A day after the US east coast witnessed the "ball drop" in New York city, at 9:40 AM, my best friend and I braved the 19-degree Fahrenheit snowy weather and headed southwest for a 2-hr drive as he took me to Pittsburgh International Airport for my 3-segmented flights itinerary to FAT with connections in ORD and SFO. Snow, slush, and black ice covered the road that made the usual 2-hour travel 35 minutes longer.
Having booked hundreds of people on hundreds of flights in a few years by working in the travel industry, traveling quite often, and getting one's self acquainted with airlines and airports operations by reading airliners.net forums, one develops what seems to be like a sixth sense in predicting or feeling if one's flight is departing on time or not flying at all. Since the night before my flight and on the way to the airport, I had that strange gut feeling that my flight will be delayed and that was despite the flight advisory from United, which was sent to my phone as a text message, and a couple of phone calls along the way re-affirming that my flights were scheduled to leave on-time.
We got to the airport at 12:05 PM with supposedly only 28 minutes left to spare for check-in, TSA security checkpoint, and to take the PIT's famous people mover that connects the land-side and the X-shaped air-side concourses of one of Pennsylvania's busiest airports.
This is PIT's famous entrance.
At almost 12:10, I printed my boarding passes using a kiosk by the entrance to the terminal and headed towards the second floor while confirming along the way, from the flight status monitors, that my hunch since the night before was true. At that time, I felt a little relieved when a blinking "delayed" - but not that much, only for a mere 7 minutes - was right next to my flight number. I reckon that the the new departure time of 12:40 PM will buy me sometime as I work my way to the gate.
Thirty seconds is all it took for the efficient, but not so friendly lady at United's counter to tag my luggage to Fresno and with her chin and a nod, she pointed to me the way to the TSA security checkpoint. It was a big help that no passenger was waiting in the United check-in counter.
It was almost a race against time for me as I hurried my way to the escalator and down to the TSA level where two lines were forming. Each line with passengers waiting their turn to be scrutinized against threats and have their carry-on items x-rayed. One group of people has less than 20 individuals, as the line says, they're flying first class and more than a hundred flyers in the other line who were not flying F or simply were not lucky to be in the shorter line. I was flying coach so I told myself that with only 25 minutes before the 12:40 departure, and with only 15 minutes before boarding, the chance of me being able to pass security behind more than a hundred people, ride the tram, and walk to my gate, will soon prove futile. At this point, I told my friend not to leave the airport yet just in case I miss my flight, which to my feeling, was imminent. I tried my luck anyway and while standing in line I started a conversation with the airport staff - a lady on her 40's and didn't look very considerate and friendly - that kept coach class passengers from jumping in to the "line of the privileged". Politeness and friendliness can surely give you something in return. Out of nowhere, she told me to get in the F-class line and that let me made my way through the TSA in less than 3 minutes.
The "people mover", as what most people call it in PIT, takes you to the atrium of the four-branched air-side structure. With only four arms branching out from the center, one only has to read four different signs to figure out which way is to his departure gate. I walked towards my gate and saw my ride, sporting the new United Aircraft livery, making its way to jetway C53 on a snowy tarmac.
About 20 minutes of sitting and looking on as hardworking ramp agents serviced the aircraft, the not-so-fancy light-emitting diode signboard lit up, and announcement followed for everybody to board. Having "group seating 4" marked on my boarding pass, I was in the last group to board and the second to the last passenger to get in the aircraft.
Our full flight, UA664, with N375UA painted on its tail, was packed with Chicago-bound passengers, two male flight attendants that looked happy and a young female purser that looked like on her late 20's.
Seating on an 18D aisle seat, I was able to stretch my leg right after I sat, which was a nice little perk in the absence of the privilege of admiring the snowy landscape that can be seen outside a window seat. To my little disappointment, a guy that's as wide as 18E and a quarter of my seat and another guy's seat who was seating in the window seat, sat in the middle of the 3-seating configuration of the Boeing 737-300 aircraft. It made my armrest impossible to fold downwards and my access to the entertainment panel difficult.
Our aircraft was pushed back out of the gate almost 25 minutes late as the amiable 50-something year old white-haired male attendant did his safety demonstration, along with another attendant a few feet away behind him, as the petite female lead attendant read the canned instructions. After the demo, one of them handed the safety belt that was used in the demonstration to my hefty seatmate to attach to his original seatbelt, We taxied to the active runway following behind a Frontier Airline and a Southwest Airline jet.
We taxied into position at the end of runway 28L after the Southwest Airline jet sped away and got airborne from the same runway. Our pilots accelerated the aircraft to take-off speed and just when my voluminous double-belted seatmate did his safety demonstration -in faith- by doing the sign of the cross, our aircraft pitched up and started climbing to 5,000 feet, on to 14-thousand, to 28,000, and to flight level 360.
Right after the beverage service when I got a cup of coffee served in a paper cup with 2 packets of equal and a plastic stirrer on the side, I went to the back of the plane. There Bob O., the white-haired dad-turned-english teacher-in-China-turned-flight-attendant and I got into some interesting conversation about being a flight steward. He told me how flight attendants commute and we talked about hub-and-spoke routing system which, he said, is unfamiliar outside the United States. With the thought that another person is sharing with my seat anyway, I decided to stay close to the aft galley where I chatted with Bob and his fellow attendant for almost an hour until the captain asked us to get ready for the landing that happened 15 minutes after on re-designated runway 27L, now runway 28.
