B777-200 (FIRST TIME ON A 777!)
Ch. 9: YES
A Female captain...Capt. Morris
Scheduled departure: 13:00
Actual departure: 12:57pm
Gate: 316 (no longer uses the "K" prefix I noted)
Photo © Spencer Wilmot
Photo © T Silgrim
Photo © Stephen Fox
Photo © Saul Loeb
Given the legendary "chockerblock" traffic on the M25, my 2nd cousin Margaret elected to take me to LHR using the backroads. We passed by Virginia Water (beautiful gardens) and near Windsor, and then knowing how much I loved planes, Margaret told me that we were going gradually northeast, and that soon I'd start seeing planes into/out of LHR. Sure enough, a mile or so up the road I saw a BA 744 taking off, and knew instantly they were using 27L and 27R for departures. She was amazed I knew that. We drove in towards T3, passing the famous Concorde display, and parked. After saying goodbye to Margaret and thanking her for a great time during the past week, I headed inside for check in, and the UA counters were off to the right, past the AA counters. I got in a line, and noticed that the economy line was hardly moving. There was a UA c/s agent at the front of the line, guiding pax to the fastest moving line. I was actually sent to the group check-in, and there was only one group that was ahead of me, a group of kids I think from Oregon and Washington (my little corner of the world!) that was part of a "People to People" group. There weren't many people in this line, and it moved fast.
The agent was a young girl, and nice and polite. I noticed she had a 9/11 pin on with the WTC on it. A bit surprising in the UK, but it's nice to still see that by UA staff. I instantly offered to give up my seat and take a later flight. I naively thought I'd get an international pass good for one year, well...ha! Not so anymore, or at least at this point in the processs. The max. I would get would be $500, and the only flight that I could get home to SEA arrived there at midnight, meaning I wouldn't get home until 2am, and since I had to work at 8am, forget it. I was given my boarding passes clear to SEA on 949 and told security would be at the gate. Like the two UA flights coming to Europe, I again didn't check anything in, which was my goal. I headed upstairs to the departure lounge, passed through security with no checks, and then walked right into the huge duty free store...gee, how conveniently placed! I bought some candy for folks at home and for work, and then got some other gifts.
My flight was called and I proceeded to gate 316, which is the gate formerly known as K16. Personally, I prefer the "K" prefix, but I guess the "3" is more intuitive I guess. Anyhow, I saw all the planes parked at the gates, and would have taken a lot of pictures but the reflection the glass was terrible. I saw several AA, a UA 744, Malaysian, and several others that don't stick out in my mind as I write this. Got to 316 and was quickly told I would need to go through the security check, and they took my boarding pass. Pretty easy, the guy was polite and professional, and I gave him a "tour" of what I had in my backpack and small wheeled-suitcase, and then had to take off my shoes. After all that, I was given my stub for boarding, and then we boarded.
I was in 33A, with one seat next to mine, and a young gal named Audra (kind of cute...) with a strong Tennessee accent sat next to me. The overhead bin was smaller than the 744, and wasn't sure if I could get my case in, but still managed. I was impressed by the display in front of me, and that I could control the map, unlike on the 744 on the way to FRa. Flight time was 7:32 to ORD, with ETA in ORD at 15:30 CT. We pushed back, and quite a ways, too...to make room for another UA 772 that had just arrived. Slots are precious at LHR..no wasting time! I was just behind the left wing, and could hear the engine start up, and we were cleared to taxi out to 27L for takeoff. We went past the Concorde parked on a closed runway, and a BA744 at a remote stand. Finally, we were cleared to take off, and takeoff was quite a thrill, though not quite that as what I experienced for the first time on the 744 three weeks earlier at IAD. FL030, 060, then 160, on our way up to FL340, 360, 370, and ultimately to FL390. Headwinds got up to 110mph, and that would affect our arrival time.
Route: To the west and south of Oxford, north of Cardiff and Bristol, towards the Atlantic by flying just south of Limmerick, and out over the Atlantic, gradually heading northwest. About 1/2 way across the Atlantic, we were south of the southern tip of Greenland, and hit some pretty good turbulence. The turbulence gradually ended and we began turning southwest towards the Labrador coast of Canada, with Goose Bay and Wabush as nav. points. We flew over Quebec for what seemed forever and this part of the flight really seemed to drag, and then well north of Montreal and then Toronto. We flew between Timmins and North Bay, and I heard a request for "Johnston" on two occaisions. We crossed over Lake Huron to the northern end of the Michigan's lower pensinsula: south of Mackinac, east of Sleeping Bear Dunes, south to Grand Rapids and west of Saginaw and the Isabella Indian Reservation.
