Posts in the “Las Vegas” category...

Calgary to Las Vegas – Air Canada

by Continental Club on July 30, 2008  |  Leave a comment

Air Canada flight AC546 was, at the time of booking, to be Airbus A320-operated and two Business Class seats showed available for Star Alliance redemption. Using the bmi British Midland ‘cash and miles’ system, these were snapped up for 11,250 miles and £75 plus tax each, with the third seat required being cash purchased to earn at least some of those miles back. Air Canada’s website is clear and straight forward, with fares presented under differing names rather than just cabin service classes. The Las Vegas flight was to operate two-cabin, with Business Class service being the newly refitted Executive Class. This gives wider seating, greater recline and Maple Leaf lounge access amongst other benefits.

A couple of weeks after booking however, the flight had been downgraded to an Embraer E190 and further idle searching showed no redemption seats being offered on other flights now using the smaller aircraft. We were very lucky to have got in when we did. A slight timing change flagged up the equipment change, which was notified by email immediately from AC with reference to the paid-for booking. To this day we await the booking confirmation or schedule change notification from bmi. The earlier seat selections were knocked out with this change but were swiftly reset with a call to Air Canada in London – taking all three seats of row one.

Check-in at Calgary was very quick, even though we’d not completed the formalities on-line in advance. Seat selections had been maintained however and I looked forward to my first ever Air Canada flight. The check-in agent advised that US Immigration pre-clearance was on site at Calgary and we were directed towards it. She was unable to provide I-94W Visa Waiver forms however and said we could sort this at the US desks. Baggage check is post-immigration, so with our cases still in tow, we lumbered off.

I hate US immigration.

The tensa-barrier queue snaked around, but moved reasonably swiftly. Eventually, we were called to a desk, whereupon we had our passports examined. The official did not trouble himself to disguise his heartfelt pain at being presented with non US/Canadian documents and, with much harrumphing, rummaged about for I-94Ws. He broke into a new pack, thrust them at us and told us that we should have filled them in already. Ahem. He sent us off to a naughty desk, telling us to walk back to the front of the queue to be recalled, and we quickly filled them. Back at the front of the queue, a different official called us. In the hurry, we’d all forgotten to fill in that bit of the form underneath where it says ‘For Government Use Only’. Amazing how, when under pressure, one follows instructions even more closely, even when experience tells you that the instruction is wrong. So, we get sent away with thinly veiled venom again – trudging to the naughty desk with our cases once more for the three seconds it takes to fill in a flight number and then wait to be called again. Officious fool.

We finally make it through and the longed-for relief of the Maple Leaf Lounge and Air Canada hospitality. No darts. There is no Maple Leaf Lounge in the pre-cleared area of Calgary, despite all the airline website’s sales patter, promises and justifications of the Business Class fare. Very poor.

The inbound aircraft is running 30 minutes late, so we linger with the proletariat until we are finally called, all of about 2 minutes after the crew have boarded. Clearly the ground staff want shot of us, although special assistance, status and premium pax are at least called first. Which, as it’s North America, means that everyone, apart from the Ukranian who didn’t understand the announcement, stands up and surges forward.

At the door of the aircraft, we shock the still-unpacking crew and I hold back the increasing force of high-rolling fortune-seekers behind until the chief steward has fixed his hairpiece and cleared the cabin for boarding.

The aircraft decor is fresh, new and pleasantly fitted and the seats rapidly fill. There are three rows of Executive seating, arranged 1L 2R and then a kink in the aisle to centralise it between 2-2 Economy Class seating. Executive seats are proper non-convertibles, with decent recline and a curtain separates the forward cabin from the veal at the rear. There are seat back (or bulkhead) screens and On Demand Audion and Video, even on this basic bird. A pre-departure drink is hurriedly offered – orange, water, a beer if asked nicely.

Doors are closed and pushback is as swift as could be hoped for, and we commence a short taxi before take off at just after 8pm.

