Las Vegas and back in 24 hours

A piece of cake from the west coast, and not even all that hard from the east coast, but when you make the trip for the miles instead of the destination, making it there and back can actually prove much more difficult, especially when you take four flights to get there instead of the non-stop. But given the price of the ticket, and nothing much else to do on a Saturday, I set out on a quick tour of train stations, airports, airport lounges and airplanes. Plus, I got to see a bit of America and meet some new people along the way.

The itinerary was PHL-IAD-JFK-SFO-LAS-SFO-JFK. I actually had tickets to continue on from JFK to IAD and then back to PHL, but it is Superbowl Sunday, and I’d miss opening kickoff, plus I have to pack for my trip to Hong Kong for Chinese New Year, so I skipped those flights. With a 6:25 am flight out of Philadelphia on Saturday morning I chose to head down the night before (hence the trains) and have dinner with a friend before heading out on the adventure. The train trip was uneventful, and dinner was a pretty good burger at Slainte across the street from Philly’s 30th Street Station. Since my friend was also arriving by train I hung out at 30th Street Station for about an hour waiting, and figured I’d take a few pictures while I was there. The architecture of the train station is typical of the grand old stations, with soaring ceilings and impressive steel structures to hold up the overhangs for the outdoor tracks that were added later.

It was rush hour when I was there, so there were a number of people passing through, queuing up and otherwise existing in a rather transient state. I think I captured that in a couple of these pictures, with the ghosts of the people in the images, but maybe that’s just me being a bit crazy.

So that was the night before. I had my tickets in hand and was ready to go the next morning, so I slept until about 5am and then made my way over to the terminal from the Airport Marriott. I learned that part of the TSA efforts to secure our air travel includes no fruit through the check-point, unless you’re willing to subject it to x-ray screening. Since I was actually in the act of eating the apple I had a couple last bites and tossed the core. But you should be happy to know that the TSA is protecting airplanes, one apple at a time. Back to the rest of the story… The Philadelphia airport is just as much of a dump as I remember it being last time I was there, about 5 years ago. One nice upgrade is that they now have ATT WiFi throughout the terminals, except in the United Red Carpet Club, where the signal was too weak for me to connect. As an added bonus, the WiFi is free on weekends for everyone (weekdays, too for students, though I don’t know how they patrol that). So I grabbed a replacement apple from the lounge, as well as this shot, and then headed out to the terminal to use the WiFi and wait for my flight.

Philly to Dulles was a piece of cake, and I had a few minutes in Dulles again to use the free ATT WiFi (not sure it was supposed to be free, but it was. That was a quick hour in the United Express “terminal” and then on to my Dulles-JFK flight. At this point the sun was finally rising over the east coast:

The JFK Red Carpet Club was OK, with some decent views of the runway, but nothing really to write home about. JFK-SFO was on one of the United p.s. planes, which offers a couple extra inches of legroom, a very welcome benefit on a 6 hour flight. Sadly, the entertainment options on the plane are pretty limited (just the overhead movie screen), so that’s not particularly good. I also met a couple people on the flight that know of the “mileage clubs” so that made for a very entertaining conversation for a few hours as we crossed the country. We were only about an hour late into San Francisco due to the storms out there, and I even had time to duck in to the RCC out there (the one by gate 80), but only because my onward flight was also delayed. I have to say that the RCC at gate 80 is, by far, the nicest of the RCCs I’ve seen.

My flight to Las Vegas was running about an hour late, leaving me only about 45 minutes for my connection there. Fortunately I already had my boarding passes for those flights so that wasn’t a big deal at all. The minor delay into Las Vegas also allowed me to see a rather impressive sunset, though the pictures from later in the “show” were too blurry:

Up to this point my schedule was getting tighter and tighter, but I’d been squeaking by. I also was at a point where I was now stuck for the night, as any other options headed back east were the redeye I was booked on or waiting until the morning. So when we pushed back from the gate in Las Vegas and sat there for about 10 minutes with no information from the pilot, I started thinking about where in the San Francisco airport I’d be spending the night. The captain opened up the cockpit during the wait (the Airbus 320 cockpit is huge compared to the 737s) and we discussed my situation. “We” decided that I’d just wait it out and hope for the best in San Francisco. We landed after my flight was supposed to have left, but it was also delayed, sparing me a night on the floor. I managed to get the last pizza from the food court and then finally settled in for the 4:40 flight back to JFK. That flight really isn’t long enough to get a reasonable amount of sleep (I’ve complained about it before, but United is the worst, with making announcements throughout the flight, especially the “seatbelts please” bit), but I got enough to make it through to nap time today. And 24.5 hours after I left Philadelphia, I made it to JFK. 90 minutes later I was in my apartment with a fresh bagel for breakfast and ~16,000 points going into my bmi account.

Not bad for a Saturday.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.