I haven’t posted a trip report in a couple of years. The Rockies are getting hammered by the Mets right now and I’m home alone so what the heck… I had to take a last minute business trip to Richmond, VA. Buying the ticket two days in advance I paid a fare of $1213.90 on United which was a full Y fare. The fare on American, Delta, and US Airways were all similar.
May 19, 2004 DEN-ORD (Flight UA248)
Boeing 757-222 (N530UA)
Making the drive from my office in Englewood to DIA I immediately realized it was not going to be a great day. All of the parking garages and economy lots at DIA were full so I was forced to park in the Pikes Peak lot. Anyone who has parked for a few days in this lot it's not worth the $5.00/day. I waited at the shuttle stop for approximately 15 minutes and had to board an extremely crowded bus. Having to take computer parts and tools with me I had to use a large suitcase and there was no place to put it on the bus so it had to go in the aisle. Other passengers getting on and off the bus weren't happy with this, but what am I supposed to do? Arriving at the terminal I checked in at a self-service kiosk with no delay. Though it's nice using the Premier/F/1K counter, they don’t have the kiosks and I prefer to choose my own seat. After obtaining my boarding passes and getting my luggage tagged I headed downstairs to the security screening.
Lines for the security screening weren't too bad for a Wednesday afternoon. Wait time was about 10 minutes. Once again I had to deal with a screener that would not let me have my film hand checked. I got the speech about the film speed. Then I have to give a speech about how this film may have to pass through security numerous times before being developed. After 30 seconds of this the screener sighed and took my film and then promptly "selected" me for secondary screening. Every time at DIA I have my film hand checked I get "selected" for secondary screening. When I do not travel with film I've never had to go through secondary screening. At other airports I don't get this same hassle when I travel with film. This is one of the reasons I'm always pissed at the TSA in Denver is I have to argue with them all the time about film and my punishment for arguing with them is I get "selected" for a secondary security screening. Every time!
Once I passed through screening I caught the train to the B Concourse and waited for about 45 minutes at gate B28. When boarding started I was in seating area 1 so I was one of the first on.
On the plane I took seat 10A in economy plus which was a window seat a row behind the exit row at door 2L. I thought about making a cockpit visit since I never have time after the flight. There were quite a few people in the aisle in first class and the flight attendants looked to be the "Why again do you want to go up there?" type so I didn't. The flight was about 35% full so the middle seat was open next to me. We had an on-time pushback at 1:56pm and proceeded to runway 8 for departure on the 1hr 56min flight. After take-off we climbed to 35,000ft as I listened to both ATC and channel 2 on the headphones.
Listening to channel 2 they were featuring Alanis Morrisette. They played several of her older songs. In her song "You Ought to Know" they did not edit the lyric with the f-word in it. In "Head Over Feet" the lyric with the word "chickenshit" was edited out. In "Ironic" the entire verse about the guy who waited his whole life to take a flight and "as the plane crashed down he thought well isn't this nice" was removed resulting in an awkward jump in the flow of the song. Now United can edit whatever they want in their IFE, but I found it curious that the f-word is okay, but not the s-word or lyrics about a plane crashing.
Drinks along with a bag of pretzels were served about 30 minutes after take-off. The flight was smooth the entire time. Enroute I could tell we were going to be delayed getting into ORD because ATC kept slowing us down and vectoring us off course for spacing. Arrivals into ORD were once again backed up. This concerned me as I had only 30 minutes at ORD to connect and this was asking for my baggage to get left behind.
Arriving at ORD we landed on runway 9R just a few minutes behind schedule and we were immediately sent to the penalty box because our gate was occupied. After a 15 minute wait we finally taxied to our assigned gate of C13 only to stop short for another 10 minutes. The scheduled arrival time at the gate was 5:20pm. Actual arrival time was 5:45pm. Being seated close to the boarding door I was one of the first off of the plane. Once again I had no time for a cockpit visit, food, or a bathroom visit arriving at ORD.
