Trip Report – ABQ-DEN-IAD-LAX September 11, 2004
Three years have passed since that awful day in 2001, and for the third year in a row to show my support, and in my own way of dealing with that day, I booked a cross-country trip on United. Many of you know, despite problems I have encountered in my recent travels with United, I seem to keep going back, and I cannot help but continue to show my support and appreciation for United and its employees. This posting is the second part to my week long trip, when I get a chance, I will post a report for my trip to Albuquerque earlier in the week.
I will start by getting the maudlin details over with. About 3 days before I left for my week-long vacation, I had decided I wanted this 9/11 return trip to be different than the past two years. In 2002, the mood on that day was both somber, yet electric, as many travelers, like me, purposely booked trips for that day. Flags at half-staff, the patriotic music throughout the terminals at O’Hare – there was a positive, “recovering,”element to all of it. Cut to 2003, and things were a lot different. United and its employees were definitely beginning to show the wear of the last two years. Layoffs, wage and benefit cuts, reduced services to customers – all of those combined became apparent on the faces and in the attitudes of United crew members. It made me re-think my loyalty to the airline.
With this 9/11 trip, United crew members were facing yet more bad news with BK reorganization still mired down, and news of pension cuts, additional layoffs, and tense relations between unions and management. I wanted to do something different this year. In my heart and mind the United employees needed a thank you, but I don’t have the resources to thank all 62,000 of them personally. I decided I would focus on the in-flight crews for the 3 segments I was on that day.
I went to my local Starbuck’s and purchased forty (40), $10 gift cards. Using my computer I designed two labels to attach to the gift card envelopes. On the outside the label read:
September 11, 2004 - To the Captain and Crew
Just a small Thank You for another safe flight, and,
Most of all, Thank You for keeping the Skies Friendly
Signed with my name and MP number
Inside, the label read:
This is just a small way of saying that there are loyal United customers who recognize the difficulties of the last 3 years for you. I don’t have the resources to thank all 62,000 United employees, and my hope is that you will use the $10 card enclosed to treat yourself and another crew member whom I couldn’t thank.
I will detail the responses to the gesture below, but in summary, I will say it was more overwhelming than I expected. As I prepare this report, I still get a little choked up.
I appreciate the feedback, but please be kind
ABQ-DEN - UA Flight #761 Aircraft # N437UA A-320-232
Scheduled Departure Time: 08:11
Takeoff from Runway 8
I arrived at the ABQ Sunport at 06:00. There were two CSA’s at the “First Class/Premier” station who assisted with my check-in. One noticed I was wearing a United “Slanted Shield” pin, and asked if I was wearing it for 9/11. I responded “yes,” and she thanked me for showing my support on that day. I was checked-in for all 3 segments, and other than reminding them to make sure they put the “United First” priority tags on the luggage, check-in was good. I was directed to Gate A-3.
I headed to the Priority Security Screening and got through fairly quickly. I was delayed in having to take off my shoes and belt, but that was my fault. I headed down to the main food concession between Concourses A and B, grabbed a pastry, orange juice and water and sat down to breakfast. I finished that, and still had a lot of time. I headed down to the gate, grabbed a great seat by the window to see the take-offs from Runway 8, and read the paper.
Boarding started at about 07:45. There were a lot of customers needing wheelchair assistance, five if I remember correctly, and then general boarding started with the First Class cabin. I headed down the Jetway and took seat 1B, as recommended by seatguru.com. Juice and water were offered before take-off. We pushed back on time, and taxied to Runway 8 for takeoff. I love the takeoff rolls at high altitude airports. This one lasted 45 seconds before rotation. We climbed and were turned south, and then around to head north to Denver. Channel 9 was made available, but it didn’t work in my seat.
I will say that for this short flight I was really impressed. The Purser (she never told us her name) was attentive, and even started with hot towels before the beverage service. I just had coffee and biscotti. I still had 2 more flights that day with plenty of time to enjoy alcohol.
I was nervous about the timing of giving the crew their “Thank You” cards I brought with me. I knew I couldn’t do it in-flight for fear that they might think it was a suspicious note or something. I decided I would give it to the Purser when we landed.
The flight was smooth and quick and before I knew it we were on approach to land on Runway 16R at DIA. We landed and headed to Gate B-43, about five minutes before scheduled arrival of 09:27. Although flying time was only 52 minutes, we were delayed by a longer approach to the north side of the airport, and long taxi from 16R.
We parked and the “Fasten Seat Belt” sign was turned off. I got up right away, grabbed the “Thank You” cards out of my carry-on and gave them to the Purser before the door was opened. I asked her to pass them out to the Captain and the rest of crew and give any extras to whoever she wanted. She gave me a big smile, and told me she would enjoy her Starbuck’s card very much. I hope they all appreciated it.