So, so far, immigration has been a joke, we’re feeling a bit short-changed by the lack of lounge and less than impressed by sloppy boarding. Still, the seat is comfy and there is a spectacular sunset above the clouds. Roll on great Canadian service.

And roll off. The entertainment system is inoperative. The seatbelt sign is off, but the cabin divider curtain curtain remains open and Economy passengers fill the Business Class aisle queuing for the loo. The curtain to the galley is drawn however, to ensure that the full-of-bladder wait in the cabin, not at the trap door. The pale bluey-green curtain is filthy with the stains of the previous hundred sectors.

There is a choice of salmon or chicken salad, on the same ‘base’. Remarkably, given the cheapness of the ingredients, it is presented in a china receptacle. Which is chipped. And sadly it seems as if the caterers have used at least as much aviation fuel as has been wasted on flying the weight of the china pots as a quite unique alternative to vinaigrette. The beer does little to overpower it. The quantity of the food can’t be faulted, but the quality certainly can. It is, quite honestly, rotten, and anyone who has the temerity to complain about British Airways Club Europe food should be beaten with an Air Canada salmon fillet. Now I know what happens to the stuff that John West rejects.

The entertainment system eventually gets booted into some sort of action, but never really settles during the two and a half hour flight to Sin City. I spend most of the flight with Gloria Gaynor stuck in a loop (interspersed occasionally by Dame Burly Chassis asking if she could touch me here), while the participants of various bachelor parties scratch their crotches in the aisle next to me prior to pebble-dashing the reverse side of the bulkhead in front. And all for a bargain £360 one-way.

At least the crew are friendly, even if they do seem rather dejected at the abysmal level of service they are cost-controlled to deliver. Hairpiece Harry chats happily with MCC and FCC on approach to Las Vegas, as Gloria continues to wail that she is what she is, she is, is she, she is. Ad nauseum.

The pain is eased by a smooth landing, a short taxi and then a not too lengthy walk to the baggage hall. The driver from CLS Limos is waiting for us and the bags pop out surprisingly quickly given previous tedious experiences at McCarran Airport.

Final verdict for Air Canada: a disappointingly low 5/10. No-one was physically injured, I guess, but the bmi Diamond Club Miles credit for the paid-for Business Class ticket was stingy too at just 1039.

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Las Vegas, Nevada – Part One

by Continental Club on July 30, 2008  |  Leave a comment

Now, dear reader, if you have made it this far and have read all preceding reports in chronological order, then you will have been peering at your screen for very nearly the same length of time as it would have taken you to undertake the trip yourself. For this I apologise, but I fear that you should also apologise even more to your boss, as you’ve probably been doing it on company time.

So, if you started at the first post and read the full list of Trip Reports, you’ll have been expecting this trip to Las Vegas. Which is more than two out of three participants in the actual trip were. You see this was all a surprise in recognition of MCCs 60th and FCCs 65th birthdays this year. The news was broken in the US Immigration queue at Calgary. MCC looked a bit excited. FCC looked as if his wisdom teeth were giving him gyp. A former member of the communist party, he has matured towards geriatry as all ardent socialists do – by veering from thinking that Stalinism was a bit wishy-washy to ending up politically-aligned slightly to the right of Genghis Khan. En route, of course, they pick up little of the charm of either extremism and therefore hedonism remains their constant foe. Viva Las Vegas. Hehe.

Purely for the purposes of badness and to ensure that his discomfort began immediately, I had booked a superstretch for the short whisk to the Four Seasons. Rolling around on the back seat like an egg in an earthquake, under the fibre optics and booming Bose, he was clearly not enjoying himself. His pain being made much the more excruciating by the fact that MCC thought the whole thing hilarious. Me too. I was still laughing when we slumped out at the Four Seasons and, leaving them to variously glower and titter on a sofa, I checked in.

I soon stopped laughing. The receptionist was sweetness itself, tapping the keyboard as she stood next to her superior. She described the beautiful room we had booked, confirming everything that I knew from my pre-trip research. I have long since learnt that you should never book anything that you know will not meet your expectations, resting all your hopes solely and potentially vainly on an upgrade. Book what you want; anything better is a bonus.

