USAirways A321 at LAX

The boarding of my LA to Philadelphia flight was just a shambles…

I wonder, as I travel, whether I simply understand more about how the airlines that I use work, and so when I use an airline I don’t know whether ‘problems’ are simply a matter of ‘not getting’ the unfamiliar carrier. The case in point this past week was USAirways. My last trip with them was a great flight from Paris to Philadelphia. You can read about that here. (This was my most popular post of the past month.)

Anyway, let’s see exactly what I might not understand about boarding and seating on my packed A321 flight.

USAirways boards people with disabilities and families with young children before First Class. That seems fine. They need extra time to get to their seats, sort themselves and out and get comfortable.

Then they board First Class. This is where it started to go wrong as one particular first class passenger decided to start the queue at the back of the roped off section, and not the front. Causing all sorts of people to push past her to get in line. This didn’t seem to dawn on her as a problem whilst she blocked the roped off area resorting her luggage. Eventually we passengers were off down the jet bridge.

Except, there was some sort of row going on when we got to the end – on the aircraft the flight attendant, a disabled passenger with a walking frame, the dispatcher and the family of the disabled man were shouting at each other. It seemed that the family of 6 had one passenger in a window in First, which he couldn’t get to because he couldn’t lift himself to the window seat. All the other 5 were in Coach. In addition he wouldn’t surrender his walking frame, whilst the flight attendant was happy to keep it on board the dispatcher said it was against the rules. Everyone else in First was told to wait on the jet bridge whilst this grew more heated.

Eventually, (20 minutes later) the walker came off the plane to be stowed underneath and the disable passenger was moved to an aisle seat.

And yes, you guessed it, my aisle seat.

The flight attendant called up the jet bridge – ‘Who was sitting in 2D?’ ‘Do you mind a window?’

Actually yes I did mind. The prospect of 6 hours next to a passenger who couldn’t get out because his walking frame was removed was not attractive. I offered to return to the podium to rebook – worst case US would have had to put me on AA or BA to London I thought. In fact I offered twice but the Flight Attendant wasn’t having that. ‘Sit in 3D’ she said.

The boarding process them got more and more complex as couples boarding wanted to sit together and she simply told them to do so and she would sort it out. I had no idea how that was going to be achieved, and indeed eventually two passengers were faced with being forced to sit in windows or deplane.

What nonsense.

After this the flight was uneventful but long due to weather. USAirways offers Wi-Fi but no seat power or entertainment.

On board the flight attendant was fine, but clearly didn’t like that insisted on the aisle seat. Her service to me showed her displeasure repeatedly.

On landing numerous passengers were desperate to get their connections, but two passengers could not lift their bags from the First Class bins. (Tip: If it’s too heavy for you to lift, check it). They literally went round the whole First Class cabin asking the younger passengers to lift it out. This took 5-10 minutes, as there were not many young ones about. The whole plane was waiting!

So, again I wonder, is it that I don’t get US?

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USAirways connections at LAX

Although AA and US now make up the “New American Airlines” as they keep telling us, they are operating separately at a number of airports, in particular LAX.

American operates from Terminal 4 and US from Terminal 3. Unfortunately, these two adjacently numbered terminals are separated by the large Thomas Bradley International Airport, or TBIT as it’s known.

In order prevent passengers having to re-clear the TSA, AA operates a busing service from each terminal. On this occasion I was flying from Las Vegas to Philadelphia causing the connection at LAX.

At Gate 44 in the American Terminal there are a load of bus operations. Buses run to the commuter plane terminal (that services AA and US express services), to remote gates (shown as boarding at Gate 45), to TBIT (for Qantas international flights) and to Terminal 3. Each set of buses has separate lines, and staff patrol these to make sure you are getting in the right queue.

USAirways connections at LAX gates

As each bus arrives downstairs the staff call you forward and you descend a windy ramp to get to the ground.

USAirways connections at LAX boarding ramp

It is important that you listen to the agent so that you get the right bus.

