I decided to briefly go to Seattle for a weekend. Fortunately someone else was picking put up the tab, so I got to fly first class. I would have preferred to fly from Rockford which is where I live on UA and do RFD-DEN-SEA, but the fare was over $1100 for economy, so I ended up going ORD-SEA for $650 in economy (without upgrade fees). Unfortunately something came up and I had to switch to the next weekend. Fortunately though when you pay $650 for a ticket, it is fully changeable and refundable, so I had the travel agent switch the tickets to the next week.
To the Airport
I left work at 2:30pm. I checked by my apartment to see if my Ipass that I'd ordered a week earlier had come so that I could cruise through the tolls, but it hadn't arrived yet. I then get some gas and pass by a car accident as I got to the freeway. I was on the road at about 2:45pm for a 5:25pm flight to Seattle. I thought that was plenty of time. Unfortunately there were some slowdowns near some of the toll booths. There was also some traffic near ORD, so I get into the economy parking lot at 4:20pm. I thought that was plenty of time since I had already printed my boarding passes out. I parked my car in the rather full lot and walk to the train. It was 4:30pm at this point. I hop on to the train and we go around to terminal one. It takes a surprisingly long time to make three stops and get to the terminal.
Photo © Jerry Search
Once the train stopped at the international terminal, a ton of people got on. I then started talking to a United 777 captain who had just flown KIX-ORD. I then say I'm going to Seattle and he says that he flew over SEA and the weather was beautiful unlike the stifling heat in Chicago. He also said that the immigration computers were down, so terminal five was a mess.
At the Airport
It was now 4:40pm now and I get off the train and walk into the terminal. There were some lines all over, so I was glad that I had my boarding pass since departure time was just 45 minutes away. I go to the priority screening line and show my boarding pass. There was a bit of a line. It is unfortunate that there are so many priority people in ORD that the line isn't much faster. I was looking at my watch constantly. I was getting a bit nervous. It was 4:45 then 4:50 and then 4:55 when I got to the screening point. I took out my laptop and belt and shoes and got through without too much trouble although they did a double check on my briefcase.
Photo © Serge Bailleul - AirTeamImages
I then start walking to the gate. I look at the monitor and the flight to SEA was leaving out of C26 and on time. I haven't departed on a flight that left on time recently in ORD, so I wasn't too worried, but I walked fast since I had 25 minutes before departure time. It was slightly frustrating that the plane was leaving out of pretty much the farthest gate possible. I high tailed it on the moving walkway between the concourses and approach the gate and see a long line of people boarding. I didn't hear any announcements or anything, but I checked to make sure it was the right flight and joined the queue. They were boarding seating area two at the time, but I was in first class so it didn't matter. I made it to the gate 20 minutes before departure time, which was really tight. If there had been any more traffic, I would have missed the flight. I had about 10 minutes. I'll make sure to leave work earlier next time.
Friday July 14 2006
Departs: 5:25pm (actual: on time)
Arrives: 7:40pm (actual: on time)
First Class Seat 5A
Load Factor: First Class 100%
Flight time: 3hrs 55min
Photo © Shane Stoffregan
Photo © Josh Akbar
I stepped on the plane and made the wonderful turn left. I always like turning left when getting on a plane since it means that I'll be in first class and have a good flight. I saw that the cabin was pretty much full and was hoping to find a spot for my carryon bag. I see a little space and thought it was just big enough. I did a little moving of stuff around and squeezed the bag in. The flight attendant and another passenger congratulated me. I then go to my seat and settle down. I was happy to have made it on the plane. I almost missed the flight out of me being just too slow.
Photo © Quinn Savit
The flight attendant came by with water or orange juice. I had some juice since I was very thirsty. The days of being offered champagne as a predeparture beverage are gone. I looked around the cabin and there were a fair number of people that looked like they just came from work. ORD-SEA is a route heavily traveled by business travelers, which means that it can be hard to get an upgrade at times, even when flying on a 757. The surprising thing about that is United doesn't offer unlimited free upgrades. Even the top level Premier Executive 1Ks get a limited number. But the front cabin is always full and United really does attract a lot of people traveling from business when compared to other airlines that I've flown like Northwest. I think a big factor in that is that United has its hubs in core business markets.