But now she tells me about this wonderful suite upgrade that I can have, which is of course excellent as the American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts rate includes a subject to availability upgrade. And she can do this for just $150 a night. Definitely no laughter here. I manage a smile to point out the Ts&Cs; of the AMEX rate. Either there’s an upgrade available or there’s not. If there isn’t, I’m happy with what I’ve got. If there is, then comp. it as part of the rate, an example of great Four Seasons service and my first taste of the hotel and the company. She looks at the superior nervously.

The supervisor stares intently at her screen, ignoring the conversation. I press the receptionist on the policy, but she says that it’s too big an upgrade to comp. For fun now, I offer half. No can do. She completes the check-in and walks us to the lift. She wishes MCC a happy birthday just past and, out of earshot of the superior, apologises profusely for the upgrade scam. ‘I’d have given it to you,’ she said, ‘but y’know……’

Apart from the really poor first impression, the particularly daft thing was that, when we got to our room, there was a lovely Birthday Cake waiting for MCC. Which, of course (unless there were two?) wouldn’t have been in the suite we were nearly nickel and dimed into.

I’ve since spoken to a charming Manager from the Four Seasons, who called me in response to their post-stay online survey and he’s promised to look into the policy and the way it’s communicated. I hope they do review it, or others will I am sure feel as I did. In these difficult economic times, impacting nowhere more than Las Vegas, the Four Seasons missed a real opportunity to impress and encourage loyalty there.

Back to the room however, on the quiet (non-airport side) of the hotel and with a fantastic full-length strip view. The Four Seasons occupies the uppermost floors of the Mandalay Bay resort and our foreground view is of Luxor’s pyramid, with the Stratosphere twinkling in the distance.

Yet another hotel unable to service a room booked for three guests with amenities of similar multiples, however with a quick call to housekeeping to acquire an extra coffee mug, the Geriatric Meerkats and this Passepartout sit, with the lights off, eating birthday cake and gazing at the neon, and trying to reconcile having woken up in Banff that morning.

The room itself is generous in proportion and expensively (if a little sparsely) furnished. There are two doubles, a large side board, plasma, coffee maker, desk, coffee table and easy chair. The wardrobe space is not overly large however (something I’ve previously thought to be an issue at The Wynn, too). The bathroom is marble, large and well lit, with a separate room for the loo, an over-sized bath and glass shower cubicle.

Things perk up immeasurably in the morning. Despite the AMEX FHR package including ‘continental’ breakfast, confirmed verbatim by the embarrassed receptionist of the previous evening, no such thing exists on the menu. Beaten and cowed, but seated in wonderfully comfortable chairs at a spacious table on the poolside outdoor terrace, welcomed warmly by greeter and serving staff and surrounded by lush planting, we are in no mood to query further.

Uniquely on this trip, there is no breakfast buffet, so we order a la carte from an extensive menu. The service, food and environment is just lovely and it sets us up royally for the day ahead. Even FCC looks like he might be starting to lighten up, although I suspect that he is still considering what General Pinochet would do in a similar situation.

Given that trip reports abound on the many diversions and distractions which this most iconic of cities can offer, there seems little point in merely repeating them.

Suffice to say that it’s an expedition of several hours in length to cover merely the principal sights of The Strip, accelerated slightly at beginning an end by the Mandalay/Luxor/Excalibur tram and the Las Vegas Monorail respectively. There’s nowhere like it on Earth; not even the places it’s meant to replicate.

A little unhelpfully, the Monorail does not hug Las Vegas Boulevard as it heads back South, runnng several blocks East of The Strip in line with the Las Vegas Convention Centre and Hilton rather than hotels like the Venetian, The Mirage, TI or The Wynn. It snakes West to the Strip further South by Harrah’s. That said, there is a free shuttle from The Wynn to the Convention Centre Monorail Station, which drops and collects from The Wynn’s Tower Suites entrance on Sands Avenue. The monorail takes you South to the MGM, from whose station a walk through the gaming floor, out of the main entrance, across the road and into The Excalibur takes you to the free tram back down to Luxor and Mandalay Bay for the Four Seasons.