Mine was pretty large with plenty of seats and baggage storage areas.

USAirways connections at LAX bus interior

USAirways connections at LAX bus exterior

The buses have to follow the roadways in the airport so go a pretty long way round. There are some decent airplane views especially as you go down the back of the TBIT. At terminal 3 you have to climb stairs (with your luggage) to get to the terminal.

USAirways connections at LAX tarmac view

It’s not too bad a transfer experience, partly because it is relatively unused, but if you had a tight connection there is every chance you would miss it. Give yourselves time at LAX if going between US and AA.

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Virgin America Lounge The Loft at LAX Entrance

Virgin America Lounge The Loft at LAX Lift

My PriorityPass membership gave me access to The Loft Virgin America lounge at LAX whilst waiting for my USAirways flight to Philadelphia. Located on the mezzanine the lounge is relatively small but boasts superb views of the runway. The easiest way is to locate the lift or to carry your luggage up the stairs from the gate area.

Virgin America Lounge The Loft at LAX foyer

The agent promptly took my card, swiped it, and asked me to sign their device. The lounge was fairly full with Virgin America passengers. It clears and refills as flights come and go. There were some delays on the day I was there so it was perhaps fuller than normal.

The area is broken in to a couple of different zones, near the windows and away from the windows. The seating is fairly comfortable and alcohol was free from the bar which was manned during my time there.

Virgin America Lounge The Loft at LAX bar

Virgin America Lounge The Loft at LAX seating

Virgin America Lounge The Loft at LAX seating

There is a limited selection of food items (pastries, toast, fruit, yoghurt) which are self service. Oddly the coffee machine is behind the bar so that you have to ask for one.

Virgin America Lounge The Loft at LAX snacks

I mentioned the great runway views and during my 2 hour stay I watched two A380′s land immediately in front of the glass floor-to-ceiling windows.

Asiana A380 landing at LAX from Virgin America Lounge The Loft at LAX

Korean Air A380 landing at LAX from Virgin America Lounge The Loft at LAX

The room is pretty well ‘designed’ and sometimes it is a little style-over-comfort. For example there are very few electrical outlets near the windows, leading to cables being draped everywhere and creating a trip hazard. However, for a short stay it was a pretty quiet place to be. (There are restrooms within the lounge.)

Terminal 3 is relatively small and very busy as these images testify:

Terminal 3 at LAX

Terminal 3 gates at LAX

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Frequent Traveller University

The Frequent Traveller University series is coming to Europe for the first time this November.

The event starts with a Cocktail Reception on Friday 21 November, and runs until the Sunday afternoon, 23 November.

I’ve been invited to do a two handed talk about Hyatt and Starwood hotels. I’m pretty good on Hyatt and hope to learn a thing or two about Starwood and some of the other great schemes out there. As with this blog, the FTU should have a good angle towards Europe with our limited access to points churning credit cards.

The organisers have arranged a selection of great speakers (excluding me of course), and I hope if you are in Europe and want to learn more about miles and points you think about coming.

The booking page is here.

The registration is US$199 with $39.99 for the Saturday night buffet dinner.

The event is out at the airport – hotels are hugely expensive in central Amsterdam at weekends – at the Park Inn. The hotel is offering a special rate of EUR89 per night, and of course this earns Club Carlson points for you.

So, if you’ve ever wondered what these things were like, and not wanted to venture across to the US, come to Amsterdam, I am sure it is going to be fun – and informative.

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Centurion Lounge Las Vegas entrance

I only hold one American Express, a very basic Gold UK card and this would not normally allow me entry to the Centurion Lounges that seem to be springing up in the US. Well, I could secure entry in exchange for $50 I suppose. (Centurion and Platinum Amex cardholders get free admission. They are not in the PriorityPass or Airport Angel Schemes.)

