I celebrated my 40th birthday in Hawai’i last year. This year, it’s my wife’s turn. Though our big celebration is this summer, we opted to also sneak in a weekend in Puerto Vallarta closer to her actual day. And since I was down there and award space was uncommonly good, I decided to do our annual spring leadership get-together for Cranky Concierge after my wife went home. Even though I flew Alaska down in First Class and Delta back in coach, I’d argue both were similarly good, though for different reasons.
Going down, my wife wanted the earliest possible departure, and that was on Alaska. Tickets were fairly cheap in coach, so we used 11,474 Ultimate Rewards each to cover the cost. When I returned a week later, I used a Delta travel voucher from last year’s Phoenix mess to pay for all but about $35 of the ticket. (Total price $165.58.)
I had been watching First Class availability as we approached our departure date and it looked fairly empty, so I was hopeful we could start the trip off right with an upgrade. Sure enough, when I went to check in at 24 hours before departure, Alaska wanted a mere $53.75 each. For a 2.5 hour flight to start this birthday trip off right, that was a no-brainer. And I didn’t tell her it was happening.
(Side note: It looks like we got it in the dying days of the old upgrade program. This 1,218 mile flight will now cost nearly double.)
We got to the airport early and made it through security quickly. On the other side, we just staked out a couple seats and waited it out.
Our 737-900 (non-ER version, so a relatively old guy) pulled up in the new colors, and boarding began soon after. It didn’t take long before my wife figured out we’d be sitting up front, and she was excited.
March 16, 2018
Alaska 254 Lv Los Angeles 9a Arr Puerto Vallarta 109p
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 65B, Runway 25L, Depart 4m Early
Puerto Vallarta (PVR): Gate B8, Runway 22, Arrive 9m Early
N323AS, Boeing 737-990, Seahawk Green colors, ~99%
Seat 4A, First Class
Flight Time 2h28m
The outside may have had a fresh coat of paint, but on the inside, this airplane looked its age.
The interior was standard old Alaska, and it does look somewhat dated these days. The seats were clean but appeared well-worn.
We took our seats in the last row, and relaxed. It was a slow taxi, but eventually, we were in the air climbing above the scattered clouds below.
I had just finished up the inflight magazine when the flight attendants came through with drinks. I was surprised that they had sparkling wine onboard, so we decided to take it and have a little toast to the beginning of the trip. (I followed it up later with some scotch, because, well… don’t judge me.)
At this point, I decided I’d see if I could use my phone to watch Alaska’s streaming content unlike on United. Sure enough, it seemed to work, at least to the point where I had to download something to be able to watch. But we were already in Mexico and out of range, so the download never completed.
The flight attendants came through with a meal tray. It was full of fruits and veggies with hummus, and it was actually a nice little snack for a relatively short flight.
Clouds had thickened below us, so I couldn’t see the always-beautiful view of the Sea of Cortez. I just sat back and listened to music. The clouds eventually parted and were replaced with a more scattered tropical scene. We cruised over the water and soon started descending.
The first time I came into Puerto Vallarta, we landed to the north in the remnants of a hurricane. The second time, I landed to the south but the approach was covered in clouds. This time it was perfectly clear, and I was able to get a better sense of the scene below. We made a right turn to catch our final approach, and I waved to the Aviacsa 737, which continues to recede into the jungle, right before we planted our wheels on the runway.
Lines were short, and we were on our way to the St Regis Punta Mita in no time. I don’t usually like fancy hotels, but man, did I love this one.
What a great spot to spend a couple of days. But soon we relocated to the Westin in Puerto Vallarta and my team came in. A quick shout out to the crew of Delta 770 on March 19. My wife flew home that day and accidentally left her wallet in the seatback pocket after using it to buy food. Before she even knew it, Delta had called her to tell her they had her wallet. She wasn’t far off the airport and was very happy to turn around and grab it. Great job, Delta.
For me, it was a productive week, but I was ready to go home by the end of it.
