Having been at work early in the morning, I was tired enough to make it a fairly short evening of socializing. The first official event was the next morning, when we headed over (by bus) to Continental's hangar. People took turns doing things like sitting inside a jet engine for photos.
They had a number of executives (both Continental and United) around to mingle with the crowd and answer (or, mostly, evade) questions about the merger. They had a trivia contest, but I couldn't make it close enough to the stage to get chosen to compete. And they gave us a decent lunch, including their famous ice cream sundaes. But the event was rather disappointing. I'd have preferred a more formal Q&A since I am sure that other people had plenty of good questions I did not think to ask. The highlight from my standpoint was learning that the folks coming from the Continental side in the merger are being called "ex-cons." Other than for the folks who won miles in the trivia contest, the only swag was small notebooks. (The swag from SMD2 itself included t-shirts, a compass, and some sort of scented towelettes.) I also ended up with an earworm as the music they played included Pink Martini's "Sympathique," one of the stickiest songs in the known universe.
There was a lot of free time between the Continental event and the Frequent Traveler Awards. I ran into a few people I knew who were there just for the awards, which were a separately ticketed event. There was an open bar and a surprisingly nice buffet dinner. The big winner was Marriott, who walked away with most of the hotel awards. I don't find that surprising since I think their program benefits a great deal from the consistency of their products. (I should also note that these were awards for 2009. They might lose out next year from their lack of significant promotions in 2010 - certainly nothing comparable to Hyatt's Faster Free Nights.) After the awards, the bar was open again, though I wasn't going to stay up all that late given that we were leaving for the airport at 5 a.m. There was also swag, in the form of tote bags with a copy of Inside Flyer, a spiral bound notebook from American Express, and a small stuffed animal (also from AMEX).
Friday was the major day of the event, with our charter flight from Houston to Phoenix to Seattle. I was actually down in the lobby a bit before 5, mostly so I could check email and print out my boarding pass for my red-eye home. We went through security and over to Continental's Presidents Club lounge for breakfast before boarding. Soon enough we were off to Phoenix for the US Air event, along with champagne and more breakfast on board. They drove us over to the Desert Botanical Gardens, where they provided still more breakfast (which I ignored, though I did sample their pineapple water) before a Q&A with their CEO, Doug Parker. I don't have a lot to say about US Air since I only fly them on short haul East Coast routes, but he got pretty hammered over some issues that apply more to longer flights. Afterwards, docents took us on a tour of the gardens. A highlight for me was the butterfly pavilion.
But since this was, after all, Arizona, there was also plenty of cactus to look at.
That, alas, triggered another earworm, in the form of "Saguaro" by the Austin Lounge Lizards. I apologize to anyone who may have heard me humming "...a menace to the west" for the rest of the day. On leaving the gardens, we were given the most impressive swag of the trip - a bag with caramel corn, some sort of trail mix, a cactus, and lip gloss. (We had already gotten notebooks and pens during the talk.)
Then it was back through security and back on the plane for the flight to Boeing's Paine Field. We had lunch (and more champagne) along the way. The big event of that leg was, however, the raffle, which raised over $6000 for various charities. I admit I was actually relieved not to win anything as I didn't have room for more stuff. (Okay, I would have had room for a Five Guys gift certificate, but I will stick to my preference for Ray's if I'm going to eat a hamburger. By the way, the grand prize - an iPad - was own by the pilot!) The other big event of that leg was the pillow fight you may already have seen on various web sites. This version was shot by the guy sitting next to me.
Pillow fight video
That was not the only silliness. As we came in, everybody lit up their flight attendant call buttons. I got a photo before the circuit breakers on one side of the plane tripped.
We arrived at Paine Field and Boeing fed us dessert (and some much needed coffee) and told us how they had planned an event that would make us feel like 4-year-olds on Christmas morning. (Not that their swag, which consisted of an airmail style briefcase, did much for me.) We were divided into four groups for the tour. (No cameras allowed, but I will post a link to the pictures they took, once we get them.) My group started off on the factory, where we saw the manufacturing lines for the wide body planes - notably the new 787 and the 747-8 Intercontinental. The most impressive thing is the sheer size of the factory, which they claim is the largest building in the world by volume, capable of holding all of Disneyland, including parking lots, and then some. Then we went off to see the Dreamlifter, the cargo plane they use to bring in 787 components. We got to walk around the edge of the cargo hold and it is truly impressive. As we left, we saw another Dreamlifter in the final stages of closing the hold after 787 wings had been unloaded from it.
But the real highlight was getting to go on a flight test 787. It was not fully fitted out, but we could test out the seats, play with the electronic window controls, peek into the crew rest area, and see the cockpit. It was a definite highlight of the day, making the cost of SMD2 worth it alone. Finally, the bus took us on the long drive to downtown Seattle, where there was a reception at the Sheraton. There was some confusion about checking our bags and that aspect was more chaotic than it needed to be. I was only able to stay long enough for a drink and hors d'ouevres and the obligatory executive talk (and swag collection - in this case, a bag with a tennis ball and instructions on using it for exercises), since I was taking a red-eye home. For more on why I did that to myself, you'll have to see subsequent entries.
At any rate, the trip was definitely worth the sleep deprivation it entailed. Thanks to the organizers and our awesome crew for a wonderful event.
By the way, there are a few more photos on my flickr site. I still try to preserve my reputation as a decent photographer through the simple expedient of never showing anybody most of my photos.