Boarding came to a conclusion and I flipped through the Hemispheres magazine. It is way thinner than it use to be. There are so few articles. There isn't anything interesting that isn't a direct advertisement for United or something else. I wasn't paying a while lot of attention, but the door was shut. Then the safety video came on. It was United's new safety video. It is a good thing that they changed it, since the old one featured the outdated livery and uniforms and was shot inside a pretty old looking 767. I took particular interest in it because it had Spanish subtitles. I was trying to read them as it went, but they were flashing up so quickly that I couldn't. Nonetheless I watched intently.
I tuned to channel 9 after the video and heard one of our pilots ask for taxi clearance. Upon receiving it we were cleared to the runway via tango 10. The weather was really good outside and there were no taxi delays. I was amazed. When I booked the ticket, I expected the chances of departing on time were way less than 50%. There were some American and American Eagle planes waiting in the penalty box, but United was running smoothly. As we were waiting for takeoff, the flight attendant came by and took dinner orders. The choices were ravioli with white sauce or stuffed checken. She came by and asked for my meal choice fourth. They take orders by status on United, which makes me appreciate the fact that I'm premier executive. She addressed me by last name, or at least attempted to. My last name isn't that difficult, but she messed it up. I'm sure it must be awkward for a flight attendant to try to address everyone by last name, but it does add a level of personal touch.
Takeoff and Departure
We were cleared to take position and hold. As we are moving on to the runway, we received takeoff clearance along with some vectors and wind speeds. We did a rolling takeoff and thundered down the runway. The 757 is an amazingly powerful plane. It was a pretty short takeoff run and soon we lifted off into the warm hot day. We made an arcing turn to the left for our westbound departure. For such a hot day, it wasn't that turbulent. The air was pretty unstable and thunderstorms were in the area, but we climbed pretty smoothly. Air Traffic Control vectored us due west and cleared us to to climb. There was a plane quite close to us that took off right after us, and we were given a heading of 265 for the climb to flight level 340. We climbed past the western suburbs of Chicago and followed rather closely to I-90. If I was on the other side of the plane, I would have probably been able to see the plant that I work at in Rockford and maybe even my apartment complex.
The seat belt light came off and the captain welcomed us aboard. We got the basic information on the flight and were told of how wonderful the weather in Seattle was since it was 74 degrees instead of the 90s and hell that is the midwest during July where we had just left.
Another flight attendant came by and asked what I'd like to drink and gave us some nuts. I asked for some white wine. One thing I notice is that if I am casually dressed, the flight attendant will question me to make sure that I'm over 21 since I've been told that I look pretty young and have even been carded to get into an R-rated movie in the last year. But when I am well dressed as like I was since I had just come from work and was in a company polo, I don't have any problem with alcohol. The wine came and I snacked on the nuts. I relaxed as they started the movie. It was a pretty bad movie with Amanda Bynes dressing up as a guy in college so that she could play soccer. It was pretty dopey, but I watched it anyway since it is the type of movie for a plane. Serious movies are hard to pay attention to or understand.
Dinner started coming out. The flight attendants were serving from the front, and I was in row 5 of 6. I spent some time looking at the window. The midwest is so flat. There were a few bumps and I heard our pilot and ATC bantering about it. We were told that it would clear up at Dubuque, but it cleared up a bit earlier. The female air traffic controller was discussing about how she needs to tell people it will end later otherwise they call up and tell her that she is wrong. Just after that another plane calls up, and asks for a ride report and the controller was more specific and said that it would clear up 30 east of Dubuque. Eventually it started to cloud over though. I love channel 9 as it is interesting to hear what is going on. It also probably has made me much better at talking to ATC when I'm flying my own plane since I'm a low time private pilot myself.
My food then came and I was a bit surprised. It was ravioli in red sauce and absolutely covered in grated Parmesan cheese. I guess the flight attendant didn't give it a good look. However I'm glad to see United serving real entrees. They had been serving the buy on board meals in first class, but they were plated and heated. But still a roll up sandwich or salad is not adequate for dinner. The ravioli was pretty bland. It was about the quality of the stuff you buy ready to go at the supermarket. It wasn't bad though. I'd be upset if I got that meal at a restaurant, but we were at 34,000ft with one of the best views in the world, so it was fine with me. Bread also came around and I had a dinner roll. The bread was warm, but seemed lower quality than it used to be. My glass of wine was topped up twice during dinner, so I was also feeling pretty happy even though they serve pretty cheap wine. Overall there isn't a much better way to spend a Friday night than to sit in first class, eat a filling meal and sip on a nice glass of wine.
