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Tue Aug 23, 2005 2:31 pm

Thursday, August 4, 2005

United Express, flight 6090
Operated by SkyWest Airlines
Monterey, California (MRY) to Los Angeles, California (LAX)
Scheduled: 0630-0753
Actual: 0631-0753
Embraer EMB-120ER
Seat 7A

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Photo © Cameron Bowerman - Airplanespotters

I arrived to the busy Monterey airport a few minutes after 0530, but as usual the United Express line was just a couple of people ahead of me and moved quickly. I checked my suitcase and got my boarding passes. I took a minute to organize my carryon for security, then got in line for the checkpoint. It took a couple of minutes, and when I got to the front I went through without incident. Once at the gate, I sat down and waited for my flight to board.

Early morning is a busy time at the Monterey airport. Several aircraft spend the night at Monterey, and between 0600 and 0640 there are CRJ flights departing to Denver and San Francisco on SkyWest/United Express, Phoenix on Mesa/America West Express, and Monterey's newest flight, to Salt Lake City on SkyWest/Delta Connection. In addition, there are two turboprop flights two Los Angeles, American Eagle's Saab 340 and SkyWest/United Express' EMB-120.

This was also my first opportunity to observe Delta Connection's new operation at Monterey, which had started on August 1. Delta had their own small section next to the United Express ticket counter, and their own podium by gate 7, on the opposite side of the gate door from United, which uses the same gate. The employees all seemed to be wearing United uniforms (I would assume that the employees actually work for SkyWest) and boarding announcements were made from the United podium.

At 0614 boarding was announced, and it was the usual routine at Monterey: The agent tears off and returns the boarding pass stub, then you go outside, drop off your larger carry-ons on the cart next to the plane, then climb up the steps into the aircraft and find your seat. The flight attendant did the safety demonstration, and when everyone was ready, the door was closed, the engines started, and at 0631 we turned away from the gate. We made our way down taxiway A to the end of runway 28L, and at 0637 the engines went to full power and we were off.

We made our way up to our cruising altitude of 23,000 feet, and the flight attendant came through the cabin offering drinks and a package of two oatmeal cookies. I spent the rest of the flight looking through the SkyWest Magazine and just looking out the window.

We began our descent into Los Angeles, and touched down on runway 24R at 0746. After a few minutes of taxi, we pulled up to the end of Terminal 8 at 0753. I disembarked, walked up the stairs into the jetway, and finally into the terminal through gate 88B.

I then walked the length of Terminal 8, then across and up Terminal 7 to gate 76 for my connecting flight. Interesting aircraft seen at LAX included a new colors LAN 767-300, MAS Air 767, Varig MD-11, and Air Tahiti Nui A340.

United Airlines, flight 108
Los Angeles, California (LAX) to Chicago/O'Hare, IL (ORD)
Scheduled: 0900-1458
Actual: 0900-1447
Boeing 777-222
Seat 39J

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Photo © Markus Schmal

Boarding started at 0820. I waited for my zone to be called, and when it was, went up to the gate, ran my boarding pass through the machine, and headed down the jetway, bound for my very first flight in the big twin.

As I walked down the aisle to my seat, I saw that this was a three-class aircraft. As far as I can recall, my last time flying in a three-class aircraft was in 1997, when I flew to Austria on Delta. This was also my second time having a personal TV at my seat; the first was in first class on a Delta 767-400ER after getting bumped off the previous day's flight.

I put my backpack in the overhead bin, sat down in my seat, and immediately plugged in my headset and tuned to Channel 9. I listened to ground control and admired the 777's interior while waiting for everyone else to get settled. I could see why so many people like this plane, with it's nice high ceiling and nearly-vertical wall. The 777 most certainly is not a CRJ.

We pushed back from the gate at 0900, then followed a Hawaiian 767 being towed to Terminal 2 from the Delta maintenance ramp to the north side of the airport. At 0917 we departed Los Angeles from runway 24L. I switched on my PTV to the map display and watched as we made our way up to 37,000 feet.

Occasionally looking out the window and checking the map, I did spot a couple of other aircraft. Both appeared to be United Airbus aircraft, one over LAS seemed to be on a diverging course from ours, and a second over Utah heading westbound.

With the PTVs, there were several channels of video and audio programming, but I preferred to get some work done on my laptop and listen to Channel 9.

Throughout the flight, flight attendants came through with a couple of beverage services and also offered various snack boxes for sale. I passed on the snacks, planning to get a meal during my long layover in Chicago.

We began our descent at 1400, flying towards O'Hare then turning out over the lake before turning back for the approach to runway 27R. We touched down and came to a rather quick stop at 1441. We made our way over to our gate, but had to wait a minute or two for the aircraft being pushed out from the adjacent gate to get out of the way. We were parked at C18 at 1447.