I only had about 25 minutes before my next flight boarded. I headed to the East Red Carpet Club only to find it closed. So I had to cross the middle of the concourse to the West side. I freshened up, and stopped to make a phone call home and get some water. About 10 minutes before boarding time, I headed out to Gate B-38A, back to the east side of the concourse. I was really looking forward to this flight.
DEN to IAD – United Flight #902 Aircraft # N777UA B-777
Scheduled Departure Time: 10:25
Pushback Time: 10:20
Takeoff from Runway 17R
I have taken this flight before, and really enjoyed it. We boarded at gate B-38A. Although two jetways were available, they only used one. After those requiring extra assistance, general boarding began with the First Class cabin. My seat assignment was 2J, a United First suite in this 3-cabin aircraft. I love this plane! The cabin and United First suite were clean, with pillows and blanket waiting on my seat. I was offered a beverage before take-off and asked for water.
This time, I thought it might be best to give out the “Thank You” cards before we pushed back. It was a larger plane, and I wanted the Purser to be able to make sure to pass them out. If I waited until landing, the rush of passengers deplaning would make it difficult. I located the Purser, Michelle, and handed them to her and asked if she would be able to pass them out. Working with her in United First was Carrie, a truly fantastic lady, who shook my hand and thanked me. They both asked if I worked for Starbuck’s, which I replied “no.” When they realized the money came out of my pocket, they were even more impressed. While Carrie attended to the First Class cabin, Michelle began distributing the cards. When she finished, there were 2 extras, and I told her to pass them on to other co-workers.
Wow, I never thought I would get the response I received! As I was sitting drinking my water before takeoff, one of the other flight attendants, Karen, came up to First Class and she was directed towards my seat. She had a big smile and thanked me. She then showed me her ID badge and told me that 9/11 was her birthday, and I made that day special for her! I was blown away. After Karen, came Claire, Don, the Captain and First Officer (not in any particular order), all thanking me before we took off. In between, Carrie came back to talk with me more to express how much this gesture really meant. They have had customers say “Thank You” to them, but this little thing seemed to go a long way, especially now.
OK – back to the trip report. Before takeoff, Michelle came out with the Private Video movie selections available. I chose the “Law of Attraction” (Pierce Brosnan and Julianne Moore). On the main video, Michelle told me the movie selections they were offering included “Raising Helen,” “Van Helsing,” “The Day After Tomorrow,” and “The Stepford Wives.” Despite its poor showing critically, and at the box office, I did want to see “The Stepford Wives.” Boarding was finished, service items were cleared and the plane was prepared to push back at 10:20. Channel 9 was available, and working. We taxied to Runway 17R, and took off without delay. Another 45 second roll, and the sound of those 777 engines is such a turn on. We were soon in the air, and turned to head east. I took out my Personal Video screen and promptly selected the “Map” channel.
When we reached 31,000 feet, Michelle came out with the manifest to take orders for lunch. Oh – to back up a little. After takeoff, I found out this was a “Buy on Board” flight in economy, my first time. I didn’t get to see how that worked, but the choices sounded appetizing, cash only though. Back to United First, the choices for lunch were a cold seafood appetizer, or mushroom ravioli. I was the third to be asked and chose ravioli. Carrie and Michelle than began serving beverages and the “warm nuts.” I had red wine. I sat back, relaxed, and tuned in to watch “The Stepford Wives.” After about 30 minutes, Michelle came out with the linens for our tray tables to begin the meal service.
Lunch was good, but filling. I had a couple more glasses of red wine. They also brought water out with the meal. In fact, Carrie made sure I was sufficiently hydrated by giving me the bottle of water, especially after finding out that after IAD, I would be flying back to LAX. I finished lunch, my tray was cleared and then they came out with the warm cookies, and coffee. Oh, how I love all of this! I was even enjoying the movie, laughing out loud at times.
After they had finished serving in Business and the main cabin, more of the crew came forward to thank me. One crew member, Susan, shook and held my hand, and had such a look of gratitude that blew me away. Don came up to talk with me some more, and I will admit to being attracted to him. I found out he lived in downtown Washington, and we discovered we both drove Mercedes Benz cars and talked of our experiences, including a bad accident he was in recently. We talked for about ten minutes and then he had to go back to attend to the Business cabin. After I finished the movie, Carrie came back to talk with me some more about 9/11, and how a lot of remembrances of that day forget the airline employees who have been severely impacted. She then told me that they wanted to give me a bottle of wine as a thank you and asked if I enjoyed the Merlot she served. “Yes, of course,” I replied, “but it really isn’t necessary.”
