I purchased this trip as part of United’s 48-hour fare sale in early February. I could not resist making this trip because airfare was only $433. In addition, if I scheduled my flights via LAX, I would have over 10,000 flown miles, thus qualifying me for the triple, double or 5,000 bonus mile promotion if you fly 10,000 miles before the end of March.
In all, my total miles would be:
10,020 flown miles
2,505 Premier bonus miles (I am no longer Premier Executive )
5,000 bonus miles (this was the minimum in that promotion)
866 miles for using my Mileage Plus credit card
1,000 miles for booking online.
Total miles = 19,391.
I think they have stopped giving bonus miles for checking in online, but if they still give them out I will possibly get another 750 bonus miles.
Anyway, here is the trip report proper.
United Airlines UA54
February 17, 2003
Honolulu to Los Angeles
Scheduled/Actual Departure: 2200/2156 HST
Scheduled/Actual Arrival: 0517/0448 PST (next day)
Flying time: 4 hours 47 minutes
Aircraft Type: B777-200
Class of Travel: Economy Plus
I checked on online about six hours before the flight and ate a full dinner (I will explain why later). Arriving at HNL an hour before departure, there wasn’t much of a line at security. Again, the all-too-familiar drill: watch, wallet and cell phone in hand luggage, laptop out and into a tray, ditto for shoes, overcoat and leather jacket. Once through security, trekked to Gate 7, which is almost at the end of the terminal. Parked at that end of that pier were five United jets: one 772, three 763s and one 752. The 752 was bound for DEN, two 763s were going to SFO, and the remaining two aircraft were bound for LAX.
Gate 7 at HNL has an odd setup. The entrance to the aerobridges was at the far right corner of the gate, and there were two entrances to the holding room – one near the aerobridge entrance and one near the gate counter. Oddly, the gate agent announced that the flight was full (I had my doubts), and then she told everyone to exit the gate hold room through one of the entrances and wait outside the other entrance, which was right next to the aerobridge entry, until called for boarding. Very odd, and it made zero sense.
Boarding commenced at about 2125, starting with First Class and then all the qualified frequent flyers and passengers in seating zone 1, which is where Premiers and above were seated anyway. Thankfully, few people who were not yet due to board crowded the area (not always the case with the predominantly holiday crowd at HNL), so I managed to board with ease. Handing my home-printed boarding pass to the gate agent, I received a printed boarding pass in return. Boarding through Door 2L, I was greeted by a tall Asian male flight attendant. I indicated to him that I knew my seat, and he waved me in. Taking my seat at 21H, I saw that I was over the front portion of the 777’s giant wing, right next to the giant PW engine. Settling into my seat, it was obvious that the flight would be less than half full, unlike what the gate agent had said. The seat next to me was empty.
Our aircraft pushed back a few minutes ahead of schedule, and we taxied quite a ways towards the reef runway (08R). Along the way, it was surreal to watch the foamy waves break so close to the taxiway. Once we reached the runway, we took off immediately. For some reason, takeoff appeared a little sluggish for a 772 with a light passenger load. I guess it must have been pretty full of cargo, but even that is hard to imagine because Hawaii tends to import rather than export things.
Once we reached cruising altitude, the flight attendants wheeled out the drinks carts. Yup, no meal on this five hour redeye. I was caught by surprise more than a year ago – not eating before that flight, I was hungry all the way to LAX. On a subsequent redeye flight in First Class last year, I was looking forward to their usual steak sandwich and soup (often lobster bisque; the other choice in First was usually a fruit and cheese plate), and I was annoyed to find that they only offered the fruit and cheese plate. Anyway, I took some snack mix, and asked for a diet coke. One FA came by later with more snack mix. Oh joy!
