This report will cover yet another of my roundtrips between Washington, DC and Bozeman, MT, this time on August 22/25. Some of you may recall the reports I posted earlier this summer describing two other experiences between WAS and BZN. These can be found here:
For those who may be tired of reading about my DC to Montana trips, accept my apologies and read no further. But for everyone else, I wanted to share this experience because it was somewhat different than the others. Whereas my previous trips were on a combination of NW and DL, the carrier this time was UA. I also experienced the 777 for the first time on a domestic route, and in business class no less.
And now, here’s a bit more background on this trip. The purpose of my travels was pleasure, mainly to see some family from Germany who were visiting my mother in Montana. I booked my ticket 4 weeks prior for the price of $368 USD ($518 fare, minus $150 thanks to a discount voucher I received in HKG back in January (see http://www.airliners.net/aviation-fo...ums/trip_reports/read.main/128108/ )). Shortly after booking, I applied for an upgrade on the IAD-DEN leg using three 500-mile upgrade certificates; the upgrade was approved 48 hours before the flight. And now, on to the report. Hope you enjoy and as always, feedback is appreciated.
August 22, 2008
Scheduled Departure: 17:30
Scheduled Arrival: 19:21
Actual Takeoff: 18:02
Actual Landing: 19:11
Actual Flight Time: 3:09
Distance: 1,452 mi/2337 km
Seat: 13J (Business, Window)
Load: Economy 100%/Business 100%/First?
I checked in online shortly before leaving my office in downtown DC. I caught the Metro around 15:10 to the West Falls Church station, then connected to the Washington Flyer bus for the rest of the trip to Dulles, arriving at the terminal shortly past 16:00.
Though I was checked in, I queued up in the business class line in order to drop my bag. There were 4 agents at the biz class counter, but it took them more than 30 minutes to take care of the 15 or so people in front of me. The standard and Premier member lines seemed to be moving faster at times, but I decided it was best to stay put and not risk losing my place in line. Finally it was my turn and a rather unimpressive UA agent slapped a tag on my bag and sent me on my way. She was not rude, but also was not friendly—she just didn’t seem to show much effort. So needless to say, I was not impressed with the check-in procedure.
Security took about 10 minutes to clear and after a ride across the tarmac on the people-mover, I arrived at gate C8 shortly before 17:00. Though my upgrade was confirmed and I was checked in, I still had to get my boarding pass and seat-assignment from the gate agent. That took all of 30 seconds, and as luck would have it, I was given a window seat. Perfect! With boarding pass in hand I headed directly over the red carpet and onto the aircraft.
I settled into my seat and scoped the view out the window. I love those HUGE P&W engines!
Nice legroom and a pretty comfy seat.
We pushed back about 15 minutes behind schedule at 17:45 and I tuned to the Channel 9 ATC coverage as we began our taxi out to RWY 19L. A few United Express ERJ-145s were ahead of us, and after holding short for an inbound Challenger biz-jet, we took to the runway at 18:02. The takeoff roll was short and fast—these 777s are pretty light indeed when only fueled for a three-hour flight. We climbed out to the south before beginning a right-hand turn to the west.
Here was a big, powerful engine churning just a few feet away—but the ride inside was silky smooth and quiet. Amazing!
I continued to monitor ATC on Channel 9 and also pulled out the tiny TV. These UA 777 screens tend to be on the older side (this aircraft dates to 1995) and this one didn’t have the best picture. Oh well. I followed our progress across West Virginia.
Multiple windows—one of the perks of flying business class!
About 30 minutes into the flight, the first beverage service began. I took a glass of red wine.
A few minutes later, the standard little dish of warm nuts was offered. I was pretty hungry and they tasted quite nice. The flight attendant also asked what I’d like for dinner—either pasta or chicken salad. I ordered the pasta.
We continued westward, passing over some building cloud formations.