My dinner tray was cleared and I continued to watch the not so good movie. A third flight attendant came by with dessert. It looked interesting, so I took it along with a cup of coffee. The cake like dessert was pretty good. I still like the fresh made warm cookies, but real desserts are also nice. I was feeling really good at this point and just on the edge of feeling tipsy. I knew I'd have to drive upon getting to Seattle, so I knew I couldn't enjoy an after dinner drink.
I get up to go use the lavatory. Then the movie finished up and I decided to take a nap. I relaxed in the comfortable first class seat. I've pretty much found that most the domestic first class seats off the same pitch and are pretty good for when you are sitting upright, but only some are good when you are trying to sleep. I really appreciate the winged adjustable headrests that United has. They are so much better than some of the older seats on American and Delta where your neck will be hurting. Of course a legrest would be wonderful and more pitch, but you can't expect too much when most people are just upgrades. United does operate widebodies on some domestic trunk routes between international flights, so I try to get on a widebody when possible. Unfortunately on the currently schedule only the 8am departure from ORD to SEA is a 777 with the international business and first class cabins, and I never want to leave early in the day from ORD. I like to leave after work.
I woke up about 45 minutes before landing in Seattle. I pulled out my iPod and started reading from my book. I currently reading Up Country from Nelson Demille, which is a good read although it's really long. It was still light out in Seattle but it was going to fade. We were flying over the Cascade Mountains and I could see Mt. Rainier. The captain came on and said that we were about to begin our descent and the seat belt sign would be coming back on shortly. He also gave us an updated weather report. It had cooled down to the 60s. I stopped a flight attendant and asked for some Pepsi, since I was really thirsty and wanted to wake myself up since I was planning on going out that night with a friend of mine. It came in a plastic cup. I guess the flight attendants had already began securing the galley for arrival.
Descent and Arrival
I felt us begin to go down. I finished up the Pepsi and turned off my iPod and put it away for arrival. I began to listen to channel 9. It was fun to listen to the different airlines that you get on the west coast. There were a number of Horizon and Alaska planes on the radio, but a Cactus was flying around too in addition to another United and a FedEx MD10. The seat belt sign came on. I then pulled up my seat back.
We passed out over Issaquah and I was curious as we seemed to be pretty high. We were to be landing towards the north. We made a turn south and headed in the direction of Enumclaw, but ATC had us turn base surprisingly early. We were quite high, and the captain had to ask for more space so that we could get down in time. ATC apologized for turning us in too fast. We passed north of Tacoma and turned final for arrival into Sea-Tac. I had my face glued to the window as I was watching the amazing scenery with mountains, water and forests. I did my private pilot training out of nearby BFI, so I was really familiar with this part of the country. It is beautiful.
I hear the landing gear come down and we touch down nicely on runway 31L. The thrust reversers are deployed and I hear the engines throttle up as we slow down just past the North Satellite. The flight attendant made her welcome announcement and I put the headset in the seat pocket. I love how United still has movies or video programming on most flights and has audio on all mainline flights. I also love the free headsets.
We pulled into gate N1 right on time. I was really pleased with this rather uneventful flight. The seat belt sign went off for the last time and I get up and get my bag out of the overhead compartment. I say thank you to a flight attendant with a smile as I get off the plane. People seemed to be wandering around in a confused way once they got into the terminal. The North Satellite is a bit confusing since it is a big rectangle and you have to find the escalator to the subway that goes to the main terminal, but I knew where I was going. I then hopped on the subway and quickly made my way to the curb. I went to the departure level where my ride would pick me up so that we could avoid the mess of the arrival level since it is a crowded mess at night. SEA is very busy for departures in the morning, so it is good to use the arrival area, and SEA is very busy for arrivals in the evening, so it is good to use the departures area.
I enjoyed this service. It was a pretty normal flight on United in First Class although it isn't normal for everything to be running smoothly in ORD during a summer evening. The dinner was appreciated, but not particularly great. Food quality in first class has gone down so much in the last ten years. It wasn't that long ago when they'd serve steak or some form of red meat in first class, but now you're lucky go get chicken.
United offered pretty good service. ORD is actually a pretty easy airport to fly in and out of. The economy parking is nice, but you have to leave adequate time since it can take a fair bit of time to get to the gate if the security lines are long.
Please leave any comments. I don't write trip reports for most of my domestic flights, but I thought I would since people seemed to like the return journey redeye flight. Feedback on how to make these better is appreciated.