Once the drinks were cleared, I tried to get comfortable in my two seats by curling up. This wasn’t very successful as people kept brushing past my boots. This was one time I wished I had selected an aisle seat in the center set of five seats. I chose not to watch the movie, which was the Looney Tunes film starring Brendan Fraser. Movie selections into and out of Hawaii tend to be family-oriented fare because of the number of vacationers on this route. Anyway, I slept fitfully for the rest of the flight, and I was dimly aware of FAs walking around with water around three times. The seat belt sign was lit at least three times when we hit pockets of turbulence.
The rest of the flight was uneventful. We hit LA south of LAX, probably flew over Torrance, and turned around near downtown LA. There was patchy fog all over the western portion of LA (they call it “marine layer”) and it was surreal to fly over the patches of fog that blocked out the nighttime lights of LA. We descended through a thick patch as we lined up to land at LAX. Incidentally, landing at LAX is almost always towards the west, but sometimes the redeye flights from Hawaii are allowed to perform tailwind landings in an easterly direction because no one else is landing at that time. Landing at LAX was very smooth, and we pulled into the gate about 25 minutes early. The flight parked at ate 74, so thankfully there was none of the “towing the aircraft to the gate” irritation that you get with some of the other gates. Once the aerobridges were in position, all the dazed passengers piled into the terminal. I immediately began moving towards Gate 71B, where my connecting flight was to depart in 2.5 hours. I was hungry, and unfortunately the Starbucks in the terminal was not open. I had to settle for a sausage muffin at McDonald’s. Approaching Gate 71B, I saw that the flight to IAD was due to depart first before my flight to EWR. I spotted the CEO of one of my client companies (the one that sent me on Continental Micronesia’s Island Hopper to Pohnpei (PNI) last July) at the gate – he was heading to IAD – and it turned out we just had been on the same flight. Seeing that the Red Carpet Lounge was just opposite the gate, he took me in there as his guest, had a coffee with me, and then headed out to board his flight. I stayed on in the lounge. The Red Carpet Lounge looked the same as others I had been in. Overall, it was nothing special, and the food selection was nothing to shout about – just some fruits, plastic wrapped pastries and crackers. Although I am not a big fan of fast food, I preferred my McDonald’s breakfast over the fare in the lounge. I then whipped out my laptop and did some client work. Yes, it was 3.30am HST, but there was no hope of falling asleep now.
United Airlines UA80
February 18, 2003
Los Angeles to Newark
Scheduled/Actual Departure: 0730/0724 PST
Scheduled/Actual Arrival: 1544/1520 EST
Flying time: 4 hours 31 minutes
Aircraft Type: A320
Class of Travel: Economy Plus
Leaving the Red Carpet lounge, I saw that Gate 71B was very empty. Boarding commenced at about 0705. I did not have to check-in again as I had also checked in to this flight online before I left HNL, and I had received my requested seat, which was 09D. Unlike HNL, when I boarded the gate agent did not exchange my online check-in boarding pass for a machine printed one. None of the other gate agents on the remainder of the trip exchanged my boarding pass either. Upon reaching 09D, I found that someone was in my seat. I think he was a wheelchair passenger, as I had a glimpse of him being pre-boarded as I approached the gate. Anyway, he said that his seat had been changed to 09D, and both he and his companions were apologetic. After slowing making my way back to the front, I asked the Purser to check my actual seat. The Purser went back to the gate agent, and then came back and told me I was in 08D and that I had the whole row to myself. Woo hoo! Well, after everyone had boarding and taken their seats, I took back that woo hoo – everybody else had a whole row to himself or herself! Yes, the flight was less than a quarter full.
The aircraft door was closed about ten minutes before departure. As it was very early in the morning, none of the Asian or European flights had arrived yet, hence there were few foreign carriers to look out for during the taxi. Being so light, the A320 shot into the sky, and climb was very steep over the beautiful LA coastline. Almost immediately, we banked left and turned around to head towards the East Coast.