The lounge at Las Vegas made an arrangement for bloggers attending the BAcon2014 to access the facility over the weekend of the conference. As I had a 7.30am departure I went to the airport early and entered the open doors of the lounge just after it opened at 5am. The lounge is near gate D1 and accessible from many of the gates at LAS.

Centurion Lounge Las Vegas entrance

After the agent found my name on the list I was told that there was cold breakfast until 6am and hot there after. There is a code for the pretty nippy Wi-Fi.

There are lots of different seating areas – couches, tables and chairs, single seats, desks – pretty much a solution to fit everyone’s needs. I selected a comfy sofa, with shoulder high power and a little table. A good combination of sitting, working and reading I found. The departure boards show all flights leaving the airport which is most useful.

Centurion Lounge Las Vegas seating

Centurion Lounge Las Vegas seating

Centurion Lounge Las Vegas seating

Centurion Lounge Las Vegas dining area

There is a large service desk, although I didn’t see it manned whilst I was there.

Centurion Lounge Las Vegas service desk

The cold food consisted to yoghurt, cereal, fruit and some pastries. There is a self service coffee machine as well as urns of coffee prepared. Proper nice plates and bowls which a nice change from the plastic provided at most lounges.

Centurion Lounge Las Vegas continental breakfast

At 6am scrambled eggs, poached eggs, potatoes and the famous vanilla pancakes appeared. The pancakes are, I can confirm from personal experience, exceptional.

Centurion Lounge Las Vegas hot breakfast

There are two TV’s which were tuned to sports and news channels when I was there. The sun rose over the waiting planes whilst I enjoyed my visit.

Centurion Lounge Las Vegas sunrise

In the UK, the annual free for the Platinum Card is £450. You’d need to do a good number of visits to their lounges before the $50 per visit fee is repaid. These Amex lounges are a very different experience to most US lounges and so I can understand what all the excitement is about. The food on offer is superior to almost every US lounge I have visited. It compares exceptionally well to United where it’s pretty much cheese and biscuits, and to American where anything decent requires payment.

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American Airlines 757 at JFK
CHECK IN
American Airlines operates from the newer Terminal 2 at Dublin airport. On the ground floor are all the check-in desks, and American is located near the lifts. Opening, at three hours before the flight, AA operates the now familiar pre-check-in security. Although I managed to print my boarding passes at home, I still went through the security procedure here rather than at the gate. (This was so that AA could let me know which lounge they use at DUB.)

After check-in you have to go up an escalator to get to the security checkpoints

SECURITY
There is a FastTrack line to the left of the security area. My boarding pass allowed me to use it. The line was short and it fed in to two security lines for separate machines. Liquids, laptops, belts, jackets all came off. The delay was only about 15 minutes.

LOUNGE
American uses the the Aer Lingus lounge at T2. It offered a range of coffee, tea, juices, pastries, yoghurt and cereals. There is a Wi-Fi code available at reception. Although the lounge was very full as I arrived, it emptied as soon as the early bank of flights left.

PRE-CLEARANCE
Dublin Preclearance

Dublin offers US pre-clearance. After entering the security area you have to go through a further electronics/shoes search before entering the US immigration queues. These can be lengthy and slow, so everyone tells you to get there early. However, once past US Immigration there is nothing to do but wait.

BOARDING
American boarded on time, offering pre-boarding for business class and US military passengers.
The Business Class cabin is 4 rows of 2-2, so 16 passengers in total. It was full.

American Airlines 757 Business Class Seats

SEATS
The seats on the 757 we AA’s horrid angled lie-flat.I find it hard to get comfortable in these. There was a duvet and large pillow on each seat.

SERVICE
As the flight was a fairly early departure, some passengers wanted to eat right away whilst others fell sleep. The staff accommodated this pretty well, matching meals to peoples requests.

I had pre-booked my entree, as American allows, 30 days before departure.

