I was back in the air again last week, this time to Vegas for my first conference since the pandemic began. All attendees were vaccinated, but there was still a mask requirement when not eating or drinking. Trying to talk all day with a mask on while racing between meeting areas… that’s not ideal. But of course, you don’t care about that. You want to hear about the flights.
I took Southwest on this trip, using the points equivalent of a roundtrip ticket of under $100 from Long Beach. The flights themselves were fine, but the return had an unnecessary and mildly annoying delay. I’ll explain when we get there, but first, let’s talk about the flight over.
I checked in at 24 hours out and got pass A44. I figured that a Tuesday morning flight to Vegas would be an empty flight… and I was not wrong. I took a Lyft to the airport and arrived with a little less than an hour before departure which is way too much time for Long Beach. Security took 5 seconds, and then I parked myself outside and worked until it was time to board.
Southwest is well established at the southernmost gates (1-4), but it apparently hasn’t been in the old JetBlue gates long enough to get settled. There were no boarding markers, and there was a lot of confusion about where to line up. In the end, the gate agents just called people up by groups of 15 to board, making my A44 a pretty great place to be.
November 9, 2021
Depart Long Beach
➤ Scheduled: 815a, Actual: 817a
➤ From: Gate 8 on Runway 30
Arrive Las Vegas
➤ Scheduled: 920a, Actual: 912a
➤ At: Gate B11 on Runway 26L
➤ Type: Boeing 737-7H4
➤ Delivered: Nov 1, 1999
➤ Registered: N738CB, msn 27870
➤ Livery: Canyon Blue
➤ Cabin: Coach in Seat 2A
➤ Load: ~65% Full
➤ Flight Time: 44m
We boarded on time, and pretty much everyone had an empty middle on this lightly-loaded flight. The flight attendants reminded everyone that since the flight is so short, there would be no service onboard. They also said wifi wasn’t working, so basically… sit there and relax for 45 minutes because you had no other options.
After taking off into a shallow marine layer, we circled around over the port and headed northeast toward Las Vegas. It was just a spectacularly scenic morning to fly.
I knew wifi didn’t work, but I was curious to see if live TV did. It came up right away, but I had no interest in actually watching, so I turned it off and went back to looking out the window.
We approached Vegas from the southwest and the high clouds made for a dramatic backdrop…
The winds, unfortunately, were not in our favor for a straight in approach. We did a fly-by east over the city which gave me an excellent view of a shaded McCarran, er, Reid, er, whatever you want to call that airport now.
Then we kept descending until we got toward Lake Las Vegas. It got bumpy over that rugged terrain as we circled over the mountains to make our final approach to the west.
We landed and got to the gate a few minutes early. That’s my kind of flight. The return, however, was a somewhat different story.
I had once again checked in 24 hours prior to departure, and I got B11 this time. The conference ended around 1pm, and we went straight to the airport knowing that one of the guys on our team had an Amex Platinum card that could get us in to finish our internal company meetings there.
Security was a head-scratcher. We got in the Precheck line and there were about a dozen people in line. The next 5 people were turned away because they did not have Precheck. The agent came out from behind the podium and told everyone to make sure they had Precheck on their boarding pass or they’d have to go in a different line. Everyone nodded… and then the very next person didn’t have Precheck. It was like being in the Twilight Zone. Keep in mind that the regular line was not long, so these are people who simply can’t read signs or understand basic instructions.
Once through, we went to the very crowded Amex lounge where we found a little corner with three seats. My airplane had arrived two hours before departure, so I knew that wouldn’t be an issue. I left the lounge an hour before departure, because getting from the D to the C gates isn’t exactly the most straightforward thing.
I made it to my gate about 40 minutes before departure, exhausted from a week of schmoozing and drinking, and sat there as the sun slowly set. It was an incredibly fun event, but I’m definitely out of practice.
The gate agent announced soon after that we were waiting on the crew to come in from Reno… and I got nervous… but he said they had landed three gates down and would be over soon. We’d be about 10 to 15 minutes late, but we expected to land on time, so all was well.
It took about 25 minutes from the time the Reno flight landed until the crew scurried up to the gate area to get us moving. Our flight had about 30 open seats, so even though it was a 737-800, we had the load of a 737-700. I was hopeful we could still get out quickly.
November 12, 2021
Depart Las Vegas
➤ Scheduled: 435p, Actual: 504p
➤ From: Gate C16 on Runway 1R
Arrive Long Beach
➤ Scheduled: 545p, Actual: 601p
➤ At: Gate 1 on Runway 30
➤ Type: Boeing 737-8H4
➤ Delivered: August 1, 2012
➤ Registered: N8317M, msn 36992
➤ Livery: Hot Dog on a Stick
➤ Cabin: Coach in Seat 17F
➤ Load: ~83% Full
➤ Flight Time: 41m
Upon boarding, I was shocked to see the magical exit row window seat with no seat in front still unoccupied. I can’t recall ever seeing that so late in the boarding game, so I put my bags up and then went to sit down… But right before I got there, a woman who had boarded before came back forward and took the seat. Not cool.
The flight attendant saw this, and when I moved back to a window a couple rows back, she stood in the aisle in my row to greet people. She had to stand somewhere, but I figured her standing in my row was maybe a little concession to my quick and unexpected change in fortune. We chatted a bit while the airplane continued filling up, and it looked like I was going to have a coach flat bed… until the very last person took the aisle seat in my row. I really didn’t care, of course. The middle seat was open and this was a short flight. I was happy.
All boarded up, I figured we’d be on our way, but we weren’t. Instead, I saw a mechanic walking back. I said “uh oh” and the flight attendant told me it was no big deal, nothing to worry about.
This was an ETOPS-enabled 737-800, but it’s also one in the older configuration where there’s a little half bulkhead at the front. The mechanic went up there, opened up his logbook or laptop, or whatever it was, and then just kept staring at it, occasionally typing something.
The pilots came on to tell us that they had found an oxygen canister that wasn’t properly fastened. It was all fixed, but they had to wait for the paperwork. This was particularly frustrating, especially knowing that airplane had just been sitting there for two hours, and it was only the tight crew timings that meant they couldn’t discover the problem earlier.
The pilots told us it would be a couple of minutes, but it went far longer than that. I can’t imagine what it was like for that mechanic to stand there, knowing there were 145 pairs of eyes staring him down, watching his every move, and willing with all their power to get him off the airplane so we could leave.
We eventually left about half an hour late. There were winds out of the north, so we taxied out to the 1s for departure. I realized that I had picked the wrong side for takeoff since we would have a great, sweeping view of the Strip as we climbed and turned back toward the southwest. At least I could capture this before departure.
We climbed in the fading light, and only then did I realize I had indeed picked the best side of the aircraft. We had a truly stunning view of the fading rays of daylight as the sun slipped further and further beyond the horizon.
There was a weird vibe on the airplane, mostly because the Boeing Sky Interior seemed to be malfunctioning. That blue mood lighting felt more like a seedy, back alley club experience with this constant but irregular flickering that went on the entire flight.
Throughout the flight, the flight attendants continuously apologized for not doing any drink service. They promised they’d make it up to us on our next flight.
As we got over the mountains into the LA Basin, the red sky had dulled, but it was still enough to capture this photo.
We landed on a warm evening. I noted that the Halloween blow-up had been replaced by a Thanksgiving -themed one, and then I headed home.
We weren’t very late in the end, and it was only a minor inconvenience. But it is still frustrating to see something that could have been handled during aircraft downtime instead bleed into the customer experience.