My father, Harry Brown, helped to motivate me to fall in love with aviation. He is also a retired Naval Aviator who flew on the EA-6B. When Southwest Airlines reached out to see if I would be interested in covering a story about celebrating Armed Forces Day with a group of wounded warriors, I knew my dad would be a perfect fit. Here is his story in his own words:
In celebration of Armed Forces Day, The Palazzo/Venetian Las Vegas and Southwest Airlines joined with the Armed Forces Foundation and Omaha Steaks to salute our nation’s wounded veterans with a weekend of world-class entertainment, dining and relaxation in Las Vegas May from 16th to 19th.
I was flown to San Antonio (SAT) by Southwest Airlines to join the group of wounded warriors from the San Antonio Military Medical Facility, formally Brooke Army Medical Center, and their guests on a regularly scheduled Southwest Airlines flight to Las Vegas. The Captain of this flight worked his schedule for several days so that he was available to Captain and pilot this special occasion flight of warriors to Las Vegas.
Wednesday morning our Southwest flight departed San Antonio loaded with a very excited group of warriors anticipating their adventure that lay ahead. Prior to boarding the plane I had an opportunity to talk to several of the warriors and here are some of their comments:
– “It is good to feel appreciated.”
– “Excited to be in Vegas for the first time. I have felt my service to my country has been appreciated.”
– “Awesome. Very excited to be able to go to Vegas.”
– “My buddy that I got blown up with and I are going to get to visit his home town.”
The group of Wounded Warriors received a water cannon salute when arriving at Las Vegas. Photo from Southwest Airlines.
Arriving at the McCarran International Airport (LAS) our plane was greeted with a water canon salute on the taxi into the terminal. This marked the official greeting of the wounded warriors to Las Vegas and certainly added to the festive atmosphere of the trip.
The troops departed the plane, and were greeted at the arrival gate area with hundreds of airport employees and waiting passengers from throughout the airport. The cheering support receiving line stretched from the gate area all the way to the bus loading area. No need to go to baggage claim as our bags were being retrieved and loaded on the buses for us. The bus caravan through Las Vegas to the Palazzo was quite impressive and fast as we had an eight motorcycle police escort.
Of note, the only time police escorts are provided to regulate traffic is for the Wounded Warriors or President of the United States visits.
The Venetian went patriotic to welcome the group to the hotel. Harry Brown / AirlineReporter.com.
The Palazzo/The Venetian lined the red carpet with what seemed like thousands of people, in preparation for their arrival with flags and signs expressing utmost respect for these men and women. Even gamblers who probably never went to bed dropped everything to show their respect. I don’t think there are words that can adequately explain what an amazing sight this was. The event was very emotional and heart wrenching, it brought a lump to your throat.
The grand welcome reception was held in the resort’s Waterfall & Atrium Gardens. The reception area was beautifully decorated in patriotic decoration schemes in celebration of their arrival. The welcome ceremony commenced with the Nellis Air Force Base Honor Guard presenting the colors, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance, and the National Anthem.
The wounded warriors were greeted by a warm welcome when arriving to the hotel. Photo by Harry Brown / AirlineReporter.com.
The MC then proceeded to introduce, in order of appearance: Linda Rutherford – Southwest Airlines representative, Bruce Simon – CEO of Omaha Steaks, Patricia Driscoll – Executive Director of the Armed Forces Foundation, and Dr. and Mrs. Sheldon Adelson CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp (who own both hotels). Each in turn gave praise for the sacrifices all our military men and women have given for our country so that we can enjoy the liberties and freedoms we Americans enjoy today.
This is the seventh year The Sands Corp has done an event like this. Dr Adelson had visited a military medical facility seven years ago. He felt so touch/moved he sent his personal 727 to the east coast to load wounded warriors and fly them out for an all expense paid vacation to Vegas. Southwest and other companies heard about the trip and wanted to get involved and that is how we got to the event it is today.
Chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands, Sheldon Adelson, speaks to the wounded warriors. Photo by Harry Brown / AirlineReporter.com.
Linda Rutherford, Southwest Airlines (VP of communication and strategic outreach): “We are excited to be part of this weekend that gives back to those that have given so much for our freedom and our country. We’re proud of our relationship with the Armed Forces Foundation, which supports our commitment to military service members and their families.”
