For all the Vegas photos (I care to share right now...more on Flickr later in the week) click the 'March 2009 Las Vegas Trip' link at the top.
The trip was fine. It was really fun to hang out with the Rennie's and the Bridge's (easier than saying Jason, Jackie, Eric and Angela). We did quite a bit of walking during the weekend. I turned one year older while losing money at various casinos. We really enjoyed ourselves. Getting back home today was interesting.
On the streets of Vegas one can not avoid people handing out "cards" for "hot girls". They are everywhere! It really bothers me as it is impossible to bring kids to Vegas without exposing them to porn as the cards litter the strip. I was fond of the shirts the people handing out the cards wear. I saw one in a gift shop...but they didn't have my size!
My game is blackjack. Reading up on the game really helped me out. If I had ONLY played blackjack I would have come home with money. Those damned slot machines kept calling me over. Bleh. Eric did very well at blackjack. He almost always left the table with more money than he started with.
Kelli played craps quite a bit. She did really well at times and "what the heck just happened", at other times.
Our flight to Vegas was wide open. The return flights looked great last week. The night before we were to go home we looked and saw 50+ employee standby travelers and oversold/full flights all day long. Uh oh.
Kelli is used to non-rev travel so we both began looking at options. We both have T-Mobile G1 smart phones so we were hammering away at ways to get home. The initial route was Vegas to Los Angeles to San Francisco to DFW. The only problem was there were 50+ standbys on the first flight out of San Francisco. They would roll over and end up being ahead of us on the standby list. The next option was Vegas to the Chicago to DFW. Problem was the flights were full/oversold with a few standbys. Things were looking dim.
I then thought about flying on an airline other than my own. I can jump seat on almost any carrier (for free!) while Kelli can ZED. ZED stands for Zonal Employee Discount. A ZED fare is a set amount of money for a set distance. The 'Z' is for Zonal. If the flight is equal to or less than the distance set for 1 zone it's a set fare. This price data is made up, but here is a ZED price structure:
1 1-450 $29
2 451-750 $35
3 751-1600 $40
4 1601-3200 $53
5 3201-4080 $60
6 4081-5000 $79
7 5001-6100 $83
8 6101-7100 $90
9 7101-9000 $110
Thus if the flight is 451 miles you pay the 2 zone rate. Not bad. ZED's are some of the last people on the stand by list as it's still standby travel. In a jam or as a back up plan it can really help.
I began looking at airlines flying out of Las Vegas and where they fly to non-stop. I then looked at the loads for American Airlines out of each city. I finally found a non-stop flight from Vegas to El Paso on Southwest airlines that we could then connect to a flight on American. I called the Southwest non-rev automated system and checked the flight loads. Things looked good. The flights on American were also good. I called American to setup the ZED ticket for Kelli. Total cost was $43 (not bad for a last minute fare!) The plan was set.
We left the hotel at 6AM and headed to the airport. I first had to buy the ZED ticket from American. The ticket counter was very busy. Thankfully an agent helped me out and within minutes we had the ZED ticket in hand.
After making our way to the Southwest ticket area, we printed out security documents that would get Kelli through the TSA checkpoint. As a pilot, most TSA checkpoints don't require me to show anything more than my work ID.
We cleared security and then just had to wait. While waiting I checked us in for our connecting flight in Texas. I then exited security to find a boarding pass kiosk to print out our boarding passes. We only had 30 minutes between the scheduled arrival of the Southwest flight and the departure of the American flight. I looked at the El Paso airport webpage and it looked like we had to re-clear security to go from Southwest to American. Not good!
Once the Southwest Airlines Las Vegas to El Paso flight was listed on the TV monitor at the gate, I went up and finished the jump seat process. Southwest is awesome for jump seaters. I told the agent I was new to jump seating (until now I have only jumpseated on my own airlines). She explained everything I needed to do and after verifying my credentials against a national database, she handed me the boarding pass.
Kelli was next. She went up and traded her ZED ticket for a boarding pass. Almost done.
Jump seating is a privilege. I waited by the gate to either be first on to ask the Captain for a ride or wait for him to come up and ask him for a ride. I saw him up at the doorway and politely asked for a ride. He examined my boarding pass and company ID. He then asked if I was traveling alone or with family. Once I told him I was with my wife he said to take a seat in the cabin and try to save a seat for her. Deal. I didn't really want the real jump seat.
I boarded early and took a seat in the back of the plane. The flight was supposed to be a little empty. Turns out it was totally full. Kelli was one of the last to board. She took a seat next to me. I wasn't relaxed until we pushed back from the gate. I was fully expecting to be called to sit on the real jump seat. Didn't happen.
View from the back of a 737-300 on Southwest. Just past the Grand Canyon.
This was my first time flying on another airline other than my own in at least 4 years. I will say Southwest knows how to quickly load and unload a plane. The employees all seemed happy and truly cared about doing a good job. Not a bad place to work.
While reading the Southwest magazine I noticed they allow GPS devices to be used while flying (my airline does not). I fired up my GPS program on my phone (which waas in airplane mode!). We had a nice tailwind!
Once we landed I waited until all the passengers were off and then thanked the crew for the ride. Kelli and I scurried through the terminal. I asked a TSA agent if we could get to the other terminal without leaving the secure area. Sure enough he pointed the way! We were issued our boarding passes (the plane was 1/3 full!) and boarded our flight home just 20 minutes after getting off the Southwest flight. Good timing.
Looking back on one of the Southwest planes that brought us 1/2 way home.
After we got home I checked the standby list for flights from Las Vegas. The standbys who were on the list this morning at 6AM were STILL waiting nearly 10 hours later! I don't see many getting home tonight. I'm glad we have to options of my jump seating and Kelli using ZED. I'm only allowed to buy ZED passes for Kelli, our offspring and and my dad. We will not hesitate to use Southwest again. Every employee we encountered was extremely helpful and truly happy to be there.