May 19, 2004 ORD-DEN (Flight UA1134)
Boeing 737-522 (N905UA)
Thankfully, the flight to Richmond was only 5 gates down from my arrival gate. After running to the gate I noticed the display at the gate counter showed "3 minutes to boarding door closing". I stuck my boarding pass in the gate reader as the gate agent gave me a where-the-hell-have-you-been look. I didn't really appreciate that. It’s not like I was late because I was having drinks in the bar. I boarded the plane and was greeted by another where-the-hell-have-you-been look from the flight attendant and after receiving two such looks within 30 seconds of each other I gave a nasty look back. The flight attendant would later make me pay for it. I took my seat at 4D in economy plus which was an aisle seat in the first row of the cabin. The flight was about 95% full though the middle seat next to me was unoccupied. The boarding door remained open after the scheduled departure time of 5:50pm and we obviously weren't ready to push back from the gate for some reason. After putting my headphones on and tuning into channel 9 I realized that something about the trash door in the forward galley wasn't passing the MEL and maintenance was on the way to fix it. The fix a few minutes later involved taping the door shut with duct tape.
While we were waiting for maintenance to arrive I noticed the flight attendant at the door kept glaring at me. After the boarding door was shut the flight attendant came up to me and told me rather rudely I'd have to shut off my Bose noise canceling headphones because it was an electronic device. I asked "Since when?" "I've been using these often for the past 3 years on several different airlines and I've never seen anyone tell anybody to turn them off despite their widespread use". The flight attendant told me to "Turn them off" even ruder. I took them off and tossed them into the middle seat beside with a noticeable sigh.
Pushback from the gate was about 15 minutes after schedule and during the safety briefing I realized I had a woman sitting directly behind me with an infant and the infant was not real happy to be on the flight. It took about 25 minutes from the time we left the gate until we departed on runway 4L due to traffic. Flight time was planned at 1hr 27min to Richmond.
After the flight attendant got up from her jumpseat, she told me that the Bose headphones were considered an electronic device and had to be in the “off” position for take-off and landing. Once again I asked “Since when, I’ve never been asked to turn these off” she replied back that they got a memo two days ago specifically about the Bose headphones. Considering her treatment of me earlier I suspected the “memo” was a phony-baloney excuse. Just like the “You can’t take photos here” memo and “The FAA prohibits photography” memos that employees are always claiming that they received. It sounded like an excuse to cover up for her making up some rules that don’t exist.
We climbed to 35,000ft and drinks were served with a bag of pretzels shortly after take-off. I declined anything from the flight attendant because I wasn't thirsty and I was still pissed at her. The captain did announce that because of thunderstorms near the arrival airport he'd probably have to sit the flight attendants down as much as an hour before arrival. The crew did sit down earlier than normal, but the flight was still mostly smooth.
I noticed a woman with an infant sitting in first class that got up during the flight for a diaper change. Later, that infant would start crying and the folks sitting up in first class appeared very annoyed. On American, children under the age of 5 aren’t allowed in the first class cabin. I guess there is no rule on United. Or if there is a rule it wasn’t enforced. I had my own problems behind me though. The infant behind me drive me absolutely nuts during the flight. Not only with the crying, but with the arms and legs flying I got near constant bumping on my seat from behind. A few dirty looks to the lady behind me didn't give her any hints. I admit it's tough keeping an infant from crying on the flight, but you can certainly prevent the child from constantly thumping the seat in front of them. It's people like this that make me anti-children on flights even more. I used to be against requiring infants to be in a car seat because overall it would endanger more lives than it will protect, but after flights like this I'm starting to swing over to the other side of the issue for a different reason. I don't plan on having kids, but if I ever do I'm going to raise them to be the biggest brats to get back at everyone else on planes, restaurants, and etc.
We touched down on runway 34 and arrived at gate D11 just a few minutes past our scheduled arrival time of 8:55pm. From the time the aircraft arrived at the gate to the time the first bags appeared at the baggage claim 35 minutes passed. I found this very unacceptable for an airport of this size.