An hour or so into the flight, my tray table was set with a table-cloth and dinner was served. The main dish consisted of three large shells stuffed with spinach and ricotta, along with a dish of fresh parmesan; a bread roll and butter was also served on the side; and finally, a brownie for dessert. The pasta was delicious and the portion was just about right—even a little on the plentiful side. The bread was also warm and very tasty. The brownie, however, was dry and rather tasteless. By dessert time, I was full anyway so it didn’t matter. Overall I’d rate the meal an 8 out of 10. Most of it tasted great and my wine glass was re-filled every 15 minutes (though it was admittedly on the empty side when the pic below was taken). All in all, UA deserves a favorable rating based on my experience with the food.
As we continued onward I grabbed some more pics, including this zoomed-in shot of the engine nacelle.
And another one showing the aircraft’s reflection in the engine nacelle.
After a few more glasses of wine it was time to use the lav. The facilities were nothing fancy but did offer a few more accessories than the lavs in the back.
Back in my seat I snapped another pic of the sky passing by outside the window.
And before I knew it, we were descending through the scattered cloud layers.
As we approached DEN we made a left-hand turn on the south, flying the downwind leg for an approach to the north. It was a beautiful evening with the clouds filtering the sunlight into many golden rays.
After a couple of minutes on the downwind leg we made a descending, right-hand turn back to the north. Based on my (admittedly novice) sense of orientation at this point, we seemed to be rather close to the ground given our position, still far out on long final. I was actually thinking about this when, sure enough, the controller stated something to the effect of “United 903 heavy, altitude check” (I had been listening to Channel 9 all along). A second later, the engines spooled up and the nose raised slightly. I’m sure nothing happened here that was out of the ordinary; it was simply an interesting detail to this flight. Anyway, here’s a shot from this point in the approach—low and still a long way from the runway.
As we continued the approach we passed through areas of shade and sunlight, alternating back and forth thanks to the patchy clouds above. When bursting into the sunlight, the shadow of our 777 would show up on the fields below, before disappearing once again behind the clouds. Here’s a glimpse of the shadow chasing us shortly before touchdown.
We touched down smoothly at 19:11 (Mountain Time) on RWY 35R. Here’s a pic taken just a second after the slight bump of the wheels; the thrust reversers are just beginning to deploy.
And another shot a few seconds later, this time with the thrust reversers in full action and the spoilers up.
Here’s a zoomed-in pic—there’s a lot of thrust reversing going on in there.
We made a left-hand turn off the runway and taxied back to the south toward the terminal. The sunrays continued to beam in all their glory.
Here’s a view of the B Concourse looking to the northwest as we pulled into the gate area.
And finally, we came to a stop at gate B32.
Normally at this point in the report, I would post the Flightaware map showing our complete route; however, the only map that shows up for UA903 on 8/22 was the first leg of that flight number from MUC-IAD earlier in the day. My apologies.
Anyway, I was off the aircraft within a couple of minutes and headed to the closest window to grab a few pics of the beast that had just flown me 2/3 of the way across the country. What an incredible and beautiful machine.
With a little less than 2 hours to spend in DEN, I headed to the bar directly next to B32 and grabbed a drink. The nice thing about having just flown in biz class was that I wasn’t hungry and didn’t need to scrounge up dinner. Just a glass of Fat Tire beer for me, thank you very much. After that, I walked a couple of laps up and down the B Concourse just to pass the time and scope out the various UAL/UEX ships preparing for blast off, mostly to various parts of the West and Midwest.
August 22, 2008
UA 1457 (Ted)
Scheduled Departure: 21:25
Scheduled Arrival: 23:07
Actual Takeoff: 21:39
Actual Landing: 22:54
Actual Flight Time: 1:15
Distance: 525 mi/845 km
Seat: 3A (Economy Plus, Window)
Load: 50% (All Economy Configuration)
A few minutes before 21:00 I headed over to the BZN gate. Boarding began on time and I was among the first on the aircraft. This was an all-economy flight operated by TED and I had the pleasure of sitting close to the front, in seat 3A on the left side. The rest of the pax boarded quickly and the door closed with about half of the seats still empty. Here’s my view out the window while still at the gate.
Here’s the Economy Plus legroom.
And given the light load, I lucked out and had all three seats to myself. The woman across the aisle was similarly fortunate.
