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Las Vegas & The Mandarin

Las Vegas & The Mandarin
via Virgin America First Class
July 2011

VX First Class
SFO New Terminal 2
New SFO Admirals Club
Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas
July 2011

A quick overnight trip to LAS and this was an easy choice... UA, US or VX. Duh! Even easier since VX offers a discounted F fare of only $500 RT vs. the lowest Y fare of just over $400 and a US/UA F fare of more than $800 RT. Yeah right. VX.com offers a very user friendly website that shows all flights for the day with lowest prices in each cabin, and instantly displaying available seats in each cabin.

It's been a couple of years since I flew VX and was really looking forward to seeing SFO's new T2. OLCI was easy and we drove from the city and parked right beside the T2 door on Level 1 of the SFO underground garage. Priority security had only a couple of pax and a most friendly Team SFO doc checker. First time in T2 and it is now the class of SFO terminals. Nice eye pleasing and open feel.

First stop was the new AA Admirals Club. I'd heard nice things about it and it is indeed a gem. Of course the old T3 AC was so small and dated that anything would have been better. But this AC is beautiful.

Great shops and restaurant/food options.

Unfortunately, someone neglected to go to the bathroom earlier so we arrived at the gate after boarding had commenced, leaving us at the back of the pack and in line to board.

VX 912
SFO-LAS
3:50P-5:20P
A 319
July 28, 2011

The purple mood lighting of the V cabin is very attractive and the VX First Class seat is one of the nicest narrow body seats in the domestic skies with 55" pitch. The cabin is completely separate from the main cabin. Unfortunately, one of the drawbacks of the VX First cabin as with most A319/A320s is that the galley in a part of the First Class cabin, with fully exposed catering carts and containers.

Call me old fashioned but the folksy, comedy routine of the inflight announcement followed by the juvenile "We're all in this together" rap gets really old, really quickly. Very annoying. But the "forward lavatory is strictly reserved for our First Class passengers" was a welcomed announcement.

Personal young FA David greeted us and offer PDBs. After take-off, David took our drink orders and offered a "cheese plate". Mrs. SFO declined the cheese plate (or so she thought) and inquired about pretzels? David offered to put together a snack plate of munchies. Very accommodating, except that he came back a couple minutes later with two cheese plates and no snack plate. OK, perhaps he'll bring it on the next trip... or not. The cheese plate is a nice idea, I guess... three cheeses, a cold asparagus spear, an olive, artichoke heart and a small fruit salsa thimble, but no crackers. But really what is the point? It's a one hour flight. How about warm nuts in a ramekin (like AA), pretzels or even the DL-esque snack basket.

After the entire F cabin was served, David started working the Y cabin, from the F galley. I flagged him down on his next pass thru and he dropped off a couple large bags of Chex Mix and a large can of Pringles. 

All in all though, a reasonably pleasant flight in spite of the obnoxiously loud 30-somethings in 1AC (thank you Bose ), an on time departure and arrival. Still not sure about the casual, unpolished FA service though.

 

Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas
July 28, 2011

What a wonderful, sophisticated and quiet hotel in an otherwise loud, obnoxious and oppressively hot city.

A great $275 Virtuoso rate for a Strip View King including Continental Breakfast for 2 and a $100 spa credit. Upgrade not offered, but when I inquired, we were upgraded to a very nice 650 sq. ft. Mandarin Premier Room.

VX 909
LAS-SFO
3:25P-4:55p
A319
July 29, 2011
 
We were originally scheduled on the 6:10P departure but wrapped things up early and got the to airport by 2PM. EF showed D1 but pleasant check-in agent advised that there were 3 open F seats. I had two options: (1) stand-by for two seats (we were at the top of the list and it is unlikely that two pax would walk up and buy F seats) or (2) pay $95 for a confirmed F seat. I've heard this "you are the top of the list and it looks good" so many times where looking good didn't translate into a confirmed upgrade, and since we need 2 seats, I paid the $95 PP. Mrs. SFO was very happy.

VX used to operate out of the newer and much nicer D terminal but now uses the crappy old B gates, B-17 specifically. With no AC or US Club anywhere nearby, we parked ourselves in two seats near the boarding podium.

A little later, a loud and obnoxious Non-Rev parks himself and his +1 next to the boarding podium and proceeds to chit-chat loudly with the GA. Mr. Non-Rev then goes to the gate counter to play with the computer, tap-tap-tapping for a few minutes then coming back with two BPs. Yes, s**t happens with the standby list (especially when non-revs get to play on the computer) and I am now very happy that I paid the $95, 'cause I have no doubt that this guy would have taken our seats if we were standby.

Inbound arrives on time, pax deplane and GA goes down the jetway to check if we are good to begin boarding.

Meanwhile, Mr. Non-Rev decides not to wait and pre-boards himself and his +1, scanning his ID and opening the door to board themselves. When we finally did board, I noticed that Mr. Non-Rev and his +1 were sitting in Main Cabin Select exit row seats.

We push back 10 minutes early, endure one more round of the inane VX safety announcement and the stupid "we are in this together" song, and we are off. After take off, FA Cathleen takes our drink order and delivers them together with our previously unannounced but now familiar cheese plate. No offer of any other available snacks.

Multiple refill offers and towards the end of the flight, Cathleen stops by the chit-chat "did you have a good time in LAS? Blah, blah". Like most VX, Cathleen is very friendly and outgoing. But there is just something about the VX employees that I've encountered... perhaps a little too relaxed and informal. And while the First Class seats are very comfortable, First Class service is far from polished... not the service one normally receives in AA or DL First. Add in weaker ground facilities and all in all, I'd rather be flying AA First even on a Mad-Dog.

 

VX 917
LAS-SFO
8:30P-10:00p (sked)
8:15p-9:38p (actual)
A319
August 11, 2011

I was unexpectedly back on VX again, and enjoyed tonight's final leg home. Unfortunately, I needed another day in DTW this week so I had to fend for myself for a late PM departure. The late DTW-SFO was sold out so I opted for the $375 A class DTW-LAS bargain connecting to $260 VX First LAS-SFO... by far the cheapest way home tonight. Yeah, sure AA, I'm going to spend an extra $709 for one way coach.

With a 90 minute connection, I had no problem making my way from the D-30 something gates to the B gates, with the assist of friendly TSA staff who opened the secure door between concourses so I wouldn't have to go out and re-clear security. Arrived at B-17 about an hour before scheduled departure just as our inbound landed, pulling into the gate a few minutes later.

No Non-Revs tonight and the gate staff was friendly and efficient, including initiating early boarding to avoid a possible SFO ground hold due to incoming weather. With the cabin only 4/8 tonight, each of us had two seats to ourselves, which really made the experience even better. Very pleasant evening mood lighting and a great FA tonight who offered PDB and excellent post-departure service.

The now familiar cheese plate although tonight's version came with delicious Raspberry Crostini, apparently forgotten from both cheese plates last week.

Nice movie selection on Red...

... but give me a break on your Dish TV selection, with the company's liberal bias on full display: CNN, MSNBC, certifiably insane Al Gore's The Current?? Yeah, by all means, don't offer Fox News and let your pax decide.