Starter and Salad
Prosciutto and Mozzarella, with melon
Seasonal greens with balsamic pears, beets, almonds and blue cheese

American Airlines 757 Business Class Lunch Starter

Entree
Blue Cheese Crusted Beef Filet
American Airlines 757 Business Class Lunch Entree
Jalapeno Chicken with Cream Sauce
Tomato and Olive Crusted Tilapia
Vegetable Korma

As Business Class is so small the choice of entree diminished fairly quickly so I was pleased that I had pre-booked.

Dessert
Traditional Ice Cream Sundae
American Airlines 757 Business Class Lunch Dessert
Gourmet Cheese Plate

The second meal, about an hour before we landed at JFK was a choice of
Grilled Vegetable Flatbread
American Airlines 757 Business Class Lunch Second Meal
Charcuterie Plate
Chocolate Chip Cookies

ENTERTAINMENT
The seat back videos offer a very small selection of videos in comparison to the 777′s and newer systems on the 738′s or A321′s. I watched a few TV shows and slept for a little.

ARRIVAL
The flight arrived at the midfield terminal and we were fairly quickly off the plane an in the terminal on the way to the Flagship Lounge.
American Airlines Terminal at JFK

American Airlines Terminal at JFK

FLAGSHIP LOUNGE
The lounge had it’s lunch service in operation for the couple of hours I was there.
American Airlines Flagship Lounge

American Airlines Flagship Lounge

American Airlines Flagship Lounge

Posted by MilesFromBlighty | 2 Comments

29-05-2013 05-56-45

Heathrow Airport runs a rewards scheme which enables you to earn points for purchases and currency exchange at the airport.

1. 2500 points on Fashion purchases on £500 spend (worth £25 in rewards)
Earn 2500 extra points when you spend £500 or more at selected stores at Heathrow; Alexander McQueen, Bally, Bottega Veneta, Burberry, Bvlgari, Ermenegildo Zegna, Etro, Gucci, Harrods, Longchamp, Michael Kors (Terminal 4), Miu Miu, Mulberry, Paul Smith (Terminal 4), Prada, Ralph Lauren, Salvatore Ferragamo, Smythson or Valentino. Earn 750 extra points when you spend £150 or more at selected stores at Heathrow; French Connection, Hackett, Hugo Boss, Kurt Geiger, L.K. Bennett, Paul Smith (Terminals 2 and 3), Ted Baker, Thomas Pink, Timberland or Zara.
Offer valid from 10 September 2014 to 31 October 2014 inclusive.

2. Double points on Whiskey and Bourbon over £50
Double points when you spend £50 or more on whisky or bourbon at World Duty Free or World of Whiskies at Heathrow.
Offer valid from 19 September 2014 to 14 October 2014 inclusive.

3. Double points on parking
Offer available from 9 September 2014 until entry on 20 October 2014.
Last pre-book date is 19 October 2014 for entry on 20 October 2014.

4. Beneficial exchange rate with Travelex
Exclusive rates for Heathrow Rewards members with Travelex when you order your currency online, 0.5% better rate than the Travelex online rate of the day*
Order through travelex.co.uk/heathrow and simply enter your membership number at the checkout and not only will you get the better rate but you will also collect points along the way.
*An admin fee of £1.99 applies for orders of less than £100. Subject to legal restrictions on the supply of certain currencies. Debit and credit card transactions may be subject to a cash advance charge from your bank. Offer only available to Heathrow Reward members who order through travelex.co.uk/heathrow with a valid Heathrow reward membership number and valid promotional code. Even better rates calculated by reducing our retail margins by 0.5% on travelex.co.uk/heathrow compared with the standard rate of the day on the site. This will be shown as a discounted amount on the Sterling total.

5. Discounts on Business Traveller Magazine
Business Traveller magazine, 50% discount on UK, US and Asia Pacific editions
Heathrow Rewards members can subscribe to the UK, US and Asia Pacific editions of Business Traveller magazine at 50% off the subscription price until 31 December 2014. For more information or to subscribe visit Business Traveller.

