Route: Richmond-Int. (Byrd Field) - Charlotte-Douglas Int.
Airline: US Airways
Flight Number: US1173
Aircraft: Airbus A319
Seat: 01C (First Class)
Distance: 256 miles
Route: YEAST1 LYH SUDSY1
Date: Saturday 5th January
Photo © Damon Marcus Lewis
Photo © Paul Barbee
The day began pretty early, fortunately I wasn't on the very first flight of the day to Charlotte, the ungodly 5.55am departure. My flight left at a rather civilized 7.15am so I awoke at 5.30am, took a quick shower and checked the status of my rather complex itinerary. The previous evening I'd found out the Bay Area and Pacific Northwest were getting slammed by a pretty hard storm and I was sure I'd come a cropper somewhere along the line. If my flights were delayed or cancelled then United weren't telling me. I proceeded to the airport as planned, arriving at around 6.30am. There was quite a queue at the regular counters but First Class was empty. I waited for the next agent to become available and was called forward. I got them to add my bmi Diamond Club number into the booking and print out the boarding passes. Something went awry and it would only print my boarding passes as far as Charlotte. The friendly agent smiled once again and nodded her head when I suggested I'd have to visit the gate before my Chicago bound flight to get my boarding pass.
The line for security was short, clearing in just a couple of minutes despite the best efforts of some morons who had no ID or boarding passes to hand and instead had to open that secret pocket on their rucksack to retrieve them. I got to the gate at 6.40am and a small crowd was ready for boarding to begin. I took a seat and retrieved my book and mp3 player to speed up boarding. Pre-boards were taken care of before the boarding process explained. Nevertheless every passenger due to board this A319 rushed the gate and as First Class was called I had to excuse myself through the gate lice in order to hand over my boarding pass. I was one of the first on and saw that someone was in my seat. Turned out that I'd snaffled Mr 1A's preferred (get it?) seat and he was in automatic mode. He had no problems shuffling over and I sat reading my book, Jeremy Clarkson's 'And Another Thing' as the rest of the plane boarded. A quick look round and it seemed that with the exception of my seatmate I was the youngest in the cabin by about 129 years. It really was a 'ready to die retirement home' crowd in First Class today. The guy behind me obviously needed a new Duracell for his hearing aid as he and his wife were discussing their cruise from San Juan at such a rate that if the PA system were to fail he could have made a great back up.
The crew were congregated in the galley welcoming passengers onboard, now I don't fly US Airways that much so I'm not sure if one of the crew was sporting a new uniform or if he was just dressing down for the occasion. He was wearing what seemed to be a uniform of black jacket and white shirt but with no tie. It looked quite bizarre and reminded me of how we used to 'rebel' against the uniform regulations at school. He then took to the PA system (which worked so no need for Mr. 2C to intervene) and proceeded to tell us about a special offer for us passengers on this flight today. I'd last flown US Airways from SFO-PIT back in September and had seen enough credit card hawking to last a life time. I'm not sure if this was worse, the very infomercial way it was presented and the crew then went down the aircraft offering applications to passengers. Sooo cheap.
After that little episode was over pre-flight drinks were arranged. I asked for a coffee as did my seatmate but some behind were obviously being a little more exotic. I heard mention of Glenlivet amongst other hard liqour! The coffee was presented in a polystyrene cup, I was a little surprised but then this is the new US Airways, even their stock market ticker symbol is LCC!
Coffee in First Class...US Airways style
We pushed back on time and were informed that we had a ten minute wait to takeoff, this was corrected a couple of minutes later and we taxi to runway 16 for a very sporty and sprightly takeoff. The view wasn't too great, not only because of my aisle seat but because the windows seemed very fogged up and dirty. There were lots of twists and turns during our ascent and at 10,000ft the screens from above come down for more advertising, this time informing us of the delights of Atlantis. The audio was piped through the PA for several minutes. Delightful. It was played at a pretty intrusive level to the extent where I became distracted from my reading!
We leveled out at 28,000ft and another drinks round was made and once again I get a coffee. My seatmate takes a nap and the crew almost follow suit, taking their seats in the galley and chatting. We get above the clouds and it is surprisingly bright. I'm hoping to get another coffee and lean round to try and get someone's attention but with no luck. It was tempting to hit the call bell but from Row 1 with the crew just feet away that seemed ridiculous! Eventually I leaned forward and an 'excuse me' achieved the desired result.
The cabin fell quiet as the Cranium quiz showed on the screens above, lots of useless trivia, just the stuff I live for but I was quite enjoying my book and decided to keep my head buried in it.