After disembarking I looked for lunch, and found a food court next to the gate. I had a hot dog (this is Chicago, after all), then went down to catch the bus that would take me over to the F concourse for my connecting flight.

United Express, flight 5594
Operated by Air Wisconsin
Chicago/O'Hare, Illinois (ORD) to Charleston, South Carolina (CHS)
Scheduled: 1850-2208
Actual: 1914-2250
Bombardier CRJ-200ER
Seat 10B

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Photo © John Davies - CYOW Airport Watch

Had quite a bit of a layover, so I did spend some time walking around, but mostly just waited at gate F11 watching planes go by and flights board. It had been quite a long time since I had been to O'Hare; the last was when I was pretty young and all I remember of it was that it was a sea of people. So I did get to see several aircraft that I don't get to see all that often: SAS A340, Martinair Cargo MD-11, Air India 747-400, Air Lingus A330, and a Royal Jordanian A340. There were also a couple of old-colors Air Wisconsin/United Express CRJ's that had blue noses.

Finally, boarding for my flight was called at 1856. We went outside and were directed to our CRJ. It was my first time flying in an aircraft painted in United's new livery; looking through photos, it appears that this aircraft had previously been used in Air Wisconsin's AirTran JetConnect program. This was also my first time flying on a United Express flight that wasn't operated by SkyWest.

The captain stood at the front of the plane, welcoming us on board and apologizing for the delay. I was already quite impressed with the friendliness of our crew. The flight attendant did the safety demonstration, and I noticed that both her and the safety card referred to the aircraft as a "Canadair CL-65" and didn't use the words "Regional Jet". We pushed back from the gate at 1914, but still ended up with quite a bit of a wait to take off.

As we were taxiing adjacent to the international terminal, the Captain came on to let us know that there were about 954 aircraft ahead of us so it would be a while before we'd be able to take off. He then said it was really about 18-20, he wasn't completely sure, but it was because there was a storm cell near the airport, and just one gap that all the planes were working through, so that was slowing everything down. Passengers were permitted to use their cell phones until we were just a couple of planes short of the runway.

We were finally able to take our turn for departure on runway 22L, taking of at 2003. After clearing 10,000 feet, the seat belt sign came off for about 5 minutes for people who needed to use the restroom, and the flight attendant came through passing out snack mix. Then we hit the storm cell, the sign came back on and we were treated to some bumps and a lighting show as we climbed through it. After clearing it, the captain came back on and let us know that was it, and turned the seat belt sign back off, and commented he'd like to do it again. Other aircraft had apparently found the path, so our ride up through it wasn't that bad. Kudos to the crew for conveying a positive attitude and trying to keep everyone's sprits up. I sure wasn't complaining.

The flight attendant resumed the beverage service with drinks and more snack mix. We cruised at 33,000 feet for a while, then began our descent into Charleston, touching down on what I think was runway 15 at 2247. We made a quick taxi to the terminal, parking at gate A5 at 2250.

After disembarking, I went up the stairs, through the jetway, and then into the terminal and headed for baggage claim. Since there wasn't a line, I went over to the rental car counter to pick up the keys to my rental, then went over to the carousel to wait for the bags. Neither carousel mentioned my flight, and after waiting for several minutes, I went to the United baggage service office to ask which one they were coming out of. She told me which one and indicated they were coming off together with another flight that arrived right after us, thus the delay. Finally the bags started coming, I got mine, and headed for the car, and then off to the hotel: the very nice Embassy Suites near the airport.

Monday, August 8, 2005

United Express, flight 5721
Operated by Air Wisconsin
Charleston, South Carolina (CHS) to Chicago/O'Hare, Illinois (ORD)
Scheduled: 1242-1413
Actual: 1235-1353
Bombardier CRJ-200ER
Seat 10A

Arriving at Charleston, I returned the keys to my rental car, and headed over to the United counter to check in. I got my boarding passes at a kiosk, an agent tagged my bag and directed me to the short line to have it inspected by a TSA agent. Did that, then headed up to the security checkpoint. Again there was a short line, and I went through without much difficulty.

With a short layover in O'Hare, I figured my next opportunity to eat would be on board the flight to LAX, so I'd better get something in the terminal. There wasn't much in the gate area, so I settled for a chili dog. I passed the time watching the activity in the gate area, and got a few photos.

My CRJ arrived, and I saw that it was the same one I had been in on the flight down. They're all the same anyway... :P Boarding started through gate A5 at 1222, and was pretty quick. At 1235 we pushed back from the gate.

