YYZ -> ORD
UA1009 - Seat 17E/F
A320 - N491UA
Departure time - 1015 - On Time
(no photo available on a.net)
Took a flight to Hong Kong to visit friends and relatives with my mother. I picked UA because its price on YYZ-HKG was much better than that of AC and CX. Also UA offered the fastest travel time on this route. I really wondered why AC's price was only $20 less than CX while AC had a much inferior product. Anyway, arrived at Terminal 2 of YYZ very early in anticipation of lots of security checks. UAL only has 1 route at YYZ (to ORD) in UA colours and there were little traffic at the check-in counter. We cleared the check-in counter, US immigration and customs in less than 20 minutes with no extra checks at all and I had plenty of time to spot planes on runway 24R. About 1 hour before departure time, a brand-new A320 in UA colours arrived at the gate. Boarding began promptly afterwards. Surprisingly, this flight had a load factor of around 85%. The plane was really new inside and outside. Takeoff from Runway 23. Did some spotting along the way, surprisingly there was a CX A343 (B-HXM), a NW A319 and 3 SSV planes. There were no spotters in the Boeing lot... it's a smooth flight all the way to ORD. Service - there were only 3 F/As, 1 in the C class and 2 in the Y class, only 1 round of drink was offered (beer and wine for extra money). It really felt like a discount airline, I think it's the trend North American airlines is heading to these days. Arrived at Terminal 1 of ORD ahead of schedule after about 80 minutes in the air, and we got off the plane to catch the ongoing flight.
ORD -> HKG
UA895 - Seat 43A/B - Economy Plus
B747-400 - N196UA
Departure time - 1230 - On Time
Photo © Søren Geertsen
This was the first time I saw ORD in person. What a sight! Outside, there were tons of airplanes and personnel moving around, mostly UA and AA metals. Inside, the UA terminal felt like a marketplace for me, with all kinds of people walking around. Nearly all the waiting areas were so crowded it's hard to get a seat, including the gate where my plane was located. There were 300+ people in a not so big waiting room with almost no space to spare. Boarding was slow but generally smooth for a 747 load of passengers, it was interrupted for 20 minutes because the gate agent announced a 'survey' was needed to be done on the plane... I was surprised to find out the load factor was at least 95%. My friend was on the same segment last November and he said he had 4 seats for himself. The pilot cheerfully welcomed everyone to this flight to the 'top of the world' He made several more informative announcements throughout the flight. The IFE gave me another surprise - on the bad side. The plane was not an old one, however I still saw the big movie screen (as in old -200s) and there was only 1 small overhead TV screen in any given aisle and section in the economy cabin. Shorter people just could not see the screen. Even older ex-CP B744s had lots of small overhead screens. But I think, you got what you paid for... the interior looked a little bit worn out and something loose shook at takeoff. There were more problems with the inflight food. For the first meal I chose a chicken with black mushroom sauce and rice. However the rice was horribly undercooked and not eatable. The roll was cold and stale and I just threw it away. There were 4 movies shown for such a long flight (14.5 hours) but none of them was interesting to me. So I turned my attention to what's outside the plane. The plane took off smoothly, overflied the Canadian tundra, the Arctic Ocean, Siberia, Gobi desert and central China. A snack was offered between the meals and there was cup noodle, apple, cracker, cheese and cookie, it actually tasted better than the first meal. The flight was turbulence-free almost all the time. I chose a pasta with fruit for the second meal, it's still horrible with excessive cheese but at least better than raw rice. The crew was generally competent and came back for several rounds of drinks. By that time even a Economy Plus seat with additional leg room became unbearable, but the plane had begun the landing by then. The plane approached HKG from the north, did a 3/4 loop around Hong Kong area, flied above Hong Kong from the east and touched down on the North runway of HKG. I could see the old Kai Tak runway at a distance. The new HKG was really much much bigger than the old one. After 14 hours 45 minutes 350+ people couldn't wait to get out. Inside the airport on my way out, I heard the announcement 'May the family of CI611 passengers please go to Arrival Hall B...'. At least UA offered a fast, efficient and safe service and I was generally satisfied.
