy thai chicken — very yummy actually — served on, you guessed it, a plastic plate/bowl thingy. My choice of red or white with the meal, in glass.

After my meal was cleared desserts were offered, in the same little plastic containers that were used for the appetizers.

Meh (x2)

I ordered a port (none to offer) and then a baileys for after dinner, and reclined my comfortable seat for a nap.

About the seat. Very sexy looking, overstuffed, white, with electronic controls including massage. Much better recline than other business class / domestic F offerings.

I think I slept for about 3 hours.

Woke up to the other two FAs (who were serving the back) chatting with the fellows in row 1. Overheard them chatting about their plastic surgeries, tanning, bars in SFO, and laser treatments for wrinkles. Yes, they were all gay men of a certain age and interest – with allot of interest in each other, but not to their cabin or other passengers.

Eventually, I got another drink out of them.

Meh (x3)

Eventually we make our way into the murky So Cal night, the FAs and 1A/C trade phone numbers, and we make our way to Terminal Six.

Quick get-away once we dock (only carry-on) and I am on the bus to Avis and the Westin LAX.

While in LA, I take some photos:

China Airlines

Continental 757

LAN Chile 767

Continental 737

American 757

Delta 767

To summarize, VX has nice planes, nice prices, but the rest of the experience, in this one instance is Meh. Time 3.

Part 2 will be about AA Flagship Service in business class back to JFK. How will it compare?

-Brian