FlightLevel360 wrote:In the meantime, have fun on your flight, and I hope to see a trip report soon!
Here is my first a.net trip report, and trip report entirely in forum post format, after having previously done a couple or so as a video, so I apologize that it may be difficult to follow at times.
This covers my itinerary for VX 1098 on Monday, January 15th (specifically for the A321neo), and to a lesser extent VX 1981 (an evening flight listed as operated by the A320, but not too late for parents to pick me up on a weeknight) the next day on Tuesday, January 16th.
Toward the latter part of 2017, knowing what would become of VX Elevate and my points I accrued from previous trips to DCA or within California, I was itching to spend my points while they were worth their value as their original currency, as they would be less valuable for intra-California needs once converted into AS miles at the rate of 1.3 AS miles per 1.0 VX points. Contrary to Alaska's "30% more" marketing to get you to convert your points, I wasn't keen to transfer my VX points into AS miles so soon since I happened to be planning a trip for last August at the time of the completion of the merger (Dec 2016/Jan 2017), and after doing the math across various options, found that more often than not it made more sense to book VX flights with VX points, not AS miles from converted VX points. (But what were you expecting? )
All this, to visit an online friend that recently moved from Arizona to SoCal around the Ontario area. That way it wasn't just to fly for no other reason.
The flights already being quite inexpensive (quoted at $81 roundtrip, in the midst of an AS sale) only cost 2,280 Elevate points, while AS wants 10,000 miles to book the same flights, in their different system of award travel (5k per leg, seemingly regardless of price):
(Okay, so actually 2,280 points and the security fee plus another $20 from choosing seat 6A since I wanted to be sure I'd be in front of those NEO engines. The seat on the return wasn't as important to me so I chose 20F which was free, and intended to change that to a row farther forward at online check-in if seats were available.)
(Actually an improvement to a year ago, where VX award travel started at 7,500 points when I looked. AS would've wanted 5,000 miles each way for the same flights if I booked using AS miles. Just for a parallel, I selected the same flights on the same days of the week, but not the same specific flights I booked (can't check flights in the past for the purpose of this TR!); 1098 on Monday and 1981 on Tuesday, though it doesn't really make too much of a difference. For what it's worth, I definitely like AS Mileage Plan's accural and redeeming for my transcon runs. )
This compared to around $90 or 2,800+ Elevate points before AS had a sale. My flights from SFO to DCA in years past earned anywhere from 1000 to 1200 points, which'd be enough for one of these flights.
Originally, I planned to go during January 8th/9th, or the previous Monday-Tuesday as those are the two days in the week said friend says he has off from work, but he asked if another one of our mutual friends could come over, so I had some discussions with said mutual which didn't actually go anywhere (indecisiveness, or something else, as is typical in travel plans amirite), which in that time the fare in points went up too much for comfort .
So, the 15th/16th it was (while said mutual already started his spring semester and thus out of the discussion ), which was also after the AS/VX certificate merging on the 11th.
AS even ran a flash sale on the day I booked, which is why they were ever so slightly cheaper:
(This $39 fare from what I saw only applied between SJC and BUR, but I was specifically using Elevate points to fly VX on the A321neo so it was a no-go. Maybe when I don't have that choice after April... )
Despite AS and VX saying the VX brand would run to late April, posts from AS insiders on a.net otherwise led me to believe (if unintentionally) all the VX branding at the airport would be ripped out and replaced with AS branding overnight at the certificate merge. So, the day before I was to fly out, I went to SFO T2 just to scope the place out (even though some friends flying out that day showed me their VX boarding passes on our outing the day before from when they flew into SFO on a VX A321neo earlier in the week), and saw all the VX stuff still there (to my relief ), and even printed out my boarding pass 14 hours before departure:
(Departure at 7 AM Monday morning, printed out at SFO T2 5 PM Sunday evening, after previously checking in on the app 24 hours prior to departure that Sunday morning.)
Wary after the newest A321neo in the AS "Most West Coast" livery had been doing 1098 much of the past week (mostly due to being unsure if I'd even get a VX experience in anticipation of flying post-certificate merging), I was intrigued to see that "Neo Kid on the Block" (N921VA) had done it that Sunday, and was scheduled for my flight Monday morning :
As FlightLevel360 covered, 1098 is the SFO-LAX segment of an SFO-LAX-HNL-SFO rotation, although on some days an A320 operates it as part of an SFO-LAX-OGG-LAX (with a leg to SFO the next morning) frequency instead.
