Back to Vegas, Part 1

AA Re-routing…again!

Most of the multi-segment itineraries I book in advance with American Airlines seem to end up being subject to schedule change and re-routing, and this Vegas run is no exception. A few days before the trip, when going through the itinerary, I discover that the Las Vegas to New York leg of the return has been cancelled. Whilst this segment was supposed to be on a 737-800 series and not one of the recently grounded MAX8 aircraft, I suspect the cancellation is due to a shortage of narrow body aircraft caused by the removal from service of the 24 MAX8’s in AA’s fleet.

When re-routing is necessary I do find AA call centre staff pretty efficient at helping to sort itinerary changes. That said it definitely pays to do some research in advance, so you are in a position to suggest possible re-routings that work for you. Both ITA Matrix and ExpertFlyer are invaluable in this regard, the former for checking out different itineraries and the latter for checking there are still business/first class seats for sale once you’ve narrowed things down. Armed with several possible options, I call up AA and eventually settle on a re-routing from Vegas to LA, across to Philly and then trans-Atlantic straight to Dublin, where I’ll pick up the return segment of the initial Heathrow-Dublin positioning flight. Total tier points will be the same as the original itinerary.

Heathrow to Dublin (40 Tier Points)

As with my previous Vegas run, leg one is a “positioning” hop, Heathrow to Dublin to take advantage of a cheap ex-Dublin business class fare. This time though I’m not travelling to Vegas solo. My friend Moff needs the tier points to renew his gold card and he’s travelling on an identical itinerary to mine. My friend and former boss Tim is also joining on this trip. He has an even more adventurous itinerary; we will, hopefully, be rendezvousing in Dublin this evening, with Tim having flown there from Hong Kong via Doha!

Heathrow T5, Landside

Heathrow is calm and quiet this Thursday evening, and it’s straight through the First Wing security and into the lounge, avoiding the check-in counters. Experience has taught me to travel as light as possible when flying. It helps travelling somewhere warm like Las Vegas, but regardless of destination, even if I’m away for a week or so, hand-baggage only is usually easily possible. My backpack of choice for a 5 night trip like this one is an Osprey Quasar 28 which weighs in at under 1kg empty.

Sculptured Bird in the First Wing, Heathrow T5

BA828 this evening is being operated by an Airbus A320, G-EUYJ. This particular aircraft was delivered to BA in October 2010, so it’s relatively young for BA’s fleet. BA operates a mix of A319, A320 and A321 aircraft on the Heathrow-Dublin route, and it’s not unusual for the aircraft type to change in the days/weeks before departure depending on load.

BA A320, G-EUYJ at Dublin Airport

Landing in Dublin and the routine is familiar. Incoming BA flights invariably land at gates 201-205 and disembarkation is via steps. From then it’s a short walk into the Terminal 1 building, and a rather longer walk (or run if you’re on a back to back connection) to passport control, baggage reclaim and the exit. From the terminal exit it’s about 10 minutes walk to the Maldron hotel, where we’re all staying. Moff and I rendez-vous successfully with Tim in the bar for some evening drinks; he’s in fine shape considering he’s just flown over 6000 miles in economy on two Qatar flights!

Maldron Hotel, Dublin Airport

Dublin to Heathrow (40 Tier Points)

Friday morning and it’s the familiar early start to catch the BA831, departing at 07:10. Airbus A319 G-EUPF is operating the flight today, having operated the last BA Heathrow-Dublin service the day before, and over-nighted on the tarmac here. Moff, Tim and I have all managed to snag adjacent seats in row 1 for this 250 mile hop back over to London to connect onto our New York flight.

BA A319, G-EUPF

Heathrow to JFK (140 Tier Points)

The Minimum Connection Time (MCT) for which BA will sell you a connecting ticket at Heathrow T5 is 60 minutes. We’ve got a relatively leisurely 2.5 hours, so time for some pre-flight champagne in the First lounge at T5A before heading over to T5B where our 747 is departing from.

The tail number of our aircraft is G-CIVZ. According to my notes I flew this same 747 back from Washington DC in 2013. I’d purchased a World Traveller Plus (Premium Economy) ticket for that flight, but I remember the flight being oversold, and after declining an offer at check-in of $800 to fly back the next day, was upgraded to Club World. There’s regular speculation on frequent flyer forums about what algorithm BA use to decide who gets upgraded if a cabin is oversold. At the time I wasn’t even a member of the BA Executive Club, let alone having any status. Some people suggest that BA try to “entice” you with free upgrades in order that you purchase them in future. It’s a limited sample size, but certainly true that my upgrade rate since getting gold and spending more with BA has been woeful.

Back in 2013 I remember sitting in a window seat on the main deck. Today I’ve got 64K, a coveted window seat but with direct aisle access on the upper deck.

BA 747-400, G-CIVZ

As the result of another, earlier, American Airlines schedule change, our JFK to Vegas flight is now scheduled 2.5 later than the flight I’d originally booked, which means a likely layover of around 5.5 hours in JFK and a scheduled arrival into Vegas close to midnight. We land on time, but even with the risk of a late arrival and big immigration queues (Moff doesn’t have Global Entry), that’s some way beyond what’s required for a comfortable connection.

AA Flagship Lounge, JFK Terminal 8

Fortunately a relative new addition to JFK Terminal 8 is the AA Flagship Lounge, part of AA’s overhaul programme of their transcontinental lounges. Despite the fact that we’re flying First class down to Vegas, that on its own wouldn’t be enough for entry, neither would having Platinum Elite status with AA. The flight down to Vegas counts as a “domestic first” as opposed to the required transcontinental business or first class on an AA 3-class aircraft. Instead we have to rely on our OneWorld Emerald Status as BA Executive Club Golds to gain entry. This seemingly bizarre state of affairs, where membership of BA’s frequent flier programme reaps more rewards when flying AA than elite membership of that airline’s programme, is a reason many frequent US based fliers credit their flying points and miles to BA.

View from the AA Flagship Lounge, JFK T8, Manhattan Skyline is just visible

The flagship lounge proves its worth on this long layover. It’s spacious, comfortable and allows us to enjoy some drinks and food as the sun sets over a distant Manhattan skyline.

JFK to Vegas (140 Tier Points)

AA 737-800, JFK Terminal 8

Our Vegas departure is from Gate 43. It’s in Concourse C so a short walk from the Flagship lounge in Concourse B, but the gate is pretty much the first one you arrive at on the concourse. We’re flying on a 737-800, the typical workhouse on this route, with the comfortable (but not lie flat) 2-2 seating. The pre-departure drink you’re offered with AA when flying domestic first regardless of distance, is still a nice touch compared to BA’s more meagre business class offering. A pre-departure IPA, and another after take-off and I’m asleep for most of the flight and oblivious to the 5 hour flight time.

Finally, 27 hours after waking up in the Maldron Hotel, we’ve arrived in Vegas!

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