Nellis in a day from Scotland – Part 1

I’m going to blame the whole thing on Mark McGrath and his “If Carlsberg did vacations…” Tweet. It was about his forthcoming trip to Nellis for Red Flag

I looked at the Nellis web page and it turned out the Media day was during my leave that was coming up three weeks later. Then I noticed the participents – USMC F-18s, USN EA-6 and E-2s, RAAF F-18s, and USAF B-2s; this was on top of the usual various USAF fighters and some RAF Tornados – I had to get into the Media day if I was to make a trip worth while and, having been airside before, this was one of those opportunities not to be missed.

A few hours later I was investigating how many United Air Miles it took me to get to Las Vegas and back and whether I had enough. Turned out I had enough to get there twice so the seed was sown.

The biggest problem was time scales. The Media day was on the 14th of March, I was working on the 12th and I was flying to Spain on the 17th. That meant I had to fly from Glasgow on the 13th, Media day on the 14th, fly home on the 15th to get back to Glasgow early morning on the 16th. And the only flights available were tight coming home: LAS – PHX – DCA – EWR – GLA, with the US internals only having an hour between them.

So, now it was down to the USAF and whether I could get airside. Previously my work pass was enough to get airside, but this time Public Affairs were being more strict. They wanted a magazine to “sponsor” me with a guarentee to publish anything I photographed or wrote about. My first port of call as a sponsor was already taken; but my second one came up trumps and even though I’d just missed the cut off date for confirmation, Nellis Public Affairs agreed and added me to their list

I was worried about the internal flights, I couldn’t miss anything as I was then going to be a day behind schedule and would probably miss my flight to Spain, which would then also need changing – and we all know how flexible Ryanair are. But after a beer and a chat with my girlfriend I decided “What the hell, what could possibly go wrong?” and with that booked the flights, with only the tax to pay.

Finally it was a hotel that needed booking. My usual hotel haunt in Vegas is The Tropicana and there were rooms available at a good rate so all was set for a great time away.

A few weeks later the time had come to travel. I had everything prepared, including deciding to take my HD camcorder, I’d worked out that i’d have plenty of chances for photos and video with the amount of movements involved with Red Flag. I’d bought a new camera rucksack from LowePro. It was stuffed full but still relatively light, surprising as it not only contained my two cameras, 70-200mm f/2.8 and 300mm f/2.8 lenses and my HD Camcorder; there was also a couple of days clothing, wash stuff, a change of clothes for the night time in Vegas and a magazine to read on the flights. I had also decided to take my tripod for filming (although this just got carried around and never got used in the end)

In the lead up to travelling I’d spoken to one of my Twitter friends, Dave Vickers, who was undecided about where to go for his leave. It just so happened it was during the same week as I was travelling, and before you know it he was booked up for a weeks holiday. We would meet at The Tropicana on my arrival. It also turned out that two of my work mates off my watch were also to be in Vegas on the 13th – it was not only turning into a photography trip, it was turning into a piss up

So it was, at 4am on the 13th March 2012 that my alarm went off and the journey began. In all honesty, there’s not much to tell about my trip to Newark with United. Except maybe for the fact that I don’t think the merger has gone down too well with Continental – the amount of times they said on announcements “……. on this United flight crewed by 100% Continental members of staff” (this happened on the internal flights too). Some of the crew were wearing the coloured wristies “Continental till I die” – that sounds familier with a certain ATC move from one Centre to another

I arrived in Newark 7 hours after pushing back at Glasgow. It was the first time since September 11th that I’d been there and it was strange to see a different skyline. It was now a bit of a waiting game for my next flight to Vegas. It wasn’t for 9 hours. I’d been listed as stand-by for an earlier flight so I was hoping that that would happen as otherwise I wouldn’t be getting into The Tropicana until gone 11pm, and I wanted to go out. But even with the possible early flight there was still a 7 hour wait for the stand-by.

I decided that I’d go to a United desk and see about maybe changing my flights back, getting a stand-by or something for the early flight direct to EWR instead of the three internal flights Miles had given me. I met a fantastic lady at the desk (I really wish I’d remembered her name) who gave me tonnes of assistance. The worry was there though and made me nervous for getting back; the DCA – EWR flight had left an hour and 5 minutes late every day for the last week. This meant it was getting in 5 minutes after my EWR – GLA flight had pushed back – the odds were it would happen a few days later too. But she gave me a few alternatives and advised me to ring up United from my hotel to try and change my flights – “but there may be a charge, a few hundred dollars, maybe more!”

After a bit of spotting, and a beer whilst contemplating missing flights it was time for my stand-by. This wasn’t looking good, there were plenty of others as it appeared there had been some late connections already. I was the only Miles ticket too, the others had paid, so I was at the bottom of the list apparently. Why do Airlines do this?? Why do Miles users get put to the bottom of the list?? If anything they should be at the top, after all it is because of LOYALTY to the Airline that people have built up these Miles to then travel for free, and it is normally after thousands of pounds of spending – maybe the Airlines should start showing some loyalty to their customers too. As it was, I got on and was on my way to Vegas a few hours early.

After I arrived at McCarran, I made a stop at a United desk to try and get my flights changed but with no luck. I decided to leave it till the following night as I was wasting valuable drinking time in Vegas and so set off to hotel.

It’s been a couple of years since I was in The Tropicana and it’s had a refit. I liked the old style Casino that it used to be, it had character. Now, and I guess it’s so it can compete with all the “newer” Casino/hotels, its gone all modern. It’s still nice though, and it’s cheap in comparison to the others, I’ll always stay there until it closes or something

A quick shower and it was down to the bar to meet up with Dave; then over to The Bellagio to meet up with my friends from work, Dave and Simon. Not much to say about the rest of the evening – beer maybe??

At about 2am it was time to head back to the hotel, but with a food stop enroute – a Chilli Burger and fries at a diner. By the time I got into bed it was gone 3am Vegas time – I’d been awake 32 hours; and I had to be up 4 hours later!

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