Helped by the 96 degree June heat, FCC appears to be thawing as the time to freshen-up for the evening ahead arrives. It actually sounds like he might have been quite impressed by curved escalators and painted ceilings in malls that can fool you momentarily into thinking you are indeed outdoors. He’s even chatting about the (now relatively antique) animatronic show in Caesar’s Forum and the indoor gardens at the Bellagio and The Wynn.

Result.

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Las Vegas Part Two – Daniel Boulud and Le Reve

by Continental Club on July 30, 2008  |  Leave a comment

Scrubbed and smartened, a cab takes us behind The Strip to avoid the teatime traffic and drops us at The Wynn again in time for our dinner reservation at Daniel Boulud’s eponymous brasserie. The reservation is the earliest available, to give us time to make our later theatre performance.

There seem to be a lot of management-looking types milling around as we approach the desk and, when I go to present ourselves, I first have to step out of the path of a passing sniffer dog. The table, it transpires, is not quite ready so, taking a risk leaving them alone in a strange country, I tell the Meerkats to sit and stay and head off to the Box Office to pick up our tickets for Le Reve, one of The Wynn’s two shows. One less job for later. When I return, I feel sure that they will have been seated but, no, 10 minutes after the booked time, they are still standing.

I go to the desk and ask what’s going on. Cue much dashing about, the arrival of a Maitre d’, profuse apology and a welcome to us all. He offers us a table indoors or out; we opt for indoors and he seats us with a clear view of the Lake of Dreams. En route, he explains the delay. The President of Chile is in the adjacent private dining room and the security arrangements have been slightly more intrusive than they had hoped. Our own Pinochet looks slightly uncomfortable as he tries to remember whether the current postholder is friend or foe.

 

We are then fussed over and generally treated exceptionally well by the entire staff, who subtly and comfortingly acknowledge that we have to be seated for a show later, are already running a little late and do everything they can to make us as relaxed as possible. As a veggie, MCC asks the server if Chef can offer anything to augment the menu which, though otherwise extensive, is not particularly well-populated with meat-free options. The server describes today’s Chef’s vegetarian creation and MCC signs up. FCC orders the famous db Burger, while CC here plumps for the Tenderloin.

With our tickets on the table, we are kept informed of progress in the kitchen as drinks are refreshed, bread basket replenished and the restaurant fills up. When it arrives, the food is nouvelle in US terms, but for us Brits it remains hearty in proportion, is beautifully presented, professionally served and, most importantly of course, tastes wonderful.

We have coffee before heading to the theatre, with the staff offering us the option, if we wish, to return after the show for dessert. A nice touch and one which is a good sales strategy for them too, I would think.

Le Reve is the creative work of one Francois Dragone, formerly of Cirque du Soleil and, more recently, feted as the man behind Celine Dion’s A New Day show in Vegas. The theatre is specially built, in the round, and most notable for its stage which rises and falls from a huge water tank. As ‘curtain up’ approaches, it’s obvious however that the theatre is not particularly full. I have booked the VIP Package, which includes a half bottle of Perrier-Jouet champagne per person, special seating and chocolate-dipped strawberries. These seats constitute the back row of the theatre, forming a circle above and around all the standard seats. The lowest, front seats are classified as Splash Zone. Ours, meanwhile, are of almost Lay-Z-Boy proportions and each pair is separated by a coffee table. Upon each of these is a plate of four large strawberries per person, and champagne flutes. A server is assigned, greets, pours the first glass and then keeps the bottle on ice.

 

The show is stunning, in an admittedly very generic way. There are no celebrities, no stars, no well-known music, just an acrobatic performance of consummate skill, choreographed and lit superbly, with great sound. The stage moves in and out of the water, with the performers regularly falling into the water, swimming, diving, jumping and then being held submerged while they are fed oxygen by scuba divers out-of-sight below the surface. VIP guests can see some of this underwater action on monitors set into the low wall in front of their seats. The water makes the impossibility of some of the moves and holds performed by the acrobats even more incredible.