Soon after that, Michelle, Carrie, Don and Susan came up to my seat, and pinned one of the crew member’s 20-year, 3-diamond wing pins on my shirt. Wow, again!!!! They conducted their mini “pinning” ceremony and shook my hand. I couldn’t believe how kind they were being. I was told to keep the pin, which is now, to me, more valuable than anything I own. Susan explained to Don that I didn’t work for Starbuck’s and that I had paid for the gifts myself. A few minutes later, just before we began our descent, Carrie came back with the bottle of wine, wrapped in a napkin that was signed, and inside the napkin, they had placed part of the printout given to them by the gate agent, signed by all crew members with messages thanking me.
The “Fasten Seat Belts” sign came on and we began our descent into Dulles. We got through the cloud cover, and began one of my favorite approaches. For spacing, we were turned quite a few times, which made the ride fun, and gave me more of an opportunity to appreciate the rolling green hills of Virginia. We landed on Runway 1L, and taxied to gate D-3. We parked at the gate at 15:30, right on schedule. There was only one jetway available for deplaning. Next to us at Gate D-5 was ship #N778UA, another 777, which I was soon to find out was my flight back to LAX. As I was getting up from my seat and getting my stuff out of the overhead, another UA flight attendant flying non-rev in Seat 3-F came over to thank me for remembering the crew. As I walked out of Door #2, both Sandy and Don both patted me on the back and thanked me again. Damn, why didn’t I give Don my card? How am I ever going to be able top this experience?
Each time I go into Dulles, I enjoy the spotting. There were the usual British Airways, Lufthansa, and other carriers, that I can see at LAX. Last year, there was Saudi Arabian 767 parked on the tarmac, this year I was treated to an Ethopian Airlines 767 on the tarmac. The airport was busy. I keep forgetting how “utilitarian” it is compared to Denver. The PA system is antiquated, the corridors narrow, but it is still fun.
I had about 2 hours, and I headed down the concourse to the Red Carpet Club by Gate C-17. I think this one is the largest of the 3 at Dulles. I relaxed, still euphoric about my experiences on the flight from DEN, drank some Evian water and made some phone calls.
IAD to LAX – United Flight #947 Aircraft #N778UA B-777.
Scheduled Departure Time: 17:55
Pushback Time: 18:10 the small delay was blamed on waiting for baggage to be loaded
Takeoff from Runway 30
I freshened up at the Red Carpet Club, and headed down to Gate D-3 around 17:00 for a 17:15 boarding. With the excitement of the DEN flight, a big lunch, a few glasses of wine, and the early start I had in the morning, my stomach was a little upset. I sat down at the gate and tried to relax. This flight, 947, originated in Amsterdam, and I noticed a lot of Dutch people in the gate area. It is an interesting language.
Boarding was started at precisely 17:15, one jetway only. They began with First Class, and I was the first one on. Again, I was sitting in Seat 2-J. I was offered a beverage before takeoff, and I chose club soda, hoping it would calm my stomach.
I still had another 16 “Thank You” cards to give out, and I went up to talk with the Purser, Larry. He acted a little surprised, again with the question of whether I worked for Starbuck’s or not, accepted them gratefully and began passing them out. As passengers were boarding, one by one, the crew members came up to thank me. I didn’t get any names other than Larry’s as their badges were not visible. Just before the door was closed, the Gate Agent (Sharon) who boarded us, came to my seat, and told me that both the Captain and First Officer would try to thank me personally in-flight, but they asked her to let me know that they were appreciative, and she wanted to thank me herself. I told her I felt bad that I didn’t have one for her, but she said what I did was enough.
For gayliners.net - I soon spotted a blond hotty sitting in Seat 1E. We made eye contact and he smiled, but nothing beyond that. Back to the report.
We pushed back at 18:10, and taxied to Runway 30. Channel 9 was not available, bummer. After the flight attendants finished their safety demonstration, the First Officer came on the PA to announce we would be taking off to the west, and then he thanked everyone for flying with United that day. Then I was caught off guard when he offered a special thanks to me, by name. Wow, again with the thought that I will never be able to top this day! I wish I had remembered to take down his name, I’m a little embarrassed now.
We got in the air, a shorter roll at this low altitude airport, but those engines are still a turn on. Once airborne, I took out the Personal Video screen and turned it to the Map channel. Larry came on the PA to tell us about the service offered on this flight. Oh, before take-off, we were again offered a selection of movie, for the Personal Video System, but then I found out “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” would be on the main video. I had wanted to see it. The other selections were “The Day After Tomorrow,” “Van Helsing,” and “Mean Girls.” Menus were distributed with our dinner selections, Lamb Chops, Breast of Chicken with a Macadamia Nut breading, or Lasagna. Once we reached cruising altitude, the movies were started. There was some trouble with Channel 1, so the showing of “Harry Potter” was delayed. I started watching “Van Helsing,” which kind of had my interest, and I thought I might go back to that after “Harry Potter.” “Harry Potter” was finally switched to Channel 8 and worked there.