We pushed back on time at 21:25 and I plugged in my earphones and was pleased to find Channel 9 activated for this flight as well. Having heard our taxi clearance, I was mostly able to follow our progress based on the signage as we made our way through the maze of taxiways.
We soon lined up on RWY 8, the engines spooled into high gear and we were airborne at 21:39. Here’s a shot while rotating up and away.
The aircraft climbed out to the east for a few minutes before making a left-hand turn back to the north. The lights of Denver were visible for a time off the left wing before fading into the dark.
As we continued upward, the seatbelt sign came off and the overhead TV screens popped out.
I didn’t pay much attention to the tv programming and instead passed the time watching the night fly by outside, listening to Channel 9, and reading. I’m always so happy just to be in the air.
We were soon level at FL380 heading in a north-north-westerly course over the sparsely populated state of Wyoming. The beverage service started and I was offered a drink by the friendly flight attendant, a guy probably in his 40s. I was tired but knew I would be greeted shortly at the airport by my mom and the German contingent, and that we’d have plenty to talk about well into the night. So I needed a bit of an energy boost, which of course called for coffee. It tasted good and I gladly accepted a second cup a short time later. The FA joked that I wasn’t allowed to have a third cup, though, as he needed some leftover coffee with which to melt the remaining ice in the sink at the galley.
About 50 minutes after taking off, the flight deck announced we were about to begin our descent into BZN. We dropped into the clouds for a while on the descent before popping out beneath them as the lights of Bozeman came into view.
Here’s a view of the lights of my hometown. This is always an exciting moment for me.
We flew out to the west of the airport before making a right-hand turn over the dark fields, eventually pointing the nose to the southeast for an approach to RWY 30.
Within a couple of minutes, we were over the threshold…
…and the rubber met the runway at 22:54. It was a nice and smooth touchdown with a long run-out to the end of the runway.
Again, I don’t have a Flightaware map of the route for this flight—only the earlier leg from RNO-DEN seems to be accessible for this day.
At any rate, after a short taxi back to the terminal, we docked and I was the third person off the plane. As expected, the whole family (Americans plus Germans) was waiting for me in the arrivals area and it was great to see them all. After a 20-minute wait at the baggage claim, I grabbed my suitcase and we headed to the car.
Bozeman, Montana, 22-25 August 2008
This was a very short stay—only 3 nights and 2 ½ days. But it was wonderful! For those interested, here are a few pics from my days at home.
This is an abandoned mining town about an hour away from Bozeman. It’s nothing but ruins now, though in 1890 several thousand people lived here. It was fascinating to look around in the rotting and vacant buildings.
Here I am doing pushups in the middle of the highway. This is one of the benefits of being in a state where some stretches of highway only see a few cars per hour. For any European readers, Montana is roughly the same geographical size as Germany, but with just about 900,000 people—so the population density is about 1/100 that of Germany.
And just for the heck of it, here’s a cute shot of my dad’s kitty cat.
Finally, a pic while hiking up Mt. Blackmore (10,154 feet/3094 m) south of Bozeman.
As the pictures show, I had a fun and full couple of days in MT. But alas, work and responsibility called me all too quickly back to DC.
August 25, 2008
UA 1678 (Scheduled as Ted, Operated by mainline aircraft)
Scheduled Departure: 12:54
Scheduled Arrival: 16:50
Actual Takeoff: 13:01
Actual Landing: 16:50
Actual Flight Time: 2:49
Distance: 1,186 mi/1909 km
Seat: 7A (Economy Plus, Window)
Load: Economy 70%/First 100%
I showed up at the airport in BZN at 11:45 for my 12:54 flight to ORD. There were about 15 people in line at the main check-in counter, but no line at the Premier/First counter, so I was assisted right away. The agent was very friendly, though a bit frazzled—he laughingly mentioned that the check-in process was a bit crazy today. He went on to explain that instead of the usual all-Economy TED A320, the Chicago crew had sent a mainline United A320 with a first class section, and that as a result, some the seat assignments were messed up. So instead of my Economy Plus seat in 3F, he gave me an Economy Plus seat in 7A. This was certainly no problem for me—I was happy just to have a window still. He checked my bag, printed my passes and sent me on my way.