Again, the flight attendant's safety demonstration referred to the aircraft as a CL-65. We made our way down taxiway A, then turned left onto runway 15-33. The flight attendant added a bit of topical humor, asking that if it was necessary to use the seat cushions as a flotation device, please return them to United within three days to save costs. We made a quick taxi down to the end, then turned around on the runway and took off on runway 15 at 1246.

We climbed up to 34,000 feet, the seat belt sign went off, and the flight attendant served snack mix and beverages. Another uneventful flight to Chicago. We began our descent, and touched down on runway 27L at 1342. At the end of the arrival announcements, the flight attendant added the closing song from The Mickey Mouse Club.

However, we did have to sit a few minutes and wait for the alley to clear before we could taxi to our gate, so we didn't arrive at gate F3A until 1353. Still early, which made me much comfortable about the tight connection.

After disembarking, it was up the stairs into the terminal, then down the stairs to the bus back to the C concourse.

United Airlines, flight 121
Chicago/O'Hare, Illinois (ORD) to Los Angeles, California (LAX)
Scheduled: 1500-1718
Actual: 1524-1730
Boeing 767-322
Seat 16F

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Photo © Michael Carter

During the layover in O'Hare, I spotted a few more interesting an aircraft. There were two aircraft with United Express titles and another airline's paint: an ERJ-145 in US Airways colors and an CRJ-200 in AirTran colors. There was also a CRJ-700 in new United Express colors but with an America West nose. Finally, I saw an USA 3000 Airlines Airbus.

Boarding started at 1419. I settled into my seat and plugged in my headset to listen to Channel 9. We didn't push back until 1524, and during the taxi there was some commotion as a United A320 waiting in a penalty box for its gate had its wing struck by another United aircraft. I didn't get to hear much as just after that happened the frequency was switched to a company frequency while the pilots inquired about some concerns a flight attendant had about some of the first class passengers. It seemed that some people weren't in their assigned seats, but everything seemed to get worked out.

Again there was a long line for departure, and we weren't able to take off on runway 27L until 1553. After takeoff, one of the pilots mentioned that passengers on the port side of the aircraft might have seen the incident with the two aircraft, and that was responsible for the long taxi.

We made our way up to our cruising altitude of 36,000 feet, but we ran into some turbulence after a bit and the pilots requested flight level 380. The flight attendants came through with the snack boxes for sale and drinks, and this time as I was hungry, I bought the "minimeal" box, which includes hard salami slices, peppercorn parmesan cheese spread, potato chips, stoned wheat crackers, applesauce, and Milano cookies. I liked how the in-flight Hemispheres magazine had a description of exactly what was in each box, so I could see what was in each one to decide. The flight attendance had also passed out little brochures that described them.

This time, I broke with tradition, and when the movie came on, I actually switched away from Channel 9 to watch it: "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." Great books, great movie. Unfortunately, the video projector for the main screen was misaligned, as the colors were off and the image was trapezoidal and not square. Sometimes I'd look over at the wall-mounted LCD's instead.

After the movie, it was back to Channel 9, and at 1656 we began our descent into Los Angeles. We touched down on runway 25L at 1727, and at 1730 we were at gate 76. After disembarking, it was time to walk back to gate 88B for the flight to Monterey.

United Express, flight 6095
Operated by SkyWest Airlines
Los Angeles, California (LAX) to Monterey, California (MRY)
Scheduled: 1827-1943
Actual: 1823-1945
Embraer EMB-120ER
Seat 8A

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Photo © Tony Zeljeznjak

While waiting for my flight to board, I got to observe an event that was commonly seen on A&E's "Airline". A passenger was upset at the gate agent as her flight had just departed without her. Despite the agent asking passengers to remain in the boarding area, she had gone to the bar (which admittedly was very close to the gate), and hadn't heard the boarding announcements as well as the pages for her to board. She was upset that now she'd have to wait for the next flight to wherever she was going, and of course it was United's fault that they had left without her.

My own flight started boarding at 1803, and of course I was there and ready. Through the jetway and down the ramp to the waiting Brasilia, I boarded, took my seat, and waited for departure. The flight attendant did the safety demonstration, and we pushed back at 1823. During the taxi over to the north side, I did see a few more interesting aircraft: Midwest 717, WestJet 737-700 with winglets, Swiss A340, and Malaysia 747-400.

After a Southwest 737-500 in new colors, we took our turn on runway 24L and were off at 1836. We turned north and headed for Monterey.

The flight attendant came around with drinks and snacks. This snack was a new one for me. They were cheddar cheese flavored crackers, which I'd had many times on American Eagle, but SkyWest's had a twist. They were shaped like airplanes! The name on the package: "Plane Cheesy".

The flight was another routine run up to Monterey, and we touched down on runway 10R at 1942, and just three minutes later at 1945, we were parked on the ramp. I disembarked, headed for baggage claim, and after the bag arrived, headed home.

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