Albeit the delay, we touched down in snowy ORD at 1:12 PM, which was 12 minutes earlier than the scheduled 1:24 PM arrival. My flight to San Francisco was scheduled to leave at 5:00 PM and that gave me enough time to spend with my family relatives that reside in Chicago. I took an airtrain ride out of the terminal and had lunch at the international terminal with them. Two hours gone by quickly and it was time for me to get back to terminal 1.
On the airtrain, I was able to spot some aircraft and took photos of them.
The airtrain stopped twice, on terminals 3 and 2 and I got off on United Airlines terminal 1. After the TSA checkpoint, that ran smoothly and fast, I took an escalator that goes downward and walked on an underground walkway that connects to concourse C and looked for my flight for San Francisco.
United Aircraft N539UA, operating flight UA907 on the 2nd of January sat on gate C23 sporting the grey and blue United livery.
It was 4:30 PM, only after 10 minutes of waiting at the gate when the United personnel called for boarding. As soon as seated, I managed to take some photos of nearby and adjacent United Airline birds.
I also happened to see a United Airline bird sporting a "Star Alliance" livery parked on the terminal. However, with the light not working with me so well, I am posting the photo of a similar bird when I spotted her in Denver on my outbound flight (see: FAT-LAX-DEN-PIT On UA Y And F Class Part 1 (by Jasp25 Jan 4 2008 in Trip Reports) )
We pushed out of the gate per scheduled, taxied to runway 32L, took off and climbed to flight level 340 heading west to California and up to flight level 360 after about an hour enroute. It was a late afternoon departure and the view from my seat of the setting sun was stunning. It was almost like an indigo, saffron, and crimson painting with the sun that looked like a perfect circular bisque against the western horizon. As we crossed timezones towards the Pacific, it almost seemed like we were chasing the dusk from its transition to darkness. Until finally, the sun gave up every bit of its beauty as night time came.
Some pretzels were served and I also purchased a $5 snackbox. I got a RightBite box which had a hand towelette to disinfect your hands, crackers, low-fat lemon-pepper tuna medley, raisins, hummus dip, pita chips and mini toblerone chocolate. The snackbox was I think the healthiest snack available and it was worth the $5. Sitting in a cramped B752 aircraft on a 4-hour flight was boring. An hour in the flight, I excused myself passed a couple that sat right next to me and without anything nice to see outside my window, I told them that I could switch to an aisle seat to give them privacy and more legroom for me.
Somewhere during the flight, a flight attendant asked me if I wanted anything to drink and I asked for a cup of coffee, then only to be told that I should ask the other attendant for it. Also, at one point when I asked the same flight attendant for water, she told me that I have to wait until they do the beverage service which happened 10-15 minutes after. Strangely, when I went to stretch my legs in the aft galley, the same flight attendant was there, was reading a book, and gave me a forced smile, she then went on the PA and asked everyone to sit down. I thought it was very ironic - was she just pissy? was she having a bad day? or she's just unfriendly towards me?
Anyway, the flight went from boring to irritating when a few months old baby started crying non-stop almost all the way to San Francisco. We landed in runway 28L in SFO around 7:30 PM and docked at gate 82. With only about 40 minutes more to spare before my 8:25 PM departure to FAT, I wasted no time to look for my gate for my flight to Fresno.
Flight 5528, operated by United Express/Skywest, started boarding at gate 77a at 7:50 PM for an 8:25 PM departure. That flight was on an Emb120 prop-plane that had less than 30 passengers. Everybody boarded at 8:00 PM and we left the gate at 8:05, 15 minutes ahead of schedule. We taxied to runway 28L, took off, and with the rattling sound of the propeller and the fuselage, and with a few bumps, we headed southwards to Fresno. At 11A, the spectacular view of the bay area could be seen on a clear, fogless night as our tiny plane climb to its assigned cruise altitude for a 50-minute 159-nautical mile flight. I wish I had pictures but darkness did not work well with my camera. Soon beverages were served by our friendly flight attendant. Sometimes, curiousity and being silly get on me. I wondered what happens if I press the button between the overhead lights switches, so I pressed the red attendant button thinking that it will just light up, just like how it is on jets. To my embarrassment, a loud and familiar "ding" sound reverberated in the cabin instinctly followed by me saying a loud "whooops" as our flight attendant stood up and checked who did it. At least a couple of people looked towards where I sat as I disguised myself as reading a magazine.
Having my body been pressurized and de-pressurized for the third time now, tiredness and the thought and excitement to be in the comfort of my own bed began to sank in. Our aircraft landed an hour and ten minutes after leaving the gate in San Francisco and it felt so good to be back on firm ground after all the flying that I did.
I went to pick up my checked-in baggage and found out that one of my friends that was going back from Manila was flying in on the later flight, but had his checked-thru baggage, from Philippine airlines, in our flight. I left the airport feeling tired and weak but with lots of fun from the trip that I had just did.
As I walked out of the baggage claim area, I told myself . . . come January 17th, and you'll do the same thing again . . . and only if I could answer my own self, I would have said, . . . all I need is only at least a day and a half in-between and I'm willing to do the same thing all over again.
Thanks for reading my trip report!
Happy new year!
Part 1: FAT-LAX-DEN-PIT On UA Y And F Class Part 1 (by Jasp25 Jan 4 2008 in Trip Reports)
[Edited 2008-01-08 01:48:27]
[Edited 2008-01-08 02:03:31]