I drew a business trip to Clearfield, PA and decided to book United Airlines to State College, PA (SCE). At the time the ticket was purchased, there were Jetstream 41’s on the IAD-SCE route. Starting June 3rd, Shuttle America took over the route using Saab 340’s. I would have liked a J41 as I have never flown on one before, but I’ve never been on a Saab 340 either. I was hearing bad things about Shuttle America. I went into this trip with the benefit of the doubt for them, but later as you’ll read they disappointed me in a rather big way. The fare for this trip was $751.38.
June 6, 2004 DEN-IAD (Flight UA554)
Boeing 767-322ER (N654UA)
Still groggy from my day trip to Fort Lauderdale the previous day (http://www.airliners.net/discussions/trip_reports/read.main/45055/) my wife dropped me off at the airport about 2 hours before scheduled departure. I checked in using the self service kiosk and selected my seat. I was offered an opportunity to upgrade to business class for $190 which I declined. When I was presented with a seat map for the United Express Saab 340 flight from Dulles to State College, I tried to select the window seat 6A. A message popped up that it was in an exit row and I would either have to contact a United representative or choose another seat. There was a United agent standing right in front of me waiting for a baggage tag to print so he could put it on my luggage (he wasn’t aware yet that I wasn’t checking any bags). I looked at him and said “I’m trying to pick a seat in an exit row and…” The agent interrupted me and said “You have to ask for exit seats at the gate” already getting short with me. “Okay,” I said. “That’s completely different from what the message on the kiosk...” Again I was interrupted by the agent. “You have to ask for it at the gate.” He said this rather rudely and turned around and walked away from me. Being greeted by this kind of attitude from a United Airline employee is becoming more and more frequent this year. “Yeah, thanks for the no help you jerk” I said to him as I walked away. I hoped he heard me.
The wait through security was about 7 minutes. It seemed the train took forever to arrive in the terminal to take passengers to the concourses. I wish the airport planners would have put in an alternative to the train when they planned DIA. Unfortunately, there is no pedestrian access from the main terminal to Concourses B and C.
The flight left from gate B38 and boarding was called 30 minutes before the scheduled departure time. I boarded with seating area 1 and decided to do my cockpit visit after the flight. This was a 3 class 767 which had the LCD screens in the seats. I’ve only flown a 3 class 767 on United one time before. Back then I didn’t notice the metal boxes underneath the seat in front of me. I’m guessing this probably houses electronics for the IFE, but does it have to be so big? It took up at least half of the space available for a carryon bag.
My seat was 19G in Economy Plus which was right over the wing. A gentleman sat down next to me, but later got up and moved. A few minutes later another man asked me if I wanted to change seats with him so he could sit with his wife. When I saw his seat was the aisle at the emergency exit row I declined. He gave me a dirty look when I told him I’d prefer the window and he stomped off. His wife then sat down next to me and gave me a dirty look also. Okay, this ticked me off. It’s not my fault they weren’t assigned seats together. I decided I was going to try and make this lady’s flight a flight from hell by going into Full Annoying Guy mode. Before I could get started the flight attendant told her that her and her husband could occupy the crew rest seats. I’d have the seat next to me empty for the flight. Later I’d count only 3 open seats in the economy section.
Pushback from the gate was 5 minutes before the scheduled departure time of 2:35pm. We lifted off of runway 34R 20 minutes later for the 2 hour 50 minute flight. There was constant light to occasional moderate chop immediately after departure until we got above 22,000 ft. Our final cruising altitude was 37,000 ft. Channel 9 was not turned on. I would have liked to listen to it going into Dulles. The first officer made all of the cabin announcements and she sounded like a real ice queen. After the flight when I visited the cockpit my suspicion was accurate.
Cabin service was the buy on board. I declined to purchase anything. Drinks and pretzels were served after the BOB. The flight attendant made an announcement that the movie on the flight was Starsky & Hutch (ugh, not again). She didn’t mention anything about the 3 other movies that would also run. Everyone eventually discovered them however. One of the movies was with Ashley Judd and Andy Garcia. I didn’t know the name of it, but it was supposed to be a crime thriller that didn’t look too thrilling. The two other movies were Win A Date with Tad Hamilton and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. The Win a Date… movie looked terrible and I just rented Master and Commander a few nights ago. I watched Master and Commander again though.
We landed on runway 1L 13 minutes before the scheduled arrival time. Arrival at gate D1 was 7 minutes before the scheduled arrival time of 7:52pm. I turned on my cell phone and got a text message that my next flight on Shuttle America was already delayed 1.5 hours. Great. I made a cockpit visit and when I said hi to the crew the first officer didn’t even look up at me. Bitch… The Captain was very nice though. The aircraft was scheduled to go back to Denver, but I noticed on the flight information monitors in the terminal it was changed to go to Sao Paulo instead.