Breakfast service began about 45 minutes into the flight. Our choices were omelet with Colby cheese or a fruit plate. Still feeling full from my Mickey D ( = McDonald’s) breakfast, I opted for the fruit plate, which came with fruits and a pastry wrapped in plastic. Overall, a nice, light refreshing breakfast. I wish UA would offer yogurt with their breakfasts, though. It can’t be that much of an expense!
The movie on this flight was Intolerable Cruelty, which I half watched as I worked on my client project. It was a good film overall, and full of funny twists. This film was followed by a bunch of short features, which I did not watch as I had to concentrate on what I was doing. The remainder of the flight was somewhat bumpy, with the seatbelt sign on perhaps half the flight. FAs came around several times with water.
Descent into EWR was quick but bumpy. Landing was smooth, and taxi to Terminal A was quick. Along the way, we saw many aircraft from Europe, including an AF 343, a BA 772, and two SK 333s. There was also an El Al 744, and SQ’s 9VSPF parked on a remote bay for its long layover (both the EWR and JFK aircraft remain on the ground for about 12 hours). Oh, and a Hooter’s Air 737. We were at the gate about 15 minutes early.
Exiting Terminal A, I got onto the monorail train to connect to the NJ Transit train. While on the monorail, I had a bird’s eye view of the terminals and an LH 343 landing on the runway. For an $11.55 fare, I was whisked to Penn Station within 30 minutes.
United Airlines UA81
February 23, 2003
Newark to Los Angeles
Scheduled/Actual Departure: 0820/0814 EST
Scheduled/Actual Arrival: 1124/1107 PST
Flying time: 5 hours 26 minutes
Aircraft Type: B757-200
Class of Travel: Economy Plus
Had a great time in NYC hanging out with friends, watching musicals, people watching, etc. Woke up at 0530, freshened up, and made my way from my friend’s apartment in Soho to Penn Station at 0550. Arriving at Penn at about 0615, I purchased my ticket, caught the 0637 train, and was at EWR’s train station by 0700. Now, that is convenience! Catching the monorail, I got to Terminal A by 0710. Along the way, saw a BA777, VS 343 and an AZ 767 on a remote bay. I guessed these aircraft must have parked for the night at EWR, as it was too early for European flights unless they departed their respective stations very early in the morning in Europe. The Hooter’s Air aircraft was also there. Luckily, I knew where the UAL flights departed from in Terminal A – stepping off the monorail, there were no signs indicating which way to go for UA, and I can imagine that people could get confused.
As I had already checked in for my flight, I went straight to security. There was no line there, and I was at my gate by 0730. Pausing to get myself a Starbuck’s coffee, I sat down and had that with a bagel I bought the night before. Boarding commenced at about 0800, and it was obvious that this, again, would be a very empty flight. I had a whole row to myself again.
We pushed back from the gate a few minutes early. Taxi was short and, not unexpectedly, we shot into the air at a very steep angle of ascent. This time round, the flight was smooth, and we encountered no turbulence until it was time to descend. FAs came around with meals within about 45 minutes. The choices were: croissant with ham, cheese and egg or a fruit plate. Still full from my bagel, I opted for the fruit plate, which was much the same as the one on the flight before, with the stale pastry wrapped in plastic. Really, why no yogurt? I asked for an apple juice with my breakfast.
When it came to clearing the breakfast items, one of the FAs – a Helen Mirren lookalike – was a little strange. I laid out my empty Starbuck’s cup (from the coffee I bought at EWR) along with the breakfast items for clearing. When the FA came round, she took everything off my tray table except the Starbuck’s cup, and then turned around, looked at it, touched it, and decided not to clear it. Weird. I just plunked it in the seat pocket. Later during the flight, after the second drinks service, I again put it on my tray table, only to have it ignored by her until I actually handed it to her. She wasn’t unpleasant, though; I guess she just had a problem with clearing non-service items.