To make the 7 AM departure, I was out of the house by 4:45 AM , and gotten my 2 hour-before alert text from VX by 5 AM (double-texted since I entered my number alerts more than once way back in Septemberish, expecting a confirmation text—when I was already entered into the system through my Elevate account—but never bothered to rectify this on my end ):
Interestingly, going through security at SFO T2 didn't involve removing larger electronics from bags, emptying our pockets, or even removing our shoes. One of my friends noted that this was done at EWR at one point, to the confusion of passengers.
By 5:20 AM I was through security and into T2's gate area.
Like my previous trips out of SFO T2, I treated myself to one of those $4 croissants from Peet's before sitting by a window near my departing gate:
(Say hello to my traveling companion. Unlike my previous choice of companion, he fits in my pocket, and, not that you can tell, has articulated joints that allow me to pose him for many staged situations and photo ops.)
The sun, not being out yet (due to rise around departure time), outside was pitch black and required the DSLR against the indoor reflections to get a good photo of anything, I had to hold the camera in the space behind one of the pillars and try to use my other arm to block out some of the reflections:
(Referring back to the initial picture of my boarding pass from half a day earlier, you'll notice the departing gate changed from 50A to 53.)
Close to being on schedule, the boarding team consisting of one person commenced the boarding process at 6:23 AM, although my group didn't start boarding until a minute or so after that. There wasn't a huge crowd of people in the area so it didn't take very long to go through the groups and board everyone either.
As I anticipated, the mood lighting while boarding was blue, in contrast to the deep purple on the A319 and A320 or even the subtle purple-blue on my previous A321neo flight:
Otherwise, so far so good. Next is my view out of 6A, and the mood lighting transitioned to purple/pink by the time we had completed boarding and were getting ready to depart the gate:
At that point, Julie introduced the inflight team consisting of Captain Kevin, First Officer Barrett, and cabin team members Kai, Celina and Johnny, before they played the VX safety video.
For the record, I've always enjoyed the VX safety video and cherish it even more when it plays whereas what I've read on a.net leads me to believe people loathe it. They also rewrote, rerecorded, and reanimated (but not reshot) various parts to comply with the different exit configuration on the A321neo, or different FAA regulations on personal electronic devices (airplane mode rather than completely shutting off), which I'm keen to cover when I eventually edit a full trip report video, whenever that'll be:
(I've yet to find a raw version of the A321 safety video online outside of the electronic device regulations.)
By gate departure time I noticed the ViaSat WiFi offered by Virgin America was already up and available to connect and purchase. The Alaska FreeChat on the other hand which I was most excited to use wasn't (nor was it available by the time we broke 10,000 feet), contrary to what's written on their website. There were even ads for FreeChat on the online portal but you still couldn't actually connect to it :
(I noted this on the feedback form I submitted a few days later.)
(This was also the case for my flight on Frances (N922VA) last August, where only the paid ViaSat WiFi was available.)
After a short taxi from gate 53 down to 1L, and a very short takeoff roll, we were off barely 5 minutes after scheduled departure and pushback, and turned left to go counterclockwise around SFO as we headed southeast:
Before long the inflight team members were out with the cart asking what we'd like to drink. Again, since the flight couldn't have been more than half or even one-third full (and I also overheard from the gate team member prior to departure that there was a single passenger in F), this didn't take a lot of time to complete the service. I had my usual, which is a cup of ginger ale (although I forgot to mention to hold the ice, the trip to the rear galley to throw the ice away later in the flight was totally worth it):
In that picture, you might notice my Samsung AC adapter brick plugged into the socket. Since I didn't sit in a standard Main Cabin seat on my last VX A321neo flight (instead in the 8E/F exit row where the power socket is by your knees and tray table/IFE in your armrest), this was actually new to me. Instead of two-sockets-for-three-seats, each seat has a power socket by the seatback pocket:
...In addition to the USB port you get from the IFE monitor itself.