May 21, 2004 RIC-DEN (Flight UA5945 - Operated by Air Wisconsin Airlines)
Canadair CRJ 200
I booked the return trip home through Washington Dulles because (A) it gave me the latest possible departure time between Richmond and Denver and (B) it gave me the maximum amount of miles earned traveling between Richmond and Denver. My flight was scheduled to depart at 7:25pm in the evening. While still on customer site I checked the status of the flight around 2pm and it was already showing as being an hour late. That would not be enough time to connect in IAD for the Denver flight so I had early notice that my travel plans would be interrupted that evening. Thunderstorms in and around the Chicago area was throwing United flights into chaos and the plane that was going to take me to Dulles had to come from Chicago. I figured if I got stuck at Washington Dulles overnight that it wouldn't be bad because (A) Maybe I could shoot photos in the morning weather permitting and (B) I could catch a 777 home instead of an A320.
I arrived at the airport in Richmond after scooping out some possible locations for photography (would have to be in the future as the weather was bad at the time) at 5:30pm which was two hours before scheduled departure. The United Airlines ticket counter was an absolute mess which told me delays/cancellations had probably gotten worse throughout the day. The Premier/F line was closed so I had to wait in the general line which I didn't mind because I had at least 3 hours before I was going anywhere. Agents were recommending to passengers that they'd probably be better off driving to Washington D.C if they wanted to get where they were going that night. The people in front of me were going to Sao Paulo so I could understand why they were anxious. After waiting in line for about 30 minutes and having to listen everyone around me bitch and complain about the situation I finally made it to the counter. The flight was still showing that it was going to be an hour late, but I went ahead and checked my luggage after removing my toiletry bag from my suitcase to carry with me (along with spare socks and underwear I always take along when traveling on the last flight of the day) with the assumption that I wouldn't make it past Dulles that night. As a precaution the agent listed me on the 9:00am IAD-DEN flight the next morning. I got my boarding passes and proceeded to security screening.
The wait at security was less than 3 minutes and the screener had no objection hand checking my film. I arrived at gate B11 to find not a single person there. I felt this was not good news. While waiting at my departure gate, the adjacent gate was a Chicago flight that was running about 90 minutes behind schedule. An announcement at the Chicago gate warned passengers that the flight crew may time out and the flight might have to be cancelled. This wasn't met with a positive reaction from the passengers. An A319 showed up and after conferring with the crew it was determined the flight had to be cancelled because the crew indeed would exceed their maximum allowable hours as set by the FAA. After waiting an hour at my gate I still there all by myself and I began to wonder if I made the correct decision. I called United's automated flight information line and the flight was now scheduled to depart at 9:41pm (2hr 16min late). Not wanting to wait at the airport in Richmond for the 4 hours I called United reservations and asked about rebooking in the morning so I could grab a hotel home and a bite to eat. All flights through Chicago were unavailable. The earliest I could leave Richmond the following day wouldn't be until 3:00pm. That was not good. I was better off trying to make it to Dulles that night and continued to wait in Richmond. After 30 more minutes of waiting at the gate by myself and I realized that there's a good chance the flight crew for my flight could time out. I began thinking about driving to Washington DC that night. After contemplating options I decided to do it. I called United and let them know what I was doing. After renting a car and booking a room near IAD it took me a little less than 2 hours to drive from Richmond, VA to Fairfax, VA. I checked into my hotel just before 10:00pm and immediately hit the hay. After I got home, the flight to IAD from Richmond Friday night had departed at 10:21pm which was 3 hours late.
May 22, 2004 IAD-DEN (Flight UA1135)
Boeing 777-222 (N781UA)
I checked out of the hotel at 6:00am to return my rental car. I was hoping to get some photography in inside the terminals, but the weather was very iffy. It took longer than I thought to return the car and get to the terminal. Dulles was a disorganized mess at the United ticket counter. I tried to check in using the kiosk, but it kept trying to identify me as Robert Abbott and when I selected "No" that this wasn't me I was prompted by a message to call reservations or see an agent. There was one agent working the self-service no checked baggage area and there was already about 7 people in line. I had received a departure management card in Richmond that I could have used to get through security without checking in at the counter, but I wanted to upgrade on this flight and wanted to get my name on the list as soon as possible (was using three 500 mi E-upgrades). I checked out the Premier/F/1K line and it too was a mess. I figured I'd get faster service if I went back to the self-service line. After waiting about 25 minutes I finally approached the agent at the counter and gave her my boarding pass from my IAD-DEN flight and my departure management card from the night before. "The machines wouldn't let me check in for some reason". She looked at my departure management card and said "That's because you are already checked in" rather dryly. I said "This is from last night and I had to drive here from Richmond last night if I wanted to get home today in a reasonable amount of time." She looked at the date on the card showing yesterday's date and her attitude immediately changed to a pleasant one. She gave me a boarding pass and said "Sorry about the trouble you had with us" as I left. The sincerity of her comment helped take away the unpleasantness of the morning and I really appreciated the comment.