Meal & movies: We had a choice of chicken or pasta, and I chose chicken, which ended up being very good, and with BBQ sauce, along with pesto mashed potatoes, corn/carrot mixture, a fruit and cheese plate, and then salad with Asian dressing. The movies I watched were "Welcome to Mooseport" which was dumb, and then "Jersey Girl."
We began our descent near Grand Rapids, MI...FL390 down to 310, 290, 260, and so on. 949 was told to contact Chicago tower on 132.27, and I learned we'd be landing on 9R. We flew down the west coast of MI, across Lake MI, and then across, crossing just south of Fort Sheridan, IL, and turned due west. At this point, I could see the skyline of Chicago, and an AMAZING overview of ORD!!! I took about 5 pictures, all perfect! We flew downwind for about 10 miles, then heading 180, then 060, then 090 towards 9R. Flaps and gear were extended, and with a crosswind from the north, the left wing rose a little, and I think our right main hit first, then quickly the left, and overall a pretty good landing. We landed at 3:44pm, 14 minutes late due to pretty strong headwinds across the Atlantic. We had a fairly short taxi over to the international terminal, parking next to an AZ 763, at gate M4.
I was able to go up to the flight deck, getting to see the AWESOME 1st Suites in 1st class. I met Capt. Morris, a nice lady who I thanked for a great flight and for letting me up to look around. I noticed that the throttle lever for #1 was at idle, where #2 was further ahead, which I think was related to our crosswind landing. I took my pictures, got the reg. number at that point, and then left the aircraft. The international terminal at ORD is very nice...this was my first time arriving on an int'l. flight at ORD. Customs/immigration was easy, and then got the train to T1. I got into the main terminal, and realized I had 20 minutes to get my ass out to C17, and I hadn't passed through security yet! That was easy, and I RAN through the tunnell linking B and C. Luckily, C17 was right by the top of the escalator.
Ch. 9: NO
Wx: Partly cloudy
Scheduled departure: 16:50
Actual departure: 16:58
Photo © Michael Arcellana
Photo © Kyle Donagher
Photo © John Martin
I got to C17 in a sweat, and quickly boarded. I was 25A, which was pretty far back, and crammed my case in the overhead across the aisle, stuffed my backpack under the seat. At this point, I just wanted to get going. A blind guy came down the aisle and had trouble with is briefcase, and ended up causing the 8 minute delay. He wasn't a problem after he sat down. There were 2 kids who cried the whole damn flight I think, and that got REALLY old, not to mention the moron behind me who kept bumping my seat. No Ch. 9, no decent IFE, and no meal service at all. Granted, my body clock was at midnight London time, but still wanted something to eat. Nope. $10 for whatever they had, and I had $0 US cash on me at that point. So, it was OJ and snacks for me. We pushed back, and taxiied out to 32L. Takeoff was fine, and we followed the typical route to SEA, which I had flown several times before. Movie was "50 First Dates" with Drew Barrymore/Adam Sandler, and was dumb. The rest of the flight slowly passed by, and we followed US Hwy. 2, noticing the mountains with no snow on them, on to Monroe or Woodinville, and then turned south over Kirkland and Bellevue, with Lake Sammamish on my left side. We continued south past Issaquah and saw I-90, over Newcastle and towards Puyallup. We then turned right, and I could see Mt. Rainier and Mt. St. Helens in the distance. Another right over Federal Way and enjoyed a great view of Puget Sound with the Olympics in the background. We landed on 34L at 6:56pm, 13 minutes early, making up for the delay in ORD, and taxiied to N10.
I was glad to get off this flight...partly due to the fact I've been travelling all day and weary, and not overly excited to be home after such a great vacation. Between the crying baby, the schmuck behind me, no Ch. 9, and so-so service, my flying day was over, and it was back to reality.
Overall, #949 gets a C. The flight into ORD easily gets an A-/B+, and the final leg to SEA gets a C-/D+. I may need to fly on United soon so that I can help forget about this ORD-SEA segment. Given UA's troubles right now, I hope this wasn't my last flight on them...but I doubt it.
Until the next trip, folks...