Now, I've mentioned in the past that I was after the VX-branded kits, even though I collected some on my previous VX flight, 1893 from LAX to SFO, at the end of September:
(I waited a bit too long to try to use the system to buy them and the shop system was taken down. I'd walked to the rear galley and talked to an inflight team member about seeking to buy some VX memorabilia with the looming merger, and she was very understanding and reopened the system for my order before going to the F cabin and checking that the kits were indeed stocked. Within seconds of swiping my card and before I could enter my email for the receipt she came back with the blanket/pillow in a drawstring bag, and two additional pen/eyemask kits in addition to the one I was buying. )
...Anyway, that was September. To my disappointment, the only item available under the shop category this January morning were the $3 headsets :
"Whatever, I'll take what I can get" I thought, buying two of them and hoping one of them was blue, so I could give one to a close friend on the east coast who, despite never flying VX, is very supportive of my VX obsession (and has even served as emotional support in the brand retirement ).
But, contrary to the image onscreen, they lacked the Virgin America logos, both on the headphones themselves as well as the plastic bag:
And they also only had these two colors; I asked if they had the white/silver pair, but the inflight teammate said it was just these two.
So, none of the destination kit pouches or the blanket/pillow pack, which might make sense for this short flight to LAX (even though I got both of those last time on a flight between LAX and SFO), and headphones that don't even have any evidence of being associated with Virgin America. Perhaps I should've asked first, or even gone on this trip a week earlier like I originally planned? This part of the trip certainly proved fruitless.
I figured I'd get up and do things including have a look around, throw the ice in my cup away (I was keeping the cup since it has the VX logo on it), or even just to have a look in the lavatory, since I didn't go in one on my last VX A321neo flight.
As I made my way toward the rear galley to discard the ice in my cup, the inflight team members present lit up at the sight of the very VX-inspired shirt I wore for the trip. I talked about how I booked 1098 specifically for the A321neo, and they offered to give me some VX-branded goodies until one of the other team members noted, to all our disappointment, that they no longer get the destination pouch kits nor the blanket/pillow pack, and the headphones didn't have the VX logo on them as I noted earlier. Definitely a shame since brand retirement is still three months out but AS is apparently wasting no time in doing so. In the meantime they gave me a couple of A321 safety cards to keep from the rearmost seat pocket by the galley since they were understandably lacking in things that prominently displayed "Virgin America" in some fashion, while I chatted some more before returning to my seat as we'd began descending toward LAX, for a rather straightforward descent free of any zigzagging or holding, and a couple fast curves to line up with 24R.
Just a few from descending into the LA basin and landing at LAX.
Touched down and vacated a few minutes before 8 AM sharp, for a blocked time of 90 minutes for an 8:30 AM arrival.
Frances (N922VA), my previous A321neo ride in the background, preparing to fly to JFK.
Arrival at gate 60 at 8:09 AM.
And finally while deplaning, I asked one of the inflight team members if I could have some photos taken with them. They invited me into the flight deck for a couple photos in the Captain's seat, with Captain Kevin himself before his onward leg to FLL, and then with the inflight team members still present:
https://twitter.com/ChainChomp2/status/ ... 9466095616
(My only regret is not using my DSLR, which was still packed in my carryon. )
"Keep flying with Alaska Airlines, don't give up on us yet!" was one of the last things I remember hearing from a team member before I eventually walked off the plane.
For those curious about my shirt, it's a custom I did on Spreadshirt. It's heavily inspired by a shirt Richard Branson presented at the LHR-SEA inaugural on VS in light of AS's then-recent announcement of retiring the VX brand:
http://www.adweek.com/creativity/how-vi ... n-america/
On my version though I avoided using logos or even writing out obvious names even for a shirt for personal use, while at the same time I'd expect anyone who would recognize "Redwood" and "VX" in the same space to associate it with Virgin America.
Since the arrival into LAX was early and I had no checked bags to pick up, I spent a lot of extra time at T6 writing some posts on Facebook, Twitter, and chatting with some friends online (if they were awake) while I took a few pictures in the area, as Neo Kid on the Block was being prepared for its onward flight to HNL:
The back of my shirt has my avgeek alias and a logo I drafted in 10-15 minutes. This came up after I posted about my experience to my Facebook account while I was still in LAX T6, one of my friends (who's also a user on here ) asked about getting a shirt like the one I was wearing, so I brought up how his version would need to have an alternate back side :
By the time I had the idea of staying in the gate area until the HNL departure, I was already out and on my way to the In-N-Out on Sepulveda Blvd.