June 7, 2004 IAD-SCE (Flight UA7978, operated by Shuttle America)
Saab 340 (N360SZ)
Checking the flight information monitors I confirmed my flight to State College was delayed 1.5 hours. I went ahead and went to the departure gate of C30 and asked the crew what was going on. They didn’t know. Without asking they gave me a $15 meal voucher. Too bad everything was already closed in the concourse except for Burger King. Why does everything close so early at Dulles? I’m always passing through Dulles in the evening and there are plenty of people in the concourse after 8:00pm. Yet the good restaurants close early. Since Burger King was my only option, I tried my best to spend the full $15. Good thing the emergency defibulator was close by.
Since everything else was closed in the terminal I went back to the gate. After 10:00pm all flights were done for the day except for our delayed flight of course. The other passengers were grumbling about the delay. One woman I spoke with said she takes this flight all the time and it’s never on time. The gate agents did manage to raid a service cart somewhere as they offered soft drinks, water, and orange juice while we waited. From time to time the agents would announce a later departure time of 12:12am. Then 12:45am. Then 1:00am. Then 1:30am. Every announcement was met with a louder and louder groan from everyone in the gate area. Everybody was hoping they’d just cancel the flight so we could get a room and get some sleep. That would not be the case. Obviously the delay put everyone in a bad mood, but I think it was made worse by the attitude of the gate agents. They made it very clear that they weren’t happy having to stick around. Well boo-hoo! A minute after we left you guys would get to go home. We still had to fly to State College and get to where we were staying. We couldn’t get any information about the flight except that the plane was coming from White Plains, NY and it had a mechanical problem earlier in the day. If the problem occurred much earlier in the day, the airline should have handled the situation better. Letting the flights that plane was supposed to operate fall 3.5 hours behind schedule was apparently acceptable to them I guess.
Finally, we were allowed to board the bus to go to the remote terminal. There were no other aircraft except for ours there. That’s probably why they didn’t substitute another aircraft. There were none. Our aircraft was in full United new colors, but had no United titles or logo. They probably painted it real quick and pressed it into service before the paint job could be completed.
I boarded the aircraft and took my seat of 10F, which was the window seat in the last row of the aircraft. The flight attendant seemed brand new. He seemed nervous and was reading every announcement from a cue card. I noticed there was another flight attendant shadowing him. Later when I asked her if this guy was new she replied that today was his first day. How appropriate he be acquainted with his new employer by experiencing a 3.5 flight delay on his first day. Despite the flight being delayed for so long, there were only 3 or 4 seats open on this 30 seater. The flight attendant did ask a few passengers to relocate to other open seats for weight and balance issues.
We pulled away from the gate 3 hours and 15 minutes after our scheduled departure time of 10:00pm. Despite the airport being dead this early in the morning it took a long time to taxi to the runway for departure. The wheels up time was 16 minutes after leaving the gate from runway 1R. The flight was planned for 39 minutes at an altitude of 11,000ft. Once airborne I couldn’t hear any cabin announcements from either the flight attendant or the flight crew. The PA volume seemed too low to be heard over the aircraft noise.
Looking around the cabin, it looked very well worn. Apparently no attention was made to the interior when the aircraft was put into United Express service just a few days earlier. The exterior had to look good, but who cares about the interior… The seat and headrest covers were tattered. Seat back pockets were stretched out, barely holding the safety card and Hemispheres magazine. The tray table came down from its position by about 120 degrees making it absolutely useless for anything. A couple of passengers got up to use the lavatory which I was seated right next to. Every time the lavatory door was opened the rear of the cabin REAKED for several minutes afterward. After the second passenger exited I took a ball point pen and locked the door. A third guy tried to use it and I said “It’s not working…They locked it for some reason.” It’s not going to kill him if he has to hold it for 30 minutes as I needed to breathe.
We landed on runway 26 and spent about 7 minutes taxiing to the terminal. Our arrival time was 2:13am. Our scheduled arrival time was 11:00pm. I stopped by the cockpit and took a few photos before claiming luggage. Thankfully, an employee at Avis had stuck around so I could pick up my rental car. If he didn’t I would have been so screwed. I made the drive to Clearfield, PA and checked into my hotel room at 4:00am. I essentially took a nap as I had to be at customer site at 8:00am the same morning.
June 9, 2004 SCE-IAD (Flight UA7977, operated by Shuttle America)
Saab 340 (N360SZ)
Arriving at the airport about 90 minutes before my flight, I was surprised to learn that the United Express counter had just had a couple of self service check-in kiosks installed that day. As soon as I inserted my Premier card, an employee trailed by 3 others asked if they could use my check-in session for training. It’s not rocket science, but I couldn’t say no. After she went through every option and screen she could I finally printed my boarding pass. I noticed that this machine printed the boarding passes on the thermal paper instead of the usual card stock. Later I’ll find out that these won’t go through the gate readers throughout the airports in the United States. Just like the boarding passes printed from home I’m sure the agents are going to hate these thermal paper boarding passes too as they have to be manually processed. I was offered a chance to upgrade on the IAD-DEN flight, but I didn’t do it and I don’t remember how much they wanted for it.