I checked in online but then remembered that you can’t do mobile boarding passes there, at least not on Delta. I snickered as the offer to upgrade for more than $450 came on my screen. Um, no thanks.
I arrived at the airport early with a couple of coworkers (one who would fly with me), and we got our boarding passes from the kiosks. In a few minutes we were through security and dodging duty-free vendors before making our way to the B concourse. I really can’t stand that place. It was really bad last year when I was hungover, but this year in a much better state, it was still terrible. The airports seems like it was designed to echo all the noise and make life miserable. There are constant concourse-wide announcements that are often interrupted by individual speakers blasting news in an unintelligible manner at each gate. It’s also generally overcrowded. This is when I started dreaming about the invention of beaming technology.
Our airplane pulled up to B7, and here’s a rare uncongested view of the gate area.
As you can see, there aren’t many seats near the gate itself, but if you aren’t standing right there, you can’t hear the boarding announcements. So it’s relatively quiet when nothing is happening, but when boarding finally begins, everyone crowds. The agents did briefly hold up a sign announcing which group was boarding, but that was only mildly helpful. I was in group 3, and I just hoped there would be room for my bag up top as I walked on board.
March 23, 2018
Delta 770 Lv Puerto Vallarta 344p Arr Los Angeles 6p
Puerto Vallarta (PVR): Gate B7, Runway 22, Depart 3m Early
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 21, Runway 25L, Arrive On Time
N386DA, Boeing 737-832, Standard Delta colors, ~99%
Seat 16A, Coach
Flight Time 2h44m
Our captain was extremely friendly and stood at the door welcoming everyone. He asked how I was doing in a genuinely-excited way. I told him all was well, and he seem stoked to hear that. I’ll admit that it put me at ease for some reason.
Delta’s done a great job with its interiors.
The airplane looked really sharp, especially with that red accent on the Comfort+ seats. I was in row 16 which is the one row of regular seats in between Comfort+ and the exit rows. I don’t mind not being able to recline, but the overhead situation is problematic. The bin right above the row says that it’s reserved for Comfort+. Everything else was full unless I went several rows back. So what did I do? Well, I put my bag in the Comfort+ bin. Scandal!
I looked at how much space was open and saw how many seats were already full and figured it wouldn’t be needed by Comfort+ people anyway. I didn’t see any bag scuffles onboard, but I realized I do not want to sit in that row again for that reason. (There is, however, one redeeming quality of sitting in that row. The seat in front is Comfort+ so it has the little pocket in the back for you to put your phone.)
We were ready to push back, and the captain came on to tell us that we’d have “2 hours and 41 minutes of nonstop fun” on our way back to LA. I loved this guy. In the meantime, I flipped through the seatback video and decided this would be a good time to watch the new Thor movie since my coworker had just been talking about how much he liked it.
After a short taxi, I waved goodbye to my old friend, the Aviacsa 737.
Within a minute, we were in the air over Banderas Bay before swinging around and heading north. There were a lot of high clouds, and we flew in the tops for awhile. It again blocked our view much of the way up the Sea of Cortez, though we had a few spectacular breaks.
This flight had Gogo’s 2Ku service onboard, so that meant I had wifi service in Mexico. About an hour in, I decided to log on with my phone and use my free T-Mobile 1 hour of service. I immediately tested out the streaming service, and it worked. Now I can confirm that there’s clearly just something wrong with United’s system even though they’re all powered by Gogo. The in-seat screen, wifi, and power is what made me really enjoy this flight. It wasn’t First Class, but there was just so much to keep you busy on a relatively short flight.
We started descending somewhere in California and then the clouds began to clear out. It was a beautiful late afternoon with a big storm having moved out by that morning.
After landing we had to sit in the penalty box for awhile. That did give me a chance to alternate between watching airplanes take off and watching the NCAA tournament on TV.
Even with the delay, we blocked in right on time. Customs and immigration down in the belly of Terminal 2 was empty, and I was on the other side less than 15 minutes after arrival. I hopped in a Lyft (in which the driver strangely decided to blast an audio book the whole way) and headed home.