Reservations: I made the reservations in January for this March trip via United.com, and got a reasonable fare for a trip during March to a ski destination. The reservation process was easy, and I was able to request upgrades and choose seats in advance (Rating: 9/10 -- not able to book bulkheads or Exit Row in advance).
Check-in: I checked into my flights in advance using United's Easy Check-in On-line. Within 60 seconds, I saw that I was on the waitlist for an upgrade, chose my seats, and Printed my 2 boarding passes and Departure Management Card (Rating: 10/10)
Security: About 20 minute wait, and I wasn't subjected to secondary screening. IAD still doesn't have a separate security line for elite customers though, so that is always a major drawback (Rating: 5/10).
United Flight 903 (cont'd flight number, from MUC-IAD)
Scheduled Departure: 5:25pm on-time Gate C4
Schedule Arrival: 7:20pm Gate B 34/36
Actual Arrival: Touchdown: 6:55pm, At-Gate: 7pm
Meal: Buy On Board Snackboxes available
Seat: 24J, Economy Plus
Aircraft: Boeing 777-200
Load Factor: 100%
Photo © Montague Smith-Photovation Images
Boarding: I arrived at the Gate at about 4:30pm or so, 15 minutes prior to scheduled boarding. I approached the podium to inquire to the status of my upgrades (this is something that I hate doing, as I know it is annoying to the gate agents, but United doesn't really give fliers an option of doing otherwise. Nowhere on the boarding pass, or on their website does it tell you your upgrade status, or position on the list, and I understand that is dynamic, subject to change, but just an idea would be helpful) and the gate agent told me that "it's not gonna happen today." Disappointed, I turned around hoping that I would have enough time to make the LONG trek to the only edible eatery in Dulles' C Concourse (IMHO) Wendy's. Apparently everybody else recognized that Wendy's was the only option for edible food, too, because the line snaked back a good 50 feet or so.
Recognizing that I wouldn't have time to wait in line for Wendy's, I made the long trek back to the gate, and awaited boarding. The gate agent came on the PA, and, though difficult to hear, stated that the flight was "severely oversold" and passengers would be compensated with a flight out tomorrow (Flight 933 after 903 was also oversold) as well as a free round-trip ticket to anywhere United flies in the contiguous 48 United States. Passengers, she said, "would have to be extremely flexible." Normally I jump at such an opportunity, but this time, I was not "extremely flexible." If this happens on the return trip, I will go for it. Boarding commenced about 5 minutes thereafter with the First and Business cabin, and soon Seating Area 1 was called. I made my way through the galley and to my seat, finding ample room to stow my baggage in the overhead bin. I also was very pleased with my seat, with legroom comprable to the Business class cabin, I was able to fully extend my legs, as (hopefully) is pictured in the blurry picture I took below. Note also the legroom across the aisle in row 20, compared the legroom I enjoyed.
Flight attendants did the demo, nothing special. I tuned my headphones into United's IFE system, and was pleasantly surprised to find that United had partnered with XM Radio for its in-flight audio system, though the programming was not "live," it was still a great improvement over the previous offerings. I was also relieved to find that United's coveted Channel 9 would still be offered, and, moreover, was available on this flight. As soon, literally, as I turned to Channel 9, I picked it up in the middle of a very comedic ATC exchange, as appears below:
ATC: You behave yourselves out there, I know how you pilots can be.
ATC: My daughter is a flight attendant, she keeps you guys in line.
Pilot: Somebody has to!
ATC: Even worse, she's married to a police officer.
Pilot: Oh boy.
ATC: Have a good night, contact departure on Freq. ***.**.
Pilot: (Extended audible laughter) United 81** request push-back.
ATC: You behave yourselves out there!
I was laughing so hard when I heard this exchange. God, I love Channel 9, I wish I could have it at-home as an option on XM!
We were soon given our own clearance for push-back, taxiing via Kilo, holding short of 19L.
In-Flight: It took about 30 minutes for the purser to start the in-flight movies. A noted abscence was United's "airshow," giving us a display of "Channel not yet available" when the "Map" button was pushed on the console. It also took about 30 minutes for our flight attendants to begin the beverage and buy-on-board service, but soon enough, attendants came around. One flight attendant had the cart with the BoB, and the complimentary pretzels (I was hoping for the Fiesta Snack Mix) and the other had the beverage cart. My obese but friendly seat-mate (I make note of that only because he was protruding significantly into my comfort zone) ordered the "Mini-Meal," while I, as usual, out of principle, declined purchase of one, and of the pretzels (bring back the honey roasted peanuts, and a meal service United! I'll pay for it!). I ordered a Canada Dry Ginger Ale, and settled in to watch "Good Night, Good Luck" that I had missed on a previous United flight due to IFE difficulties (see my past trip reports!). Good movie, by the way, regardless of your opinion of Murrow, McCarthy, or even George Clooney!
I had about 2 pillows and blankets near me, and got modestly comfortable, all that I can do in Y+ class at my height.
Within 30 minutes, a full 2nd beverage service was offered, and I had Starbucks coffee. Flight attendants (very friendly, by the way) came around throughout the flight with a coffee and water service. We made a somewhat hard landing and arrived at the gate 20 minutes early. De-planing was fairly quick. (Rating: 7/10 -- no meal service, no airshow, but nice XM radio and Channel 9, plus friendly flight attendants and great leg-room).
United Flight 5361
Scheduled Departure: 8:08pm
Reason: Weather at destination
Weight-restricted to 78 passengers (out of a possible 88).
Arriving early in Denver, and starved, I first made my way to the Domino's and purchased breadsticks and 2 slices of Pepperoni & Sausage pizza. I carried this with me, and made my way to the departure monitor, where I noted that the 6:40 departure to ASE had come-back and showed a 7:45pm departure now. I made my way to Gate B50, where that flight was scheduled to depart, to see if there was room to take me on. The flight was effectively "closed" the agent told me, due to weight, as it had already circled ASE and had come back, unable to land.
I was on United 5331, scheduled to depart at 9:10pm, so I made my way to Gate B48, where flight 5361 was scheduled to depart at 8:08pm to see if there was room for me to jump on the flight. I was added to the stand-by list, where the agent told me it "looked okay" for my chances of getting on. Due to the crazy weather problems the ASE flights were having, and the fact that the UX flights are only staffed by one gate agent, the CS Supervisor came to the gate to lend a hand. She soon started clearing the stand-by list, and I was the first one. She gave me a seat 1A, a great seat, in the bulkhead, and I made my way on-board the aircraft. I was greeted by a friendly flight-attendant at the door, and asked her if there was still room for me to stow my baggage, as they don't let you put bags in the bulkhead. This particular aircraft lacked a closet that is sometimes in the front of the BAE146's, but she had closed the 1st bin, saving room for row 1 passengers. Relieved, and grateful, I stowed my baggage above, and settled in.
8:08 came, and went, and the pilot soon came on the PA system, announcing that wx in ASE had just fallen below minimums (2 mile visibility requirement, namely) and that we would be waiting at the gate to see if it would improve. We would also be keeping tabs on the delayed 7:45pm departure that was circling, to see if it made it in. The pilot was great, giving us frequent updates. Finally, at about 9:30pm or so, the pilot came on, and announced that the plane that was circling was unable to make it in, and that wx. in ASE was "right at minimums," not worth the try, so the flight was effectively "cancelled" for the night. Thankfully, I planned ahead and rented a car, so quickly made my way to the train, which just happened to be there, and then to the Alamo rent-a-car bus, and got upgraded to a SUV to drive over the pass for free (Rating: 10/10). Nice, helpful crew.
I just got off the phone with UA's reservations, trying to get a refund for the unused DEN-ASE leg. The first time I called the PREMIER LINE(!), I got India, who didn't know what the hell was going on, instructing me to call the "refund dept." She did provide a number for me. I called the number, at it was very helpful, transfering me right back to UA's reservations (ugh!). Luckily I know a secret way to usually get an American res. agent, so I called UA's Flight information number, pressed 0, and was connected with an American agent, who forwarded the information on to the refund dept. for processing. What a difference.
All and all an okay trip, nothing special. No upgrade available, full flight, no meal, and the cancellation didn't help, but such is the adventure that we call travel! Stay tuned for my next installment, ASE-DEN-IAD on March 19th complete with a red-eye flight (and hopefull an upgrade to F Class!)!
Comments and questions are always welcomed.