I said goodbye to my family and headed through security, which was a breeze. Once inside the security zone I bought a couple of bottles of local Montana beer to take back to DC, as well as a sandwich to eat on the plane. And of course, I took some pics of the ramp action (even a little action is still action!). Here’s a Skywest CRJ operating for Delta Connection to SLC.
And here’s my bird to ORD. Still wearing the old colors but looking great anyway!
Boarding began on time at about 12:30 and I was among the first on the plane. Here’s my view of the ramp from seat 7A.
And the obligatory legroom shot.
A few minutes before pushback, this NW A320 pulled in from MSP.
We pushed back exactly on time at 12:54, the engines fired up and we taxied out for a RWY 30 departure. On the way, we taxied over BZN’s smaller RWY 3/21, used just by general aviation aircraft. Here’s a view looking down the centerline.
And a shot of the windsock shortly before taking to the active runway. A little bit of a crosswind, it looks like.
Over the piano keys of 30 and about to line up.
At 13:01, the engines revved up, the brakes were released and we began thundering down the runway. The temperature outside was a rather warm 92 F/33 C (I had checked the weather before leaving for the airport), and with BZN already at about 4,500 ft/1360 m in elevation, the density altitude made for a very long takeoff roll. We used up most of the 9,000 ft/2740 m runway before finally blasting off into the hot sky. Here’s the town of Belgrade right after lifting off.
Looking south toward the Spanish Peaks. Our rate of climb was very slow.
And still not gaining much altitude after about 5 minutes in the air.
We eventually made a big left-hand turn and headed back to the southeast. Here’s a shot of the Bridger Mountains just to the north of BZN.
Soon the airport came into view. The runways are visible near the top of the pic if you look closely.
And another shot of the airport looking back a minute later.
We passed over the southern end of the Bridger Mountains. In this picture you can see a white “M” painted on the side of the mountain. Letters like this are a tradition in a lot of Montana towns, either to commemorate the name of the city or in this case the Montana State University sports teams.
Just as we left the Bozeman area behind, we climbed up over a layer of puffy clouds.
As we continued our climb out to the east, we passed just south of the Crazy Mountains, partially shrouded with clouds in this shot. These mountains are near the ghost town we had visited two days prior.
A few minutes later we passed Laurel, MT, just outside of Billings, seen here with its small airfield adjacent to the town.
We leveled off at FL370 and continued our east-southeasterly course, passing over eastern Montana. Beverages were offered and I took a coke with no ice and a couple of packs of pretzels. When combined with the sandwich I had purchased in the terminal, it was an okay lunch. As I often do, I passed the time watching the scenery come and go below. In this case, it was mostly farmland and the occasional town as we made our way over northern South Dakota, the southwestern corner of Minnesota, northern Iowa, and southern Wisconsin. Here are a couple of pictures during cruise.
About 2 hours after leaving BZN, we started the descent. The flight deck announced we’d be touching down a few minutes before 17:00 Midwest time, and that the weather in Chicago was mostly clear and sunny, hot, and with very gusty winds out of the northeast.
Here’s a pic while descending over the farmland northwest of Chicago.
We passed by this small airfield. Thanks to Google Earth and a Chicago Terminal Area Chart, I have since discerned that this is the Landings Condominium private airfield just south of Huntley, IL.
Before long we made a left-hand turn and assumed an easterly heading. During the final few minutes of the approach we were kept company by this ERJ making a parallel approach on our port side.
Passing over some warehouse buildings near the airport…
…and over the threshold of the runway…
…and we’re down. The tires hit the asphalt of RWY 10 at 16:50 after a flight time of 2:49. Here’s a shot of the spoilers and thrust reversers in full action.
After a rather long taxi with a lot of stop-and-go we docked at the B Concourse. And finally, here is the Flightaware map of our route from BZN-ORD. This time it works!