Bruce Simon (Omaha Steaks CEO): “As a family-owned company with a history spanning nearly 100 years, we are humbled and grateful for the efforts of our military troops and their families, who have generously sacrificed and bravely served to protect this great nation we proudly call ‘home,'” “We are honored to be involved in this year’s ‘Salute Our Troops’ event with The Palazzo Las Vegas and Southwest Airlines to recognize these brave soldiers and their families with thanks and gratitude and to support the outstanding efforts of the Armed Forces Foundation.”
There was no shortage of red, white and blue inside the hotel. Harry Brown / AirlineReporter.com.
Patricia Driscoll (President and Executive Director of the Armed Forces Foundation): “The sacrifices our service members and their families make for our country cannot be overstated.” They rise to the occasion each and every day, so when corporations like The Palazzo Las Vegas, Southwest Airlines and Omaha Steaks unite to recognize that sacrifice by rolling out the red carpet to treat these service members to a VIP weekend in Las Vegas, that is truly special.”
Andy Abboud (Senior VP of government relations for Las Vegas Sands Corp): “This festive weekend is our small way of expressing gratitude to the men and women in the Armed Forces. We recognize that they’ve sacrificed immensely for the rest of us, and we want to thank them as best we can. Honoring our veterans is a fundamental value of our chairman Sheldon Adelson and our entire company.”
In the afternoon of their first day there were multiple activities for the troops and their families to enjoy. There was a poker tournament restricted to only wounded warriors. The prize for the two top winners was two round-trip tickets from Southwest Airlines and accommodations from the Palazzo/Venetian. Five cabanas were reserved for their exclusive use pool side with drinks and food provided.
Some of the wounded warriors who were able to make the epic trip. Photo by Harry Brown / AirlineReporter.com.
In the evening a cocktail reception was followed by dinner at Lagasses’s Stadium. Talking to several of the wounded warriors during dinner that evening each told me in their own way that this is a day that they will always cherish. Each was extremely appreciative of the warm and support they had experienced throughout the day.
The following two days activities at the Palazzo were much like the first days with additional niceties added: a reserved Luxury Box at Lagasse’s Stadium, free Salon and Spa treatments at Canyon Ranch Spa, free tickets to Madame Tussauds and a Hiring Our Heroes Job Fair.
Thursday evening with warriors were treated to a cookout dinner on the Palazzo pool deck sponsored by Omaha Steaks and catered by the Venetian/Palazzo followed with free VIP tickets to TAO with a free sky box. TAO a high energy, DJ driven night club boasting a 40-foot-long outside terrace with stunning views of the Las Vegas Strip, gorgeous go-go dancers.
Friday the wounded warriors were treated to dinner at the Paiza Club. The Paiza Club is an ultra elite gambling area with its own bar and restaurant with stunning views of the city. A one million dollar credit line is required for guest to be invited to play at the Paiza Club. After dinner it was off to see a Blue Man Group performance.
Sadly, Saturday arrived and it was time to start thinking of the trip home. The send-off by the Venetian/Palazoo was just as impressive as it was for their welcome. Hundreds of Venetian/Palazzo employees and casino guests lined the way from the VIP lounge where the warriors assembled to leave to the waiting buses. Once more a police escort provided traffic control on the way to the airport. I noticed looking out the bus window that as the buses passed; the patrolmen were facing and rendering a hand salute to the passing bus caravan.
CPT Jeremy and Teresa Baggett sit on the special Southwest Flight. Harry Brown / AirlineReporter.com.
On the flight to San Antonio, this is what CPT Jeremy and Teresa Baggett USA had to say about their experience:
“From start to finish, the Armed Forces Foundation, Southwest Airlines and the Adelson’s made this trip something that the Wounded Warriors and their families will never forget. The attention to detail was evident in every aspect of the trip, and no expense was spared in making the Wounded Warriors feel appreciated. From the time we arrived at the San Antonio airport to depart until we deplaned in San Antonio, the Red Carpet was rolled out.
As the warriors and their families walked through the thousands of Las Vegas Sands employees waving American Flags and screaming “thank you”, many of us were moved to tears. The Adelson’s have obviously fostered a sense of pride and patriotism with the employees that are often unmatched in such a large company.
No expense was spared and the level of hospitality shown to the Wounded Warriors and their families was an experience that we will never forget. Although each Wounded Warrior’s path to recovery is unique, they are all filled with struggle. This trip allowed them to relax, de-stress and rejuvenate in ways that may never be experienced again. We were treated like true “High Rollers”, and will forever be grateful for it.
Staff of the Palazzo hotel welcome the wounded warriors. Harry Brown / AirlineReporter.com.
These men and women are phenomenal human beings, and as humble as they come. Spending time among these Wounded Warriors, and their guests has really encouraged me to take a step back and reflect on what truly matters, and using the hand you have been dealt to its fullest capabilities.
