Saturday, July 6th
My journey would literally take me from one end of the North American continent to the other...South Florida to Alaska....arguably the only journey you can use the following facts on:
* - 9 hours scheduled flying time
* - Land and take off in the United States
* - Little if any time spent overwater
* - ETOPS not required (I have a feeling I may be wrong on that though)
Photo © Søren Geertsen
Segment 1 took me from the familiar concrete of Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport to Chicago O'Hare aboard a United Airbus A320. I asked for and received seat upgrades (so I thought! More later) from the United counter clerk who bumped me into the Economy Plus seating from ORD to ANC because to was a "long day ahead of me".
It was my first 'Bus ride in about ten years. The aircraft, N426UA was clean and presentable, though at the gate I noticed an annoying trait common to many liveries...the paint on the radome was fresher than that on the fuselage...United's Orange, Red and Blue cheatline was fading on the metal, but bright and clean on the fiberglass of the radame. The interior was sharp and comfortable. United holds its' own in the legroom department, especially in 'Economy Plus'. Better that CO and NW, but still not quite as roomy as AA's "More Legroom".
Also, I've never liked 'Bus windows. Too small and too low. Still, with a window seat just aft of the wing, I had a decent view and off we went.
The last time I flew UA was the mid 80s, and I remember being thrilled by listening to Channel 9, the aircraft comm channel then....as I was today! The 'phones were on even pre-takeoff, and I listened to all the chatter north to ORD. We were handed off to Jacksonville shortly after takeoff. Clearly a quiet morning at Jax, as the controller was doing 'play-by-play', tracking two racing US Navy P-3 subhunters back to their base. One conversation went like this:
JAX- "Lear XXXXX, traffic 12 o'clock 8 miles, a P-3 , one of the Navy's finest."
LEAR - "Jax, Roger. That the horse race you're talking about?"
JAX- "Lear, Jax. Yeah. I've got my money on horse number 2 but horse number 1 seems to be pulling away."
LEAR - "Jax, Roger. Ah, impetuous youth!"
A rare display of levity on a quiet, weather-free Saturday morning. Jax handed us off to Atlanta as breakfast was served. The food was classic airline fare.....a gooey cheese croissant type thing that was good for about two bites...and a banana served...in a box. Now believe me when I say I have few if any complaints about United's performance during my entire journey, but cmon guys. Lose the box. This is an example of wasteful spending. The cardboard probably cost more than the banana. And the croissant type thing? Well, let's just say United could probably get more creative in the food department AND save itself some money at the same time.
Photo © Søren Geertsen
N426UA shot across the southern US, handed from Atlanta to Memphis, then to Indy. ATC chatter was light and easy...until the handover to Chicago. Man, I bet the Chicago controllers have some serious caffeine in their systems. They need it. Our clearance from cruise altitude down through the morning summer haze was orderly chaos. In fact, as we were cleared onto final, Chicago Approach had us turn to 220 degrees....the Airbus obediently rolled left when the call came "Correction, United, we just got a new runway opened I'm gonna have you steer 330 at 8,000"....and N426UA dipped her wings the other direction in a great S turn in the sky. On any other airline with no channel 9, such an abrupt manouveur would have raised an eyebrow from me. But here I obviously knew what was happening.
Photo © PolishAir42 - Chicago Aviation Photography
Welcome to Chicago
Photo © Edward Pascuzzi
Believe it or not, this is my first trip through Chicago O'Hare. I will always identify the United terminal at O'Hare with one unique thing...the combined smell of fast food grease from the burger and pizza places mixing with the citrus odor of the POWERFUL industrial strength bathroom disinfectant used!
Photo © AirNikon
The terminal is airy, modern and inviting. The tunnel from Concourse C to B is wild, with it's neon passageway. Everywhere wafts the sounds of United's trademark "Rhapsody" music. I had a slice of pizza and watched them prep N199UA for a long flight to Tokyo Narita.
Photo © Samuel Shotick
Arrival at my gate revealed my chariot north to Alaska....N579UA, an ETOPS Boeing 757 that United calls a "757 Overwater". Her paint job was fading...(United has one of the best looking liveries.... when it's fresh. But when that shiny corporate grey fades into a dull , muddy 'off-white', a fantastic livery becomes very shoddy looking.)
Upon boarding I discovered much to my despair that my bump forward to Economy Plus has resulted in me being "Thirteened". I cursed my idiocy....see, the 757 is my favorite aircraft, and it goes without saying that a light should have gone off when I got moved to Seat 13A. A basic, stupid mistake that now had me sitting in the one row of seats surrounded not by windows, but by the 757's strong fuselage rib. To add insult to injury, the man in 13D asked if I would surrender 13A so he could sit next to his wife. As I discovered disgustingly that no window was available, I was the polite one & agreed. Now my dumb oversight in getting into the row to begin with just turned into a mistake of nightmare proportions, for 13D was next to the two single most obnoxious teenaged Uaccompanied Minors to fly the friendly skies that day. Two girls from one of the lessor known New England factory towns. I settled in, after moving their crap from under my own footspace, and decided dejectedly that THIS...was going to be a long flight.
Photo © Rudy Chiarello
The workday is starting to busy up here, so I'll continue on a NEW THREAD later....don't miss it though! You see, my day wouldn't end without a short, magnificent hop in a brawny Convair 580! Stay tuned!