Speaking of incredible, here’s a thing. Every time I put my drained champagne glass down, I could see, from the corner of my eye, the neck of the bottle swooping down to refill it. Maximum setting down to pour time: 6 seconds. Impressive. I did start to feel very relaxed and, through a fug of fizz, began to consider the possibility that I may have had slightly more than half a bottle. Perhaps the meerkats were not quaffing so quickly? I resolve to observe. FCC is not downing it, but MCC is certainly taking advantage. The pouring continues unabated. The show ends and our server asks us if we would like the rest of the champagne ‘to go’. So, expecting a few remaining drops in a stoppered bottle, I say ‘amen’ to that and wait a moment. She arrives back with three Wynn-branded plastic oversized tumblers and shares the contents of what must have been near-enough a full bottle between them.

God bless America!

We head out into the casino with our buckets of fizz sloshing, feeling quite the lushes and veering slightly. Dulled by the booze, FCC puts up no fight when forced to sit at a slot machine, and I ceremonially present a single dollar bill. He plays it and emerges triumphant with a 60% return. MCC is less successful with hers, recording a mere 2% upswing. Expecting them to keep their winners’ slips as souvenirs, I move to leave but no, they wish to cash their chips. Meerkats. Who’d have ‘em?

We cab it back to the calm serenity of the Four Seasons in preparation for an early start the following morning. I try to convince Pinochet that if he’d dropped a mill, he’d be sitting on another 600K now, but he’s having none of it. He is looking forward to his turndown chocolate though. And hiccoughing fizz quite a lot.

 

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Las Vegas Part Three – The Grand Canyon

by Continental Club on July 30, 2008  |  Leave a comment

The variously manifested effects of the previous evening’s champagne consumption do not lend themselves to a sprightly hop from bed at 5.30am. There’s little choice in the matter however, as the ODS limo will be drawing up at 6.00am. The fact that it’s a little late is a useful problem, as it affords the opportunity to down another bucket full of coffee from the Four Seasons’ lobby breakfast-on-the-run presentation.

The dulled senses also help in MCC being able to avoid dwelling on the mounting fear of her first ever helicopter ride. Keeping her calm enough to go through with it being the reason why I’d passed on the seaplane opps in Vancouver; if that had been bumpy, she’s have bailed out of this flight for sure.

With the sun already ascended quite appreciably, it’s a short ride to Sundance Helicopters purpose-built facility on The Strip side of McCarran Airport. We are weighed in and have to stump up the ubiquitous fuel surcharge ($30pp) and have a dandy Avery label with a number written on it attached to our left breasts. Quite the Far Eastern tour group members we look. We are given a pre-flight information card and encouraged to watch the safety video playing on the plasma.

At 7am, our pilot calls our number, which constitutes the lottery draw of who we’ll be sharing the chopper with. As it turns out, it’s a friendly couple from Surrey who will be with us for most of the trip to the Canyon but, as they have booked a slightly different package, they’ll be being dropped off before we finally return to Las Vegas.

Our itinerary is booked through Viator, goes under the title ‘The Grand Canyon All American Helicopter Tour’ and is a useful 25% less than it was last year (in dollar terms) and then a bit more thanks to the strength of sterling. Quite why that still requires a fuel surcharge defeats me slightly, but ours is not to question. There’s a further 5% discount to be had by chucking ‘codesUK’ into the promotional box at checkout.

Belt pouches containing lifejackets are donned and we make our way out to the 6 seat Eurocopter Astar for a final briefing. Strapped in, headsets on and a smile and wave for the onboard camera and the rotor is being spooled up for a 6 foot hover and then careful edge forward off the H-plate and toward the taxiway. The pilot pivots the machine through 90 clockwise degrees and then we tip slightly for the Airwolf-esque take-off roll and soaring rise away from the blacktop.