When the plane pulled up after arrival was the same one I had took to State College just a couple of days before. Boarding was called and I visited the cockpit real quick before taking my seat at 7A. My seat was directly behind the exit row and the legroom was fantastic! I think 7A had more legroom than the exit row. I could see that everyone sitting in other rows had their knees crammed up against the seat in front of them. The cabin was only 60-70% full. We pulled away from the gate 6 minutes before our scheduled departure time of 7:20pm. After a short hold at runway 26 we were airborne 6 minutes later.
Drinks were served and again my tray table went down to about 120 degrees making it useless. I noticed other passengers were holding their drinks in their hands too. The service trolley was from Crossair. I wonder if this is from who Shuttle America got this plane from…
After an uneventful flight we landed on runway 19L 19 minutes before our scheduled arrival. We got to the gate 15 minutes before our scheduled arrival of 8:14pm. After boarding the bus at the remote terminal we were on our way to the main terminal.
Once inside, the flight information monitors revealed that severe thunderstorms in various parts of the United States had thrown most of the flights into chaos. Other airlines were affected too, not just United. At least two thirds of all of the flights were delayed considerably. Several were cancelled. Thankfully, my flight to Denver was still on time.
June 9, 2004 SCE-IAD (Flight UA933)
Boeing 757-222 (N515UA)
I reached the departure gate of C5 and was immediately horrified. There were about 3 dozen teenagers in the gate area for my flight and it was a zoo. Imagining all of these kids together for a 3 hour flight…I was almost ready to ask the agent if I could upgrade to first class. I didn’t care how much it cost. The teenagers were freshman and sophomores on a class trip from Scottsbluff, NE to Washington DC. They were originally flying Northwest from IAD-DEN via Detroit, but Northwest had cancelled the IAD-DTW flight. So they were dumped on United. Meanwhile, the gate area was just a mess. Not only were the teenagers causing quite a ruckus, several parents were letting their young kids run around the gate area. Right as boarding was called, one kid threw a major temper tantrum right in front of the card reader. The parent(s) did little to get the kid out of the way. At the same time, all 30 some of the teenagers immediately got up and rushed the gate. I’ve never seen Dulles like this before. I was absolutely dreading getting on this plane with all of these people…
I had to really push my way through everyone to board with seating area 1. I took my seat at 11A which was a window seat in the third row of economy. One of the kids on their class trip sat down in the middle seat next to me. His female friend was sitting immediately in front of him. This kid kept asking all of the other adults around him, including me, if we’d switch with him so he could sit next to this girl. We all said no of course. No one is going to give up a window or aisle seat for a middle seat on this flight. For a pregnant woman I would, but not for a kid. Once everyone boarded, I noticed something that would give me hope that maybe this would be a quiet flight after all. Most if not all of the kids occupied the middle seats. They were all effectively separated from each other. When I checked in earlier in the day, only the middle seats were available. When these kids got dumped on our flight from Northwest Airlines, those were the only seats available.
Pushback from the gate was exactly 5 minutes before our scheduled departure time of 9:45pm. About 20 minutes later we were airborne from runway 19L and would later cruise at 35,000 ft. There was not an open seat on the plane, but the kids were quiet for the most part. The kid next to me kept wanting to talk to me, but he wasn’t taking the hint that I wasn’t in the mood for chit-chat. I got to hear all about his family…how his uncle was to marry one of the nurses he worked with and 2 weeks before the wedding his fiancée ran off with one of her drug rehab patients. “The guy sounds like a loser” I said hoping to shut this guy up. It didn’t. Finally, I just put the headphones on and ignored him. He then turned his attention to the off-duty flight attendant sitting in the aisle who also didn’t want to be disturbed.
The movie on the flight was Calendar Girls which I wasn’t interested in. Drinks and pretzels were served. As we passed through northern Kansas we had to climb to 39,000 ft to dodge some turbulence due to thunderstorms in the area. The last 45 minutes of the flight had continuous light chop.
We landed on runway 16L about 8 minutes before our scheduled arrival time. Arrival at gate B29 was 2 minutes before our scheduled arrival time of 11:23pm. I decided to rent a car to go home since the buses weren’t running this late and there was no way I would be able to get my wife out to the airport this late at night to pick me up. I had a trip the following day, so I drove a rental home and I’d return it the following day.
Overall, the segments on United Airlines were okay. My experience on Shuttle America was a disaster. I will avoid them at all cost next time I have to travel near Dulles in the future. It seems that most of my unpleasant experiences lately have been on United Express. I’ve had quite a lot of delays and lost baggage on Air Wisconsin, Skywest, and Mesa this year. I can now add Shuttle America to that list. I’m still wondering if maybe I should contact customer service and see if they can do anything for me. My Monday morning was absolutely screwed up and it affected what I had to do at the customer site…