The movie on this flight was Master and Commander (I thought this was relatively new, must be a flop if it is already making its way around the IFE circuit!) followed by some short features which I half watched as I read my book (River Town by Peter Hessler, an excellent book written by a Peace Corp volunteer in China). The shorts included a program on Jane Goodall and Conan O’Brien making fun of what celebrity couples’ children would look like. About an hour before scheduled arrival, the crew served drinks. The Purser later came round to offer free leftover wine from First Class to Economy Plus passengers.
Descent into LA was steep, and the 757 was noticeably nose-down as it descended upon a sunny LA. LA’s sprawl is amazing – the whole city is quite flat save for Downtown, Century City and the Mid-Wilshire corridor. The sky was relatively clear of smog, thanks to two days of rain, and the Hollywood sign was visible in the distance. We touched down at LAX and taxied to Terminal 7 quickly. The Captain very proudly told us over the PA that we were 17 minutes ahead of time, and that we would have been earlier if not for unexpected headwinds. Walking into the Terminal, I called my friend who worked near the airport, and he swung by to take me out to lunch. Annoyingly, the FAA had stopped allowing passengers to deposit their bags at the left luggage lockers, and I had to bring my two carry on bags and my coat with me on my short trip out.
United Airlines UA63
February 23, 2003
Los Angeles to Honolulu
Scheduled/Actual Departure: 1414/1426 EST
Scheduled/Actual Arrival: 1810/1830 PST
Flying time: 5 hours 56 minutes
Aircraft Type: B767-300
Class of Travel: Economy Plus
After a pleasant lunch, I arrived back at LAX at about 1345. There was no line at security, and I breezed through the TSA checkpoint. Proceeding to Gate 72, I saw that there were quite a few people and that a pre-boarding announcement had probably already been made. After less than a minute at the gate, they called for First Class to board. Hearing my name being called, I turned around to seethe HR Director of one of my client firms (the same firm whose CEO was onboard my outbound HNL to LAX flight).
After First Class was boarded, they called for United/Star Alliance FFPs, and I proceeded to board straightaway. Before long, the aircraft filled up. As I settled into my seat, I noticed that some of the FAs had been on my outbound flight. This flight was full, and there were hardly any empty seats on board. Pushback was a few minutes late because, according to the Captain, we were waiting for some baggage to be loaded. After that, we had to wait a few minutes for aircraft behind us to get out of the way.
Taxi and takeoff was quick and uneventful. We took off towards the west and headed straight for the Hawaiian islands. Immediately after we reached cruising altitude, the FAs came round with agriculture forms for Hawaii and also UA’s “Halfway to Hawaii” contest, which is a content where the Captain gives out various information on distance, windspeed, cruising altitude, etc and challenges passengers to estimate exactly when the aircraft would be at its halfway point to HNL. The drinks cart came out soon after, followed by the dinner cart. The meal choices were: pasta or teriyaki chicken. I opted for the chicken, and I got a tray with teriyaki chicken, rice, steamed vegetables, a salad, shortbread wrapped in plastic, and a sesame cracker that United substitutes for bread rolls on its Hawaii flights. Overall, a decent meal.
The movie on this flight was Radio, starring Cuba Gooding Jr. I half watched it while I read my book. It was an okay movie, nothing special. The short features that came on afterward were the same as those on the EWR to LAX flight. The flight was smooth, not once did the seat belt sign come on until we were ready to land in HNL. During the flight, FAs came round several times with water and coffee, and a bar service was done before we commenced descent. At that time, the FAs announced the winner of the “Halfway to Hawaii” contest. It wasn’t me - I missed it by about 2 minutes.
Landing at HNL was smooth, and we were at the gate 20 minutes behind schedule, presumably because of headwinds. As I no checked-in bags, I walked right out of the terminal.
Overall, the flights were pleasant. The biggest disappointment was the lack of meals on the five-hour HNL-LAX sector. While I realize that the Hawaii flights are low yielding, I wish United would recognize that the savings realized by not catering those meals probably does not justify the goodwill lost.