This is the moment of truth as far as the less-than-confident MCC is concerned but, so far so good, as we bank East across the Southern perimeter of the airfield and set a heading for Henderson City. The sun is now kicking out some serious heat, but the aircon copes well given the greenhouse bubble of the cabin.

The Sundance product includes a continuous commentary, which can be turned down via the headphone volume controls and which consists of both spoken word and quite well-matched music. This is augmented by topical interjections from the pilot.

The first sight of note is the Hoover Dam, and the chopper takes an s-shaped route to offer good views of both sides of the dam and from both sides of the cabin. It’s then onward, passing the spurs and bluffs, mesas and buttes that line Lake Mead, before crossing the massive body of water and heading towards the Canyon itself.

Cresting over the ridges of the surrounding highlands, the flightpath leads towards the Western gateway (or outlet, depending on your point-of-view) of the Canyon and the first glimpses of the vertiginous walls. With the theme to Indiana Jones playing over the PA, the Canyon looms and then the ground plummets away beneath the glazed footwells.

The Native American Hualapai community have recently opened a visitor attraction which is clearly visible as the Sundance helicopter begins its run along the canyon. The Grand Canyon Skywalk is the subject of much publicity and comment, and consists of a visitor centre and cantilevered glass platform which forms a u-shaped projection from the Canyon lip.

The promotional narrative informs readers that the Skywalk is 4000 feet above the Colorado River, which is absolutely correct. However, the Canyon wall beneath is far from vertical and, in fact, the projection is over a sort of side creek, rather than the main trench itself.

Visitors to the Skywalk have commented extensively on sites such as TripAdvisor, not just on the physical situation of the attraction, but also the commercial proposition which obliges visitors to pay for a tour to reach it, before paying once again to access the glass, upon which photography is banned….

Many of the comments posted are easily understood when the Skywalk is swept past by the chopper.

The Sundance tour then takes passengers down to a landing site inside the Canyon. This gives the opportunity to really get a good impression of the scale of the geography and geology of this slash along the earth’s crust. The peace and quiet is tangible and there’s plenty of time to take a wander through the scrub to find some solitude and take in the 360 degree view.

The landing site is some way above the river and there are a couple of camouflage – draped picnic shelters nearby, upon which your pilot will serve a light breakfast of orange juice, pastries, and a glass of something (!) fizzy. It’s all rather civilised and, of course, the benefit of sharing the helicopter with others means that there are plenty of willing photographers to take snaps of your party in its entirety.

After about half an hour, as the Canyon gradually warms in the new day, it’s time to re-board the helicopter and soar back towards the rim to return from this pristine wilderness to the complete opposite that is Vegas.

On a previous trip, we made a more-or-less direct heading back to McCarran but, on this occasion we were to detour via Boulder City Airport to deposit our fellow tourists for the start of a rafting adventure. This extended our trip slightly (a bonus if you like helicopters!) and afforded us an extra landing and take-off, which as with most air travel is much the most interesting part for me. We also got a bit of a Top Gun walk across the tarmac….

This partial unloading also means that, for the final 20 minutes, we have the cabin to ourselves. We now aim straight for the Northern end of The Strip and, as the hotels and sights come into sharp focus, the inevitable soundtrack is Elvis and Viva Las Vegas.

Our flight path takes us to the right of The Stratosphere before banking 90 degrees to the left and buzzing the length of The Strip as far as New York New York. Here, we make another 90 degree turn to get a superb view of the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower opposite.

A final 90 degree swing, this time to the right, and we are on a steep approach back to the Sundance Heliport.

It’s a concentrated immersion into the natural wonders of the Nevada/Arizona border, and quite difficult to reconcile that, by 10.30am, we are back at the Four Seasons having had breakfast in the Canyon. It’s a once in a lifetime experience that I’ve now done twice.