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BA Lounge at London City

BA Lounge at LCY for its services to JFK

British Airways is advertising for a Manager, Global Lounges. You have until 10 October to apply for this unique role.

Interesting skill set required:

  • Worked in and has deep conceptual knowledge of Hospitality and/or operational environments
  • Proven ability to influence at a senior level in complex matrix environments
  • Achieved significant cost reductions through negotiation or influencing

Those don’t bode well for passengers!

No salary mentioned, but before you apply please think about what you’d say to these three questions they require you to submit with the application:

  • Please tell us why you are attracted to this role and the skills and capabilities that you would bring with you (Max 250 words)
  • What do you see as the current challenges to the Customer proposition for British Airways? (Max 250 words)
  • How would you translate this into an effective lounge strategy? (Max 250 words)

Good Luck

Posted by MilesFromBlighty | One Comment

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These boarding passes all originated from a single American Airlines ticket, Las Vegas to LA, to Philadelphia to Dublin. The first segment was on American, and the next two on USAirways. The booking had my passport information in, and my BA number for all of the segments.

At check-in at Vegas the agent printed the three passes at the same time, yet only one scored PreCheck.

I suppose it could be that, as the TSA say, PreCheck is random, or there is something odd between the AA and US systems.

As it was, the important (i.e. busy airport) gave me PreCheck, and I was able to connect airside at LA to US, so didn’t need to experience the normal TSA line.

Have you had this problem with US/AA?

Posted by MilesFromBlighty | 6 Comments

Hyatt Ziva Cabos

In late August, in fact for my birthday, I ventured to the southern tip of Baja California for a two night stay at the Hyatt in Los Cabos. About two weeks after I returned Hurricane Odile swept away much of what I had experienced, left guests as refugees and closed the airport. It appears that some people have lost their lives, a tragedy for everyone.

So, I am stuck about whether to write about the visit when so little of what I experienced is there any more, and it is unlikely that anyone will get to visit for some time. The latest estimate is that the airport will reopen around November 25th. The Hyatt doesn’t indicate when they will open.

There is a review on Travel Pulse written by a Travel Agent about their experiences riding out the Hurricane.

What I’ve resolved to do is to write a little about what the visit was like, promise to go back again once repairs are complete, and let you have a little taste of what was a great trip.

TRAVEL TO LOS CABOS
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It was a fairly early start for me on the morning of the flight from Los Angeles. American operates a 737-800 at around 0930, and offers a light, continental breakfast. I’ve already said that I think it’s one of the ‘lightest’ I have ever seen!

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The flight was uneventful, at just over 2 hours.

ARRIVAL
American uses the new terminal at Los Cabos and we fairly quickly disembarked after the taxi from the runway. There was fun moment when the plane ‘jumped’ and I later found out that the ground crew had forgotten to ‘chock’ the plane properly and the pilot had to slam the brakes on to stop it rolling.
The terminal is pretty modern and after a 5 minute walk to ground floor I was at immigration. No queue I am pleased to say and after 5 minutes I was outside looking for my transport to the Hyatt Ziva.
The driver was there, and we walked to the mini-van for my transfer.

HYATT ZIVA
Hyatt took over this hotel some months ago and people have written about the experience in other blog posts. I was here for only two nights due to flight changes made by American forcing stops in LA in either direction to/from New York. In advance of my visit Hyatt Head Office and the hotel both contacted me to confirm that I was only travelling on my own. The property, being all-inclusive, charges differently based on the number of guests in the room.

Check-in was a breeze, with Diamond Gold Passport members being handled on the opposite side of the reception area from other guests.

Hyatt Ziva Cabos

Normal Reception:

Hyatt Ziva Cabos Reception

At check-in my credit card was charged for the full cost of my stay and my return transport to the airport was arranged. I was issued the all important Gold Wristband as a Diamond Gold Passport member.

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My room was in the block closest to the Ocean and they had arranged a nice upgrade for me. The agent suggested that I might like to go to the Lounge for lunch.