Top ups on the drinks were offered as the descent into Charlotte began. All items were cleared away as we almost glided in. Connecting gate information was announced which takes up several minutes, with many passengers heading onwards to the Caribbean, Mexico, and erm Chicago (yep, me!). We arrived onto runway 23 and taxi straight into the gate, one of the fastest touchdowns to gate ever!
I was one of the first off and checked the monitors just ahead of the gate; you never can rely on the announcements onboard, even if United fly from the same gates at Charlotte all the time A quick visit to the gents (with its own personal attendant like one of those nightclubs where a guy comes up to you with mouthwash and cologne!) and down to the middle of the airport for a short walk to gate A4 where my Chicago flight was due to depart in a while.
The gate agent was dealing with a couple of passengers who seemed intent on upgrading to First Class on this flight. The fact there were no seats available didn't seem to faze this guy who was trying to play the big shot with his wife. Another woman in front of me suddenly jumped in, asking the gate agent about her flight to Washington. Despite much arguing she was clearly on the US Airways codeshare flight which was due to leave in about five minutes ago. (That's not a cock-up, she was really late!) A stream of blue language later and she was running off to the gate somewhere else! Now back to the upgrade-you-wants..It was quite funny when he handed over his blue Mileage Plus General Member card and then struggled to get even an Economy Plus seat! After a few minutes waiting the GA was ready to help me out. She had no problems printing up my CLT-ORD boarding pass and I make my way to the US Airways Club at the end of Concourse C.
The US Airways Club at Concourse C and the view
It certainly felt like a proper hub lounge, with grand reception, high ceilings and a large amount of seating. Unfortunately the food offerings weren't much better than the standard US Club fayre. I managed to squeeze a hot chocolate concoction from perhaps the most complex hot beverage machine ever created and teamed it up with a yoghurt before finding a quiet window seat down the end of the lounge. When I took my seat I realized I'd neglected to ask for my ORD-PDX boarding pass. With only a forty minute connection at O'Hare I really did need this one. Boarding was due to start at 9.30am so I headed back to the gate around ten minutes previous to that.
Route: Charlotte-Douglas Int. - Chicago-O'Hare Int.
Airline: United Airlines
Flight Number: UA345
Aircraft: Boeing 737-322
Seat: 02D (First Class)
Distance: 599 miles
Route: HOR2 NALEY FLM J24 BIGXX MZZ ROYKO2
Duration: 1hr 48mins
Date: Saturday 5th January
Photo © Adam Wright
Photo © Michael F. McLaughlin
Thanks to a helpful gate agent I had boarding passes as far as Oregon in hand and so took a seat opposite the gate, popped a Chloraseptic for my sore throat and waited for the flight to board. It wasn't long before the first announcement was made. The Red Carpet boarding system is very efficient and certainly aids the boarding process for those in premium cabins and elite passengers. For those that aren't familiar with it, First Class, United 1K and Global Services passengers are asked to board first. Then the gate agent boards by zones as they regularly would. However, the red carpet lane is left open for any of the aforementioned passengers to use at any time during boarding so they don't have to wait in the regular line. It seems to be well policed and utilized on all mainline United flights I've taken in the last nine months or so.
For some minutes I was the only passenger in F, with many filing through to the main cabin. Mr 2C joined me although the rest of the cabin was empty almost up until departure. A family of four occupied all of row one, with their daughters in 1C & D ahead of me. They obviously seemed quite accustomed with United's international premium product, even at the age of around ten, asking the flight attendant where the lamps in the seat were. It seemed the fifth member of their family was traveling in the hold on this flight as they were very excited when they spotted their box being loaded on the ramp below. I was just waiting for a baggage handler to accidentally drop a 400lb crate of mail on the animal's cage right in front of the adoring children!
First Class was full by this time and plastic cups of pre-flight drinks we handed out on a tray, choice of orange juice or water and I went for the latter. It was something to sup on whilst I read my book and the final preparations were made for an on time departure which bode well for my short Chicago connection.
Pre-flight beverage and in-flight entertainment
We taxied round to 18R and the captain announced that we were number ten in line to takeoff but that we were still due in on time right at 11.15am. I watched as we inched up the taxiway and from my starboard window the occasional whoosh and flash of a jet go by on the opposite side of the plane. As we turned onto the end of the taxiway it appeared as though 18R was operating for both arrivals and departures today and we got a pretty good view of several aircraft approaching at close range.
US Airways 757 on approach into Charlotte
Departure from Charlotte was quite interesting with a rather rapid bank round to the west and then north, offering great views of the airport we'd just departed from and the city of Charlotte just beyond that. The weather seemed to have cleared up a little, especially at lower altitudes and we had a great view of Lake Norman below.
Charlotte-Douglas Int. Airport & Lake Norman
The drinks service started up once again (still plastