Airline: United Express Operated by Trans States Airlines
Flight number: UA7994
Aircraft: Embraer ERJ-145
Seat: 1A (Domestic Single Class)
Distance: 100 miles
Date: Friday 24th December
Photo © Kyle Donagher
Photo © Daniel J. Evans
Following my 84 day stay in the US it was time to go back to the UK for Xmas and New Year, a good opportunity to see my friends and family following my 3 month stay in Richmond. This trip was initially booked in August and my girlfriend was expected to join me on the trip although following an unfortunate incident during my stay it was decided wise I made the trip alone. The RIC-IAD legs were booked in late November for convenience and to avoid the combined hassles of I-95, Manassas and general Christmas Eve traffic concerns. However it also offered the opportunity for me to take my shortest commercial flight to date and a trip from my new local airport.
The trip as a whole began, as it always does when a BA sector is involved, the night before on a computer somewhere. I checked in for my BA flight from IAD to LHR and despite numerous Mac, printer, OLCI software and Internet woes I was able to print my boarding pass off to ease my transit at Dulles.
Due to the fact my luggage was due to be checked right through from Richmond to Heathrow I took a little caution and followed the United website which said I needed to check-in two hours before an international flight if I had checked bags. Although my short connecting flight was domestic I was interlining with an international flight so went with this. Erring on the side of caution maybe but it allowed some quality time for me to spend with my girlfriend and I couldn’t afford for my case not to make it!
It was my first time at Richmond airport and the construction of the new parking garages looked complete although the curbside area was still behind high wooden boards. A number of people were checking in curbside although I saw no UA desks so went down the temporary path to the old terminal building. Glances to my left and upward about 100ft gave me a great view of the steel frame making up the new departure area that reminded me of a small version of Dulles main terminal!
The UA check-in desks were about halfway down the line of desks and were manned by two agents. I’d picked a good time to arrive as there was nobody in line, even so I made use of the priority check-in line! Formalities completed, boarding pass checked for presence of LH FF number, the unlocking of luggage (Thank you TSA ) I was handed back gold boarding pass wallet and shiny boarding pass. My girlfriend and I then made our way to the Smokehouse restaurant that offered great views of the apron and runways. We enjoyed a couple of beers over the space of an hour or so and made upcoming plans for our February vacation. The weather was beautiful and it was nice to have such a good view of the runway. A Delta MD-80 (I think) landed and taxied right to the gate in front of us, dwarfing the other regional jets that populated most of the airport.
Around 30mins before the stated boarding time I said my goodbyes and went through the empty security point towards Concourse B, some very jolly TSA folks this Xmas Eve which was nice to see! I subsequently walked down to Gate B11 where my flight to Washington awaited me. The new concourse was very airy and spacious and pleasant to spend 30 or so minutes waiting for the flight. Some flight crew came in and out of the locked doors for some time and a couple non-revving were sat beside me worrying about not making this flight or their 37 minute connection at Dulles (some serious MCT issues there!). Alas the gate agent put their fears to rest as it was apparent the flight would only be 50% full there or thereabouts.
Our Embraer 145 waiting at Gate B11 for the short flight to Dulles
A boarding announcement was made for Star Gold, UA 1K and UA Premier Exec members (I thought the aforementioned tiers were Star Gold but there you go ) and embarrassingly I was the only person to stand up and board. Felt a bit of a fool as everyone watched me go down the jet way, and as I left general boarding was announced. Our FA for the flight Bobbie, was very cheery and welcomed me aboard and showed me to 1A, a rather nice seat in the 1-2 configured aircraft as I was across the aisle from the galley, although had no overhead space. As a positive I must have had about an extra four inches of legroom if not more! My bags were parked for a few minutes and she said that maybe as I was in ‘First Class’ I’d get an extra snack or peanuts I was rather taken aback to be honest as I knew this flight was short so expected nothing in terms of service beyond a smile! Bobbie then asked if I wanted my large Xmas present bag put in the closet (which I accepted) and said she’d try and accommodate me in a double seat close to the front of the aircraft to get a little more room for me. Everyone else boarded past me sat right by the door, this included a number of deadheading crew and as it happened 4B & 4C were vacant. I moved back there and put on my noise cancelling headphones to prepare for the short flight. The views promised to be spectacular as there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and we were informed we’d climb to no more than 14,000 ft. I spotted a Delta Connection CRJ out of the window and took a picture.
Delta CRJ on stand next to us
We pushed back and taxied to runway 16, the longest of RIC’s at just over 9000ft. The takeoff, thanks to Bose, was pretty silent and as we banked I saw a number of helicopters at the National Air Guard base. The climb was spectacular and although I didn’t get to see my apartment I wasn’t disappointed. I noticed a few places I’ve visited or passed through during my numerous stays in the area. Getting an aerial view of your local area is always fascinating and I took a few pictures.
Central Virginia from ca. 8000ft
During the climb Bobbie came over on the PA system to inform there was a drinks service done from the galley for anyone who wanted it on a case by case basis. I wasn’t thirsty but the guy across from me was ordering two Canada Drys during the 15mins or so of cruise! In between serving Mr Thirsty in 4A, Bobbie made a real fuss of the baby behind me in 5C and I have to say I was very impressed with how personable she was throughout the whole flight . It appeared the flight plan was following I-95 for most of the flight and it was visible just below us at times. Although it was hard to gauge whether I’d avoided any traffic by taking this flight!
I-95 at the bottom of the photo going from left to right
Out of the window I saw the Rappahannock, a large river I’ve sailed a few times and also the Potomac and the Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge I’ve driven on Route 301 up to Annapolis.
The Potomac River. For those trying to gauge where they are the Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge (You’ll know it if you’ve driven it is beside the red and white chimney at the back of the photo…don’t strain too hard )
A few minutes later Bobbie made an announcement for connecting passengers who I presume made up the majority of those onboard. She also informed us we were to arrive at Concourse C, not the usual Concourse G which saved me taking a shuttle bus You could then feel we were dropping in altitude and plane banked round a touch before coming straight in for landing on 1L. The Udvar-Hazy Museum, still on the ‘to go’ list was seen out of the window. Irritatingly despite my almost 6hr layover the museum closed early and wasn’t sure I’d get it all in so have chosen to make a special visit later next year.
The super-fast flight was already over and in fact it worked out that the 100 miles took about 23mins in the air, some way ahead of the 1hr scheduled departure time!
As we landed we taxied round right behind a 777 visible to the right, from an ERJ-145 view it looked truly enormous! I noticed a BA 777 on the usual BA stand which suggested an equipment change from the 747-400 I was expecting. Usually I could presume it was operating the early evening departure but this particular day the only BA flight was my 9.55pm departure.
We parked up at the gate and stopped for a few minutes, little happened except I chose this opportunity to get up and move to 1A to retrieve my bags. Quite why when I had a six hour layover I don’t know! However I did get the opportunity to get a picture of the cabin.
Cabin view of this ERJ-145 (Apologies to Mr seat 2A! )
The pilots then announced that we had pulled up short and needed to be pulled forward a few feet so we could get the stairs to deplane. All in all it took about 5mins but I was swiftly off and headed off in search of free booze at the British Airways lounge somewhere down in Concourse D. I knew the lounge would usually be open for the BA216 although was sure my flight BA292, was the only BA flight departing Dulles that day, however the 777 outside and the fact the BA216 was listed on the departure board suggested it was sold out.
I arrived at the BA lounge to find the door locked, with newspapers outside although a sign read it was open at 3.30pm, which happened to be 20mins ago. I knocked and there was no answer, went to the First Lounge and tried the same. Nothing. The AA website that I checked the day before suggested their Admirals Club across the way was only open until noon but headed over there to see whether that information was correct. It was and a piece of paper on the door confirmed this. I headed back some way to one of the three United Red Carpet Clubs at IAD in this concourse; the one at C17 seemed closest so went through the frosted doors and down the stairs. I showed my Lufthansa Senator card and after some tapping and swiping, the chap said the card was expired. He said it seemed strange based on the Feb 2007 validity date on the front so did some more tapping and let me in.
I like this lounge as it is on the lower floor and has views of the apron on both sides of the concourse with the club extending underneath the walkway. I helped myself to some Oreos and a Pepsi and sat watching some guys outside in fluorescent jackets walking around the UA Express CRJ beside my window.
United Express / Air Wisconsin CRJ
For some reason I get itchy feet in airport lounges so went and sat beside the large TV watching Indianapolis Colts at Seattle Seahawks. Quite a few people were glued to the screen including a rather annoying woman who appeared to know even less about football than I do (that is saying a lot ) and shouted something daft whenever anything happened or anyone tackled/missed pass/ran/breathed etc…
United Red Carpet Club at Gate C17
I got so fed up with this I went to the bar with a view over the other side of the Concourse. Picked up a copy of National Geographic Traveller on the way and sat with a pint of Pyramid ($4 damn it! I hate having to pay for alcohol in airline lounges) looking out the window watching what I think was an A319 being prepared for pushback. I find it hard to tell at ground level what half these aircraft are, they all look big! As I watched the baggage handlers load the aircraft I had these visions of my suitcase being kept in some small room and being furtled through and jumped on by some mischievous baggage handler… I believe at times I can get a little paranoid!
United A319? you decide
I had a quick look to see if there were any internet terminals in the business centre now, but no…all phones!