Southwest Airlines has a long history of supporting the men and women who fight for our Freedoms. They were named one of G.I. Jobs Top 100 Military Friendly Employers for 2010. Southwest Airlines also was recognized by the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) for their commitment and support of our National Guard and Reserve Employees. Southwest is one of the most honored airlines in the world known for its commitment to the triple bottom line of Performance, People, and Planet. I’d like to add a fourth – Patriotism.
Allegiant Air Boeing 757-200 (N902NV) while in Las Vegas. Yes, this livery looks even better in person -- one of the best on a 757 in my opinion.
Allegiant Air has gained approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to start operating the Boeing 757-200. Today the 757 (N902NV) will start service between McAllen-Miller International Airport (MFE) and Las Vegas (LAS). You might have to be a true airline nerd to appreciate an airline starting to use a new aircraft type. I have enjoyed following Allegiant Air’s acquisition of Boeing 757s, see the re-painting, to seeing one in the buff getting its interior installed at Paine Field.
Currently, Allegiant flies a fleet of 51 MD-80 aircraft and this is the first time they have added another aircraft type. The airline owns a total of three Boeing 757s, but two of them are being leased with other airlines until mid-2012. Allegiant also plans to purchase two additional Boeing 757s that will enter service during the first quarter of 2012.
“This is an important day for Allegiant,” Andrew C. Levy, Allegiant Travel Company President, said. “The addition of the Boeing 757-200 will play an important role in our company’s future growth. Our operations team worked long and hard to ensure the completion of this certification and we thank them for their dedication in achieving this important goal.”
Allegiant was hoping to start flying to Hawaii, but the FAA required them to get experience operating the Boeing 757 over land before earning Extended-range Twin-engine Operational Performance Standards 180 (ETOPS), which is required to fly to Hawaii.
It is unlikely that the Boeing 757, configured with 217 economy seats, will remain on the MFE to LAS route, since the airline is hoping to initiate service to Hawaii, Mexico and Canada via Las Vegas and Orlando. The city and airport are pretty excited about the Boeing 757 that they made a video highlighting the new aircraft coming to the airport on YouTube.
Video found via Airliners.net
Allegiant MD-82 (N416NV) at Bellingham with a blue tail.
I recently had the opportunity to fly from Bellingham, WA to Las Vegas, NV on Allegiant Air (note: this was not a free ticket and I paid full fare). It was time for a little vacation, but vacation doesn’t mean I can’t review my flight.
On the blog, I have covered Allegiant quite a bit. I have looked at the possibility of them starting flights from Paine Field, talked about their Boeing 757’s and have explored their recent growth. However, I have never actually flown Allegiant and felt it was about time.
Although I haven’t flown them, I have had a small, odd crush on the airline. They have a very unique business model of flying older MD-80’s out of smaller airports and are geared towards the leisure traveler trying to get somewhere warm. They fly places that other low cost carriers don’t fly offering non-stop service to airports not usually served. They also seem to under cut the competition in fare price.
When booking my ticket I was looking at flights out of Seattle (SEA) and Bellingham (BLI – which is located about 1.5hours north of Seattle). Flying Allegiant out of BLI was $50.00 cheaper than anyone else — even after the fees I ended up paying. Add that parking at BLI is only $9/day vs $28/day at SEA and the 1.5hr drive north sounds like a good idea compared to the 30min drive south for me to SEA (ok, so when I have to drive it from 1am-2:30am when I got back, it didn’t seem so great at the time).
There is no hiding that Allegiant love their fees. If you are just flying with a carry-on. don’t care about where you sit and you don’t eat anything you can get to your destination for dirt cheap. Allegiant has become quite skilled at trying to sell you things during every step of the travel process from going onto their website to getting off the airplane.
Allegiant's new seats have the seat pocket located on the top of the seat.
This is not to say I blame them for this, I have always said I do not mind fees. If I am traveling light why should I have to pay for people who are not? When booking my ticket these were some of the “upgrades” I was offered. Some of these fees you do not see on every airline (note that the priority boarding fee is the same for each flight, but the other seat fees will differ depending on flight length):
* Priority boarding: $9.99 – allows you to get on the plane first making sure you have overhead room.
* Premium seat selection: $9.99 – you get an assigned seat near the front or at the exit rows.
* Standard seat assignment: $6.99 – gives you an assigned seat towards the back of the aircraft.
* Online checked bag fee: $39.98 – might be more than the industry average, but you want to pay it online, since it will cost you $70.00 per bag at the airport.