Security wait time was about 20 minutes and once again the screener had no problems hand checking my film (stupid Denver TSA bastards). By the time I reached Concourse C it had completely clouded up so I never took my camera out of its bag. I had about an hour to kill before boarding so I walked down to the end of the D concourse before heading to gate C3. Dulles airport really needs renovating. The seats in the gate areas are pushed very close together, so if someone walks by you have to move your feet/legs out of their way every time. It gets very annoying after a few times. There was a passenger in the gate area that was feeling dizzy and was checked out by paramedics. They deemed her as being okay after her vital signs checked out all normal.
Boarding was called 40 minutes before departure and I boarded when first and business class was called. As I was setting my stuff in my seat the captain was walking by. I asked if I could visit the flight deck and he warmly invited me up. I spent about 20 minutes visiting with the captain and first officer. They seemed genuinely pleased that I found aviation exciting. After snapping a few photos of the cockpit I thought about as I headed back to my seat how this very positive interaction with this crew makes up for some bad experiences I've encountered on United in the past few months. My seat was 8E which was a middle seat in the first row of business. Great I thought to myself, even when I upgrade to still get the worst seat in the cabin. I told myself to shut up and just be thankful I have the opportunity to fly up there. While I was still settling in the flight attendant offered a beverage which I took an orange juice. The flight was 100% full in the first and business class cabin so I assumed coach was probably completely full also.
Pushback from the gate was right on time at 9:00am and we taxied to runway 1L for departure. Flight time was 3hr 5min planned. An aircraft with the call sign of Air Shuttle had to abort its take-off before us. We departed within 15 minutes of pushback after that aircraft cleared the runway. One minor complaint about this flight is the purser talked incessantly on the PA during taxi and after take-off and I missed all of the good parts of the flight on ATC. By the time her 7 minute or so announcement was over we were already at 15,000ft and would eventually go to 39,000ft. I got comfortable and pulled out the PTV to watch the moving map. Once the IFE started the movie choices were "Along Came Polly" (good movie, but I've already seen it numerous times on United flights already), "Big Fish", "The Big Bounce", and "Love Actually". Though I wasn't too interested in it I watched "The Big Bounce" which turned out to be just okay. During the movie a choice of cold cereal and fresh fruit or a mushroom omelet was offered for breakfast. Not being a big fan of mushrooms I choose the cereal which was Rice Krispies and a plate of fruit. Bread service was offered a short time later. After I finished watching the movie I immediately sacked out until it was time to stow everything for arrival in Denver. We arrived on runway 35L, but had to wait on the taxiway between Concourses A and B because our gate of B38 was occupied. It was about a 10 minute wait before we pulled up right on schedule at 10:34am. I wanted to visit the flight deck again, but the engines were still running several minutes after arrival so the cockpit door was still closed. Combined with the fact I was a half day late getting home and door 1L was really crowded with deplaning passengers I decided to skip the cockpit visit.
Baggage was later than usual arriving on the carousel. Fortunately for me my bag happened to be on the flight I just took and after a 25 minute wait in the ground transportation area for the shuttle to the parking lot (I really, really hate that Pikes Peaks lot) I was heading home down Pena Blvd.
Overall, this trip continued my growing disappointed with United. It seems like delays and rude employees have been occurring more and more the past few months. Plus, I was a little miffed that with my full fare Y ticket I didn't get any treatment or services different from a deeply discounted fare. On Northwest and Delta, I've gotten priority security screening, upgrades to first class, and mileage bonuses when traveling on a full fare coach ticket. With United, I got nothing.