Aside that...my thoughts?
Probably my favorite flight taken to date, despite any setbacks, but mostly from interacting with the inflight team as well as a lightly loaded flight (probaly making connecting with the inflight team easier), and also made for a swift and hold-free arrival into LAX. For my second-favorite flight, off the top of my head I would choose either of my flights on VS between SFO and LHR way back in 2001. That was also the same time period and trip for the last time I was invited into the flight deck, which was on a FR flight from STN to SNN, on the basis of my name being Ryan. Although at the same time, I tried not to make too much of a fuss or even displayed my avgeek enthusiasm on traveling, especially since the vast majority of trips since I was a little kid were with family. Trips with like this that were entirely by myself (and since only having two or three trips with this distinction previously) I didn't have to worry about managing family (once the managed, now one of the managers and with more family than before), and felt I had more freedom on how I behaved. Try not to interpret that the wrong way, though.
In any case, that was the real "meat" of this post. After this there wasn't very much whether from my trip to LA in and of itself or even the flight back I would put in the same league.
The rest of the trip mostly consisted of a ride on my kick scooter up to the In-N-Out like I've done previously on my trips through LAX. I didn't take a lot of photos (or really, any good photos ), but here are pretty much some of my faves from the whole lot:
(While this one was queued for 24L behind an OZ A380 to ICN, I legitimately thought it was a HU 789.)
Random story, when I was last here at the end of September, I left a Pokémon at the gym that is this sign in Pokémon GO:
It managed to last the 19 hours and 8 minutes listed there, which is more than the time I've amassed at all the gyms at my college combined over the entire semester.
Quite frankly, nothing too interesting happened (other than the basin becoming overcast) since I spent much of the rest of that day making my way over a Travelodge booked near ONT, since the friend I was meeting up with wasn't due to be in the area until the next day, rather than whatever stuff in downtown LA we might've planned to do otherwise. On the way I fell onto the pavement off my scooter for the first time and scraped my left elbow through my hoodie, which the hoodie itself (an AS hoodie) was strangely unscathed (power of Alaska? ), but it had to happen eventually.
Check-in was a bit of a doozy since they didn't have my reservation that I did through Southwest/Booking.com, so they cancelled the reservation and did another one for the same rate. No real loss other than the small amount of WN points I'd have gotten otherwise, but I still had a place to crash for the night. By that evening I checked in for my return flight the next night, originally choosing 20F at booking but moved it up to 6F during online check-in:
After not the best sleep that night, I spent much of the next day with the friend I was visiting and his fiancée first by browsing Ontario Mills, then off to the California ScienCenter, and finally to see The Last Jedi at the Cinemark on Sepulveda Blvd at 3:55 PM, a short drive away from LAX which proved very convenient. Initially they thought I was flying out of ONT and that I'd miss all the museum and movie stuff, but upon learning that I was flying out of LAX it was all too perfect.
The only kink being that The Last Jedi ended at 6:35 PM, and VX 1981 was to depart at 8:00. I actually got my flight alert texts for the flight (set for 2 hours prior to departure) while the movie was still playing, go figure.
Thus, I was a bit rushed to print out a boarding pass (even though I had the QR version on my phone), or even look around the terminal enough on arrival, at least after sharing some hugs and pictures with my new friends.
Shortly after taking this photo, I got onto the plane without a crowd in front of me by 7:30ish PM. I noticed straight away that the flight was a lot busier, as one'd expect for an evening flight between LAX and SFO, even in the middle of the week, in contrast to the early-morning very empty flight going the other way the day before.
View from 6F, and the traditional VX purples in the mood lighting. Turns out that this is VX's oldest and first aircraft, Air Colbert (N621VA). Thus, this itinerary included VX's first A320 and A321neo!
(The one and only A319 I've been booked on was for VX 1893 last September being N529VA, one of their newer A319s.)
After an introduction from the inflight team the safety video was played, although they didn't crank the speakers up for several seconds after it started. After it concluded, I couldn't help but be humored at how the speakers cut out as the ad from AS that subsequently plays after the safety video started running.
After a push back on-time, we circled around the terminals toward 24L, probably because of the bevy of aircraft going to 25R. Since I was anticipating departing from 25R (like VX 1893 in September) I booked a seat on the right side of the plane (after booking a seat on the left side of the plane for that flight), but I suppose this wasn't to be.
By 8:15 PM, it was wheels up from LAX 24L.
Since it was mostly dark and we were over the ocean (although, there was a bit of coast off the right side, so a fate better than choosing a left/A seat eh? ), I don't have a lot to share as far as views, so I'll get right into the stuff inside.
Half an hour after departure, we were already at cruising altitude and well on our way toward SFO:
Air Colbert, being one of VX's older Airbus aircraft, is still equipped with the GoGo Inflight WiFi, but also got equipped with Alaska's FreeChat which I'm always excited to use.
Unfortunately for me...even if the GoGo network was up, it never connected onwards to the Internet, whether to even buy a package or whatnot. Otherwise I was planning on using FreeChat to fire up Discord and chat with friends, including the one who just dropped me off at the airport.
FreeChat says it works with Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and with iMessage on your iOS devices, but it actually gives you some limited connectivity to use other apps or even browse your social network feeds on Twitter or even Facebook, as I experienced on my previous FreeChat flight being my last VX flight in September. (Also covered in the EWR-SFO video I linked waay at the top and beginning of this post ). So, definitely a great shame not to use it.
Instead of getting the cart service from the back, those of us seated near F and behind Main Cabin Select were served by the inflight team member servicing the F cabin. Once again, I had a cup of ginger ale (and the VX cup making yet another keepsake)...and this time made sure to say to hold the ice.
Knowing full well what the selection for onboard amenties would be, I checked anyway:
Although their selection of movies is impressive, obviously however you shouldn't expect to get too much in on a short flight within California. Free to watch, thanks to AS licensing the movies, although it'll be shortlived at least through RED as they're going the BYOD path. The last time I flew this route someone next to me was seemingly watching movies the entire time, from when he was seated to until we arrived, so you'd best start ASAP if you're really keen.
But that's before I get to their Live TV selection:
Lacking much else I wanted to do, I eventually got up just to walk around, because why not. In that time I also noticed they stocked the silver-colored headsets, but I thought "whats the point?" since they didn't say "Virgin America" on them to make a nice memento.
Honestly not very much to report between this time and descent, except the part where we zigzagged just a little bit before we eventually landed on SFO 28R.
Touchdown at about 9:17 PM.
SFO T3, boarding area F for UA:
Getting to T2:
Aaaaaand gate 54B arrival, at 9:24 PM (apparently below sea level as well)!
Not making too much of a fuss, I was off the plane and back in SFO T2, like I'm so used to arriving at late at night.
Interesting the VX A320neo renders are still displayed. I wonder if AS will actually take them?
Thoughts on this flight? First, fun fact: I've flown SFO-LAX only twice, the last being on AA in the late 90s. This particular flight would be the fifth time I've flown LAX-SFO, and the third time as a whole over the past year with all three times on VX (June and September 2017, and this in January 2018). Like my other VX flights on this routing though and at this time of day, they tend to be busier (as one'd hope) and I'm usually tired by this part of the evening, but can't really complain otherwise. Unlike the first flight down to LAX, I didn't want to bother the crew or even my seatmates too much by getting up and coming back over and over. The main difference was the lack of WiFi connectivity which was the real "kink" in the armor.
A last little bonus: despite redeeming Elevate points for these flights, the first of both has recently appeared under my Mileage activity, earning 1,000 AS miles.
I guess the original value would've been 500 which is (I think?) the minimum for a flight, but I joined the Alaska's double miles promotion that runs through the end of February so this earns 1,000 instead.
In hindsight if I knew about the 500 minimum I would've assigned my AS number rather than my VX number on my VX flight in June, since after doing the math, the 275 Elevates earned on that flight would later convert to 358 AS miles, for a flight that would earn 337 base miles before the push up to 500.
All in all though it's a VX experience I'll cherish always, since it'll be gone by the end of April!
Maybe I'll squeeze in another trip on VX beforethen...
Well, thanks for reading my first a.net trip report! May or may not have a video version up soon™.