You can fly without having to pay any of these fees, but many will end up paying. Allegiant recently went to a new boarding process. First the people that pay the $9.99 for the priority boarding get to board. Then those who need a little extra time (not kids or family) that they need extra time getting seated get to board. Next, passengers with seat assignments get to find their seats. Then those who do not have seat assignments, but have kids that are under 7. Then it goes to open seating and people get to pick what is left as far as seats and overhead bin space. On the flight to LAS, there weren’t many who went with open seating, but it seemed most of the plane was open seating on the way home.
Normally I wouldn’t pay for an assigned seat, but on this trip I was flying with my girlfriend Amy and I wanted to make sure we sat together. I didn’t get the premium seats and even after the $32.00 seating fees (for both of us there and back) our tickets were still $50.00 cheaper than the competition. Since Allegiant flies MD-80 aircraft, paying more to sit up front can be more useful since you are farther away from the jets in the rear of the plane.
Got a nice view of Mount Rainier heading south towards Vegas.
One annoying aspect of Allegiant’s fees is most are opt-out fees. It automatically signs you up for the $9.99 priority boarding and seat assignment charges and asks if you are really sure you want to opt-out. After I thought I opted out for everything and I was on the payment screen and I had “additional charges” adding up to around $60.00 that I didn’t know what they were. It took me a while to realize Allegiant already added two tickets for a hotel shuttle and for travel insurance. I could see people not realizing what is going on and paying for them, even if they didn’t want or need them. Even though it was a bit more work to get the tickets (it was almost game like and I think I won) I still ended up with super cheap tickets.
Although their aircraft are a bit older, the ones I flew on (N416NV & N419NV) were quite clean. The new Allegiant seats are a bit unique with not having a standard seat pocket. Instead of the seat pocket being down by the knees, it is up above the tray table and is much smaller. This allows them to put the seats closer together and cut down on turnaround time since there really isn’t room to put trash.
The new seats are also “pre-reclined,” which is fancy airline-speak for they do not recline. For me, this is a non-issue. I rarely recline my seat out of respect for the people behind me. Non-recling seats allow more seats to be put in, cuts down on maintenance costs, which allows more revenue and keeps your ticket cost cheaper. For some reason, so many people do not see this connection. There are many other airlines out there that might provide a bit more room, less fees and a reclining seat, but it will cost you more to fly them.
Once you are on board the plane, you have more fees to consider paying as well. Unlike most other airlines, there is no free food or drinks. Not even that small glass of Diet Coke or a miniature bag of peanuts. A 12oz soda will cost you $2 and snacks range from $2-$6. Of course you also have the choice of beer for $5 or mixed drinks for $7. Considering I paid $3 for a soda and $5 for a bagel with cream cheese at the airport before boarding, I should have waited.
Boarding on the tarmac at Bellingham allows one to get views like this, which you can't get on a jetway.
The flight attendants also sell tickets to events and shuttle tickets while on board (at least on my Vegas flight). My biggest regrets of my flight was not getting an Allegiant MD-80 model – which they also sell. They won’t advertise them, so you have to ask for it. I totally forgot on the flight to LAS and was sleeping the entire way back to BLI.
One reason I slept the entire flight back was it was so late. The plane was scheduled to leave LAS at 8:05pm, but we didn’t take off until about 10:30pm. De-icing and flight plan issues caused the delay. Add to that sitting in the plane for about 1.5hrs of that delay with a loud kid in front of us and a group of college kids behind us, it was not fun. At least they did allow us to use our electronic devices and the restroom during the wait. Although it was annoying, what can you do? There are delays in any form of transportation. How many times am I sitting in Seattle traffic and it takes me an hour to go just ten miles (a lot btw)? As always people seem to get angry at the airline for delays; like someone is sitting in a room somewhere making a plane late for fun. The pilots, flight attendants, ground crews, airport personnel, operations managers and everyone else waiting on the last flight of the day do not want the delay anymore than you. These sorts of things happen in a complex business like this and I always find it is best to roll with the punches (although Amy can attest I was getting grumpy at the time).
Allegiant has a smart model that works and they will continue to grow their route map. They own their planes, fly to smaller airports, concentrate on leisure travelers, provide complete travel options and have fees. It obviously is working for them since they have been able to grow rapidly over the past few years and I have a feeling it will continue to work for them. How have your experiences with Allegiant been?
During my time in Vegas, I was also able to take a visit of Allegiant’s head quarters and will be sharing that with you soon. Stay tuned.