Photo © Matthew Smith
Photo © Jeffrey Westley
At the beginning . . . I was reminded of the relative convenience of DCA compared to most other large-city airports. I left my hotel on Capitol Hill at 12:05 and by 12:35 I was through security and standing in line waiting for a sandwich. The airport is very close to the city and there was virtually no line in security.
I made a mistake on timing - UA flight 621 departs DCA at 2:45, but I had misread my Outlook calendar as indicating that it left at 1:45 om. Actually, I'll blame United - I downloaded my itinerary from United's website directly into Outlook. It automatically entered a 1:45 pm item into my Calendar (since I live in Chicago, which is one hour behind Washington), but the text inside the entry noted that the flight departed 2:45 LOCAL TIME. Well, OK - maybe I should have looked a little more carefully.
So, I waited for about 1.5 hours in a relatively quiet terminal near Gate 31, listening to music and doing a little work. At 2:15 (30 minutes before departure) I was able to secure a nice exit row seat (16C), which was a pretty good change even from my Economy Plus 13C.
Sitting in the terminal, I was struck by the number of regional jets serving National, especially the USAirways and American flights. Our 757 was the largest plane I saw at the terminal for most of the time. I saw one stubby Frontier A318 (at least I think it was a 318) that was tiny.
Photo © Jeremy Irish/Cactus Wings
Photo © Ralph Duenas
We boarded on time at about 2:25. The plane was only about half-full. I was the only one in my row on the right side of the plane. LOTS of legroom in this seat! A baby was crying loudly in a seat three rows behind me, but fortunately he/she quickly fell asleep.
Weather was light rain, winds calm, low overcast. I think that LGA was fairly socked in - I heard a comment by an ATC on Channel 9 that there were a fair number of go-arounds at one of the eastern airports - I assume it was either Boston or LGA - I just didn't get the headset on me in time.
Things got a little more interesting after pushback. We were scheduled to depart on Runway 180 directly to the South. We taxied to the end of the ramp by the USAirways hanger, and we we were number 4 for TO. However, shifting winds required the Tower to switch to Runway 1 from Runway 180. In the words of the Tower, "we are going to have to turn the world around now." She then worked to get all of the airplanes repositioned to the other end of the runway. Fortunately, Runway 15 did not seem to be in much use at the time, so we did a U-turn through the end of Rwy 33 and headed south to Rwy 1. At the same time, the Tower kept some of the other planes at their gates to wait for the parade of planes on the taxiway to reposition themselves. (I can't imagine how ORD or other large airports shift so many planes, but I think the runway configurations make it easier - don't know.)
By the time we we taxied to Rwy 1 it was about 3:10. We were going to be number 4 for takeoff, but then the FAA or whoever put a longer hold on us because of delays into ORD. I think the reason was high winds - 20 knots gusting to 30 - but I don't know for sure.
During this part of pre-flight I was impressed by the pilot's continually updating us on status. He gave us four or five updates before we took off.
Takeoff itself was exciting. Lots of rain/mist blowing off of the wings and wheels. Plus, as anyone who flies out of DCA on Rwy 1 knows, all planes must veer sharply to the left immediately after TO to avoid security areas in downtown DC. A lightly loaded 757 really moves after TO, and it was odd, to say the least, to look to my left through the window on the other side of the aisle and stare right into the Pentagon parking lot!
Photo © Rafal Szczypek
I turned off Channel 9 soon after TO and switched to music. Most of the flight was uneventful at FL37. I switched back on 45 minutes into the flight. We started our initial descent fairly far out - about 35 minutes before touchdown, and while our plane was still under Indianapolis Center control. Most of the ATC chatter was about the turbulence, winds, and spacing between flights. We leveled briefly at FL24 before moving to FL13 to avoid turbulence and position for landing. There was a solid cloud layer at about FL6-7. ATC ordered us to speed up, slow down, etc. from 320 to 270 and back, for spacing. As we descended, but before we punched through the cloud deck, I saw a couple of other planes off to the right emerging from the clouds after departure from ORD.
We landed smoothly on 27L at ORD at about 4pm, after an uneventful ILS approach.
Photo © Daniel Wojdylo
Considering the delays on TO we still did well for the final arrival time. The only glitch was that no one was at gate C10 to move the jetway into place, so we waited five minutes before the doors opened at about 4:15. That's really inexcusable at United's major Midwest hub, especially with passengers trying to make connections.
All said, an enjoyable flight! As usual, thanks to United for offering Channel 9!