Cabin service started with warm nuts and a beverage, a Jack Daniels and Sprite for me. It tasted good, and helped in settling my stomach. Soon Larry was out to take our orders for dinner. He started with the “A” side of the cabin, and then to my side. I ordered the chicken. Linens were laid out on the tray tables, and dinner service began. They started with the salad. My stomach was settling more, and I was getting my appetite back. Dinner was then served and was very enjoyable. They served a good Chardonnay with it. I finished dinner, and soon they were out with the ice cream and coffee. I truly love all of this. I enjoyed the dessert and coffee while watching “Harry Potter.” Maybe it is because of having only watched it on the plane, but it seemed to drag on forever. When finished, my dessert dishes were cleared and I ordered a Bailey’s on the Rocks.
After only 90 minutes the dinner service seemed to be completed in all the cabins, and there was still another 3 hours left in the flight. At about 2 hours in-flight, I noticed the Purser and the other attendant pulling the cart out to block access to the cockpit door. The First Officer had come out to talk with me personally. He wanted to thank me, and then he told me he would be giving the card to a fellow pilot who was good friends with one of the pilots on one of the 9/11 flights. I cannot explain how genuine his feelings about the gesture were. He shook my hand, thanked me and headed back to the cockpit. I had to use the lavatory, but when I got up front they still had the cart blocking access, and I headed back to my seat. The First Officer came out again and motioned to me from the galley that it was OK for me to come up. I was permitted to use the lavatory. As I returned to my seat, I stopped in the galley and talked with the First Officer a little more. He asked if I had known anyone lost in the attacks, I said I didn’t, but I still had strong feelings about the day, especially how it has affected those that work for the airlines. He shook my hand again and headed back to the cockpit. I returned to my seat. “Harry Potter” was finally over, and then I changed to viewer to watch “Van Helsing.” UGH! Great effects, but not a great movie. Don’t get me wrong, Hugh Jackman, and the actor who played the werewolf are some great eye candy, but I couldn’t finish the movie. I turned the viewer back to the Map and just enjoyed the view of the sunset outside as we headed west.
At about the 3 hour mark into the flight, the cockpit door was once again blocked, and the Captain came out to my seat to thank me. He was a man of few words. He pointed at the card, asked “is this you?” I said yes, he shook my hand firmly, thanked me and went back to work. I could die now with a smile on my face recounting all of this.
At about the 3 hour 30 minute point, I got up to use the lavatory again, and the other flight attendant working first told me that Larry wanted to make sure I took a bottle of wine with me. He asked if I enjoyed the Chardonnay to which I replied yes. My carry-on was going be heavy with 2 bottles of wine.
The last hour of the flight was choppy so we had to stay in our seats. We stayed at 39,000 for a long time, and as we flew over the desert of Southern California we were treated to a fantastic view of the lightning storms below. When we passed the storms, we began our descent into Los Angeles. We landed on Runway 25L at 19:52, about 20 minutes before our scheduled arrival time. Headwinds were light that day. We taxied to Gate 68B, where 2 jetways were used for deplaning.
Boy, what an end to what had already had turned out to be a fantastic vacation week! As I exited through Door 1, I was thanked again by Larry. I headed down to Terminal 6 baggage claim and waited for my friend who was picking me up.
I have to apologize for the length of this report, but I felt the need to share all the excitement. I am still puzzled about how I am ever going to top this experience. I will admit in getting caught up in my expectations of airline service, especially when I pay full “F” fare, but this time I realized those airline employees we come into contact with when we fly are limited, by both management and the unions, in what they can do for us, the customer. I will not post my feelings on whether management or the unions are in the right with United, Delta, US Airways, or any other carrier in trouble. The basic truth is that these employees at the legacy carriers, for the most part, are true professionals and want to be able to continue to do the job they have put so many years into.
My sincerest thanks and appreciation to the Captain and Crew of Flight 761 from ABQ,
To Captain Bosch, First Officer Van Kemp, Purser Michelle, Carrie, Claire, Don, Greg, Karen, Scott and Susan (and anyone else I may have missed) on board Flight 902 to IAD, and
To the Captain, First Officer, Purser Larry, and the rest of the fabulous crew on Flight 947 to LAX,
You all have made this United fan believe that things are going to be OK once again.