And so ends our brief side-tour to Las Vegas, as we pack our cases once again and I prepare for the now habitual checkout tussle. I’m not to be disappointed as that breakfast credit comes back to haunt us. It seems that there is a fixed amount apportioned to the included ‘Continental Breakfast’ that they don’t actually serve and no amount of discussion, or highlighting of the fact that we have not availed ourselves of the one-time per stay lunch credit seems to have any impact. It’s another point to be discussed with the charming manager who calls some weeks later, but who knows whether processes will be improved for other guests. It’s certainly not been as slick an experience as I’d expected of a Four Seasons property.

Defeated, we check out and take a cab to McCarran for our US Airways flight 16 to Phoenix Sky Harbor.

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Las Vegas to Phoenix – US Airways

by Continental Club on July 30, 2008  |  Leave a comment

The Airbus A320-operated US Airways flight from Las Vegas to Phoenix is scheduled to take just over an hour and, invariably, is over with in less. This makes the differential between Coach and First at the booking stage frankly ridiculous. Coach prices at $69 plus tax (including seat pre-selection); First at $423 however, like many North American carriers, upgrades are available at the gate. They are also available at On Line Check In for $50, so it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out the strategy here (or to understand the completely goosed business model). The one snag with the 24-hour before take-off On Line Check In upgrade is that the website does not accept non-US credit cards for this particular process. A quick phone call is required and it’s a simple and efficient job. We don’t have the pick of seats, so end up slightly separated, but at least FCC and MCC are together in row 4. I’m in 3A. Print Your Own Boarding Pass works flawlessly and bag drop at Las Vegas is very efficient.

Upgraded Coach to First seats like these do not attract a bonus for Frequent Flyer Programme point accrual, and there is no lounge access. The Priority Pass lounge happens to be the US Airways Club however and is to be found landside, just to the right of security, next to the Airport Job Centre and through a very unprepossessing door.

There is free WiFi throughout the airport, and the friendly lounge dragons will also make announcements. It’s hardly a spacious facility but it’s separated into two areas, there’s a TV, the airport’s wifi (no PCs) telephones, free tea, coffee, soft drinks and snacks, and a cash bar. To be honest, it’s perfectly serviceable as long as you’re not in for a long delay. Re-entry is easy if you want to wander the shops or have a last poke on a slot.

First, Business and Fast Track security occupies the lane closest to the lounge and is reasonably swift. Beware however that this lane also handles special assistance pax and the staff lane is also controlled by the same security team. This can lead to the odd delay, but nothing to speak of and you should be on your way in no time. The walk to the gate is only a few minutes too, with more shops and slots on the way.

Boarding is announced by assistance, class, status and then row number. Frankly, it’s still a scrum.

The flight itself can be described thus: Filthy, Take Off, Uncomfortable, Land.

Seats are ‘proper’ non-convertibles, leather faced (although I would not have liked to see the state of the cattle when they were alive) and absolutely knackered. Service is a free drink from the bar and a grimace. Oh and a bag of crisps. The best thing to be said about the whole experience is that (having come back for more of this several times) the pilot appears to be in charge and the structural components of the aircraft remain attached in the right sequence for the duration of the ordeal. I mean flight.

It gets much better when we hit terra firma however. Touch down to baggage being on the belt is in 17 minutes. That includes taxiing and the not exactly short walk to the carousels. I love Phoenix. It gets better as it’s then just a short walk into the desert heat to the Car Rental Centre Shuttle pick up point.

This offsite Centre is a fairly recent development, representing all the major chains and with full premium services for frequent renters etc. The whole system seems to still be filled with enthusiasm. Woe betide a passenger who tries to lug their baggage on board – that’s what the driver is there for. He (or she) is porter, driver and guide all rolled into one and it’s a great example of making a superb first impression on visitors. Top marks.

Final verdict for US Airways however: an unexpectedly generous 3/10. Dignity was dented and personal hygiene compromised, but they got us and the bags to where we needed to be. Without the 600 Diamond Club miles it would have been a lowly 2/10. No pictures of this flight, as I didn’t want to get the camera dirty.

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