Trip Report: Las Vegas, December 11-15, 2006
Part One: Monday travel, December 11, 2006
I never sleep too well the night before I fly, as I’m usually up into the wee hours of the night packing. This time I tried to pack early throughout the day on Sunday, leading to a leisurely pace. I had also booked a later direct flight out of Baltimore; the plane wasn’t leaving until 11 a.m.
But panic set in Sunday evening as I realized — gasp! — I hadn’t checked in on-line for the flight! I normally fly Southwest, and am sitting in front of a web browser exactly 24 hours before the flight is scheduled to depart — ready to punch in my confirmation number the second the Southwest web site allows. I’ve done this a dozen times, and I’ve always gotten an “A” boarding pass. When I couldn’t be around exactly 24 hours in advance, I would have a friend check in for me. This time, I completely forgot.
Cursing myself, I reluctantly brought up the web browser, punched in my information, and peered out of one eye as the web page loaded: “B”. Boarding Group B. Well that’s just great. That meant I’d have to wake up a bit earlier than I hoped, and sit on the floor at the front of the “B” line to ensure that I got an aisle seat. (There’s no way I can fly center seat on a flight that long — the claustrophobia would do me in.)
I was angry with myself for awhile, casting a small shadow over my good spirits about the trip, but reasoned it could have been worse. After all, I could have been in the C Boarding Group! It appears that a lot more people are checking in on-line with Southwest now.
I arrived at Baltimore’s BWI Airport around 8:45 a.m., parking at PreFlight and taking a shuttle to the terminal. The airport wasn’t crowded. After a couple minutes I checked one bag, wistfully watching it roll away and wondering whether I would ever see it again, and then quickly made my way through security to the boarding gate. There were already a few people in the “B” line, with more people ambiguously sitting in positions that could be construed to be the “B” line.
This seems to be a consistent Southwest problem — the very front of the “A,” “B,” and “C” lines is well-defined but that’s it. Some people sit on the floor, some stand, some sit on seats, few sit on each other (thankfully). Some mistake the pre-boarding line for the “A” line. When it comes time to board, people sitting in seats are sometimes surprised to find that they’re not actually in the line at all, as streams of people stand up and pass by them. Every time I board a Southwest flight I see this type of confusion, and I felt bad for an older lady on this flight who seemed to be completely befuddled by Southwest’s boarding process.
As I sat on the floor, I looked around and performed mental arithmetic to figure out my chances of getting an aisle or, failing that, window seat. The “A” line looked awfully long. The pre-boarding line was humongous, with a large number of people who appeared perfectly healthy with no kids. “Maybe they think they’re in the A line,” I pondered.
For a few seconds I wondered what line I was really in, but concluded that I was near the front of the “B” line. At least, I thought I was. The people sitting in nearby chairs kept glancing at the floor-seaters with suspicion. I thought I saw an older man baring his teeth at me, like a rabid wolf or proud dentist. I looked away, nervously. Then I realized that the flight was originating from another city, and most of the people probably were flying through to Las Vegas, meaning many of the seats (and the good ones, too!) would already be taken before any of us got on the plane. That threw the math off.
In the end, I board, and I get an aisle seat towards the back of the plane without a problem. Small victory. The plane is full so every seat ends up being taken. The flight is very long: scheduled for 5.5 hours, but ends up taking around 5. The attendants offer little assistance making the time “fly” by; there are no jokes, and no bad puns! (I thought Southwest attendants always told corny jokes!) The snacks served on the flight provide little or no nutritional value, and minimal entertainment value. No food fights erupt. No one goes into anaphylactic shock from the peanuts. (Or peanut. Singular. Because my packet only had a single peanut in it.) It truly is a boring flight.
I brought several magazines, a book, an iPod, and a Mac laptop, but I’m able to slowly read the magazines through the entire flight (Time, Newsweek, and Businessweek), making me wonder why I’m lugging around everything else.
We touch down in Las Vegas and I’m on to the next challenge: reconnecting with my checked baggage.
But after a LONG flight, luxury is not far away: I am staying at the Skylofts, an upscale “boutique” (i.e., expensive) hotel located on the top two floors of the MGM Grand. As I enter the baggage area, Frankie, a Skylofts driver, is standing there holding a sign with my name. I touch base with Frankie and we both go and wait for my bag to arrive.
It doesn’t arrive right away, and after describing the weather (not raining — ’cause it’s a desert), the length of the flight (long), and how this is a quiet time to visit Las Vegas (after the rodeo folks from last week have left), Frankie and I quickly run out of topics to discuss, leading to an awkward silence as the barren luggage carousel slowly rotates. At least the silence is awkward to me; I’m sure Frankie has awkward silence with Skylofts guests daily, especially the ones from the far east who don’t speak a lick of English, so it’s no longer awkward for him.
Thankfully, my bag arrives. Frankie grabs it and we head to one of the MGM’s Maybachs, a half-million dollar automobile that makes the very short ride to MGM Grand a lot more comfortable than a half-day Southwest flight. I make a joke about this and Frankie simply nods; there is no laugh. I conclude that he couldn’t hear me, because it was inarguably a very funny joke (and certainly one that Frankie has never heard before).
Upon pulling into the MGM Grand, the door is swiftly opened and a Skylofts concierge and bellman greet me. My bag disappears in a flurry, I tip Frankie, and I follow the concierge into the resort, through the “VIP” room, and out the back door to a bank of private elevators. (If you’re in a casino, this is probably the only scenario where you want to “go out the back door.”)
We walk down the hall to my loft, where a butler stands awaiting my arrival. I sit down at the dining room table with the concierege, and she checks me in, taking an imprint of my credit card, pointing out the personalized stationary, and handing me my room keys while the butler pours a glass of Voss water.
After that, the butler offers to show me around the loft, but I explain that I stayed at Skylofts recently and even mastered the touchscreen remote enough to turn off the LCD TV hiding behind the bathroom mirror (something that has stymied many prior Skylofts guests, who usually give up and just leave the bathroom door closed). Dutifully impressed (and looking somewhat relieved), she says to let me know if I need anything, and disappears.
A few minutes later the bellman arrives with a bag. Thrilled that it’s actually *my* bag, I tip him $10, and he graciously departs. I look out the 29th-story two-story window towards the airport and mountains beyond, and breathe a sigh of relief. I hate traveling, especially flying, but I arrived in one piece with all my luggage, and had four days of relaxation ahead of me.
I am scheduled to see Cirque du Soleil “Ka” that evening, and know that I should take a nap first, since I’m still on east coast time and exhausted from the travel.
So I head down to the casino, ostensibly to find a bite to eat. But I end up parking at some penny slot machines, putting $3 in the machine and playing for close to an hour, never going much below $2 or above $4. I smile, delighting in the fact that I’m staying in Skylofts but gambling at a penny slot machine. Needless to say, I don’t expect any comps.
More possibly to come…