Once inside the terminal, I grabbed a Starbucks coffee and then walked around to stretch my legs and of course check out the local metal—lots of UA equipment in this part of the airport, obviously. Before long, it was time to head to the gate for the last leg to DCA.
August 25, 2008
Scheduled Departure: 18:05
Scheduled Arrival: 20:56
Actual Takeoff: 18:15
Actual Landing: 20:32
Actual Flight Time: 1:17
Distance: 612 mi/985 km
Seat: 7F (Economy Plus, Window)
Load: Economy 100%/First 100%
Boarding commenced on time around 17:30 and I made my way to seat 7F—the same row I had on the inbound flight from BZN, but on the opposite side of the aircraft. As soon as I sat down, I plugged in my earphones and was pleased to find Channel 9 activated. Perfect!
We pushed back on time and made the relatively short taxi out to RWY 9R. Our takeoff roll began at 18:15 and we were soon powerfully climbing out of O’Hare heading due east toward the shore of Lake Michigan.
Within just a minute or two, the beautiful skyline of downtown Chicago appeared out the window. I of course snapped away with the camera; here are the best of the couple dozen shots I took.
Note the brown strip of land, surrounded on 3 sides by water and just above the marina, near the middle of the photo below—that’s the old Meigs Field. What a great little (former) airport that I’m sure is known for obvious reasons to many of you MS Flightsim fans.
And finally, my last glimpse of the Windy City before it slipped into the windstream beneath the wing.
As we continued over Lake Michigan I again noticed this cool reflection of the aircraft in the engine nacelle. Yeah, I’m a dork.
Once we arrived in the flight levels the seatbelt sign was extinguished and the beverage service commenced. This time, I felt like drinking a beer, so I paid $6 for a Heineken (far tastier in my opinion than the other option, Miller Lite). I have to complain a little though about the price. In my opinion, the old price of $5 was much more practical, as one had only to use a $5 bill. Having to scrounge around for an extra dollar is a pain (and when two are traveling, a $10 bill is no longer sufficient). Couldn’t they cost-cut in another way? At any rate, I rather enjoyed my Heineken.
As we jetted east and the sun flew west, the evening light changed at twice its normal pace. Before long we entered the increasingly dusky sky.
I love flying at twilight, though I prefer flying west because the beautiful light lasts so much longer. But for every westbound flight there is inevitably an eastbound—such is the way of aviation and life, I suppose. In this next pic we are crossing paths with the contrail of another twilight traveler.
We then passed a few light-pink clouds building off the right wing.
And shortly thereafter, the last rays of the sun lit up the rear of the engine nacelle, only for a minute though.
We started our descent from FL390 over northern West Virginia. Before long I heard via Channel 9 as Potomac Approach cleared us for the Mt. Vernon Approach to RWY 01. I was mildly disappointed not to be flying the more exciting River Visual to RWY 19—but oh well! Here’s a pic while descending over the northern Virginia suburbs outside of DC.
We flew the downwind leg to the south before making a 180* left-hand turn to head back up the Potomac. Here’s what this approach looks like.
The lights on the eastern bank of the Potomac came into view as we glided north toward DCA.
And soon we were over the threshold and firmly on the asphalt at 20:32. The aircraft used most of the short runway before we exited to the left and taxied to the terminal.
Here’s our route from ORD-DCA.
Once parked at the gate, I was of the aircraft in just a couple of minutes and proceeded to the baggage claim. My suitcase arrived about 15 minutes later and I headed to the curb to wait for my girl to retrieve me with the car. As one final shot, here’s a “suitcase on the curb at DCA” pic.
My girl arrived in a just a few minutes and a few minutes after that, we were home.
All in all, I was quite satisfied with United, despite a few annoying aspects such as the slow check-ins (especially at IAD) and the $6 beer. But the biz class service on the outbound leg was rather nice, all the flights were either on time or even a bit early, and from an aviation standpoint, the flights were beautiful! So yes, I received a product worthy of the $368 I spent, not to mention had a fabulous time at home in Montana.
Thanks for reading this report, I hope you found it enjoyable. And as mentioned before, feedback is greatly appreciated!