HKG -> ORD -> YYZ on UAL
HKG -> ORD
UA896 - Seat 43J/K (Economy Plus)
B747-400 - N120UA
Departure time: 1230 - On time
Photo © Y.K. Cummins NG
After 1 month in Hong Kong it's time to go back. Arrived at HKG very early to avoid any surprises... There were two UA flights within 1 hour and each passenger was assigned a sticker. White stickers meant SFO and yellow stickers for ORD, and only passengers were allowed into the check-in area. No problems with the immigration or the customs. There was one thing worth praising at the x-ray machine counters - the security men gave you a tray to put your coin bag on to it. However you also took a number to retrieve your coins at the other end so no thieves could try their luck The UA ground crew was a bit clueless though. I did not check the boarding passes carefully in front of the counter, and I discovered we were assigned seats 13A and 14B for the ORD-YYZ sector. The UA gate agent said she could not re-assign seats for whatever reason. I thought, there were no less than a dozen flights for UA/AC everyday between ORD-YYZ and you said there were no consecutive seats available? :-( Later at ORD I even saw another guy assigned on a later flight and I began to question the sanity of the UA person. I had plenty of time to spare so I began to spot and to see Chek Lap Kok airport in detail. Perhaps due to the congestion at Kai Tak, CLK was built with lots of room for growth. On that day gates 72-80 were even closed. The terminal building was certainly world class with all kinds of amenities but it felt a little bit bland. There was a good variety of planes at HKG, most airlines sent in the big widebodies while mainland Chinese airlines provided the smaller ones. In a short period of time I saw a BR M11 (a special for HKG), SU B763, AI A313, TG B744/B773, SQ B772s, Air Hong Kong B742F, CO B772, JL B744, CI B744/AB6/B738, CA B772, several MU A320, CZ B733 (N999CZ), B757 and A320 plus numerous CX and KA machines... Departing planes mostly took off on the South runway while arriving planes went to the North runway. Boarding was smooth but in HKG there was no concept of boarding by rows and there was only a 'general boarding'. I believed the main reason was lazy ground crew and the fact that HKG was really wide so it's OK to do that. I was amused again the flight was 99% full, it's like 100% full in Y class. Everyone's on board and the plane departed and headed for takeoff on the South runway, there were 3 UPS B742F parked at one facility and one Kalitta Air B747F landing on the South runway. Takeoff was generally smooth and soon the plane left the Hong Kong area... The eastward flight took the traditional Pacific route rather than the Arctic route. On Airshow a nearly straight line through the Pacific Ocean was shown. The pilot was all business and not so funny as the previous one, he only made the necessary announcements and 'seat belt sign is on'. He did announce Taiwan was on our right at one point though. The plane was very new but the movie screen was the same old ones. The crew actually apologized for an occasional breakdown. Again four uninteresting movies were shown plus two meals and a snack. I left the menu behind so I forgot what I had for the first meal, at least I did not have raw rice. For the second meal I had a very nice pasta. The same cup noodle for snack, I think I will puke at this snack if I take this flight often. A short night came quickly followed by sunrise. I brought a few magazines and books as my entertainment. There were some turbulences throughout the flight, interestingly passengers were told to fasten seat belts every time after the main force of the turbulence had passed The crew did come back for a few more rounds of drinks and they served the second meal too late and had to rush to collect the trays. The crew was generally competent but seemed to be uninterested in their jobs. They even got the gate number of my connecting flight wrong. The 747 arrived at ORD on time after giving us a great aerial tour of downtown Chicago including the Sears Tower and parked into Terminal 5. After 14 hours of flight, 350+ people couldn't wait to get out.
ORD -> YYZ
UA1016 - Seat 26A/B (reassigned)
A320 - N432UA
Departure time: 1544 - On Time
Photo © AirNikon
As you may know, even transit passengers need to clear US customs and immigration. I did not know UA's transit procedures at ORD so I did have worries of missing the connecting flight. And we just made it on time. After we got out of the 744 we had to walk a long aisle to the US immigration. Luckily the lines were not long and we did not have problems collecting our baggages and going through US customs. There was a UA counter beyond the customs for transit baggages. Afterwards we all boarded the monorail to Terminal 1. In Terminal 1 there was a relatively short lineup for security check and we made it to the gate just as the boarding started. I asked for alternate seats which was granted cheerfully. The flight was just 66% full and it departed on time. I didn't know if some transit passengers were left behind... The plane climbed very quickly because of the light load. It was hazy along the route and there were minor turbulences. There were again only 3 F/As with only 1 round of drink, no-frills style. Touchdown at Runway 23 at YYZ after a loop over Toronto... YYZ was quiet on a Sunday afternoon. Arrived at Terminal 2 after just 61 minutes of flight and it's time to go home.
So I completed 4 UAL flights. I can say United offered passengers fast, efficient and safe flights but don't expect too much on the service side. All my flights were on time and United did not lose any of my baggages. I will still take United if it continues to offer a good value for the money.