This was the view from Reception:

Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos View From Reception

ROOM

The room reminded me of the room I had when I stayed at the Intercontinental, San Juan; a property I hated. It’s layout was similar, but being only three doors from the end of the building it was pretty close to the ocean.

Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos Rooms

Bathroom
Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos View Bathroom
Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos View Bathroom

Bedroom
Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos View From Bedroom
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The hotel had noted that it was my birthday and had provided some welcome amenities:
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The room included a mini-bar which was in the room price:

Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos View Minibar

Views
From the balcony you could see out to the ocean and back to the resort:

Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos View Beach

Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos View Pool

From the walkway between the lifts and the room you could see further along the coast as well as the nearby Hyatt Place hotel. (The Hyatt place seems to have been very badly damaged by the Hurricane from the pictures I have seen.)

Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos View Coast View

Hyatt Place Los Cabos

LOUNGE

The hotel operates a lounge available to Diamond Gold Passport members and those booking their premium packages.

Offering hot food all day it was a great place to pop in to. The staff are lovely, and there is an outside seating area.

Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos Executive Lounge

Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos

Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos Food Selections

Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos Food Selections

The food was really tasty and started off my stay very well. The evening had the same food on, which was a little disappointing so I supplemented it with Room Service, which is also in the room price.

AROUND THE RESORT

Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos

The resort is built on several levels with stairs, walkways and lifts interconnecting them.

This is the main building with the steps that run from Reception to the pools. The seating in the water surrounds a fire pit which they light at night.

Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos

Views back to the main building

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Swim in rooms on the Ground Floor

 Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos Swin in rooms

The inevitable towel reserving of loungers in the best locations:

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There is an adults only pool adjacent to the next door resort

Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos

Of a night time the property is well illuminated and has a slightly magical air with the waves crashing on the beach.

Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos

Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos

Sunrise from my balcony

Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos Beach Sunrise

Sunrise from the beach

Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos Beach Sunrise

BREAKFAST

The breakfast offering is in the International Buffet and probably includes the most extensive buffet I have ever seen in a hotel. Everything from the normal buffet breakfast fare through to meatballs, fish and beetroot is available. I couldn’t get pictures of everything!

Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos Breakfast

Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos Breakfast

Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos Breakfast

Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos Breakfast

Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos Breakfast

The staff were pretty friendly but spent their time with those who seemed the better tippers. Not a problem for me.

CHECK-OUT
All too soon it was time to leave and went to Reception to check-out. They hand you a slip which enables you to stay and use the hotel, including the restaurants until 2pm on the day of departure. You hand the slip in to the Doorman on your way off the property.

Overall I really enjoyed my stay. I sincerely hope that all the staff and their families are safe.

Posted by MilesFromBlighty | 4 Comments

I know some readers have booked the good business class fares from Male to US destinations on Cathay Pacific Business Class.

I just wanted to describe my transfer experience in case it helps anyone.

Arrival
I arrived on the BA flight from Columbo. Once you exit the plane you have to get in to a bus to be ferried to the Immigration Hall. Stand on the left side if you have a tight connection.
As you enter the hall there is a sign to the left which says ‘Transfers’. There is usually a couple of people there and they were incredibly helpful to me. Knowing that Cathay doesn’t open until 3 hours before I fully expected a long wait.

Immigration Hall
The Immigration hall is large and the seating area affords a view of passengers clearing immigration.

Departure Lounge
However, after some phone calls were made a Cathay rep came to see me, told me what was happening and then took care of it. About 20 minutes after I landed, I had boarding passes to New York.

Departures
You then go through a security checkpoint on the lower level before popping up in the lift to the main part of the terminal. I was escorted by a Cathay rep for all of this which made it much easier. As we arrived at the lounge, the BA return flight was leaving and it emptied so that for about 20 minutes I was the only person there.

Leeli Lounge Male, Maldives

Overall, a good experience for an airport that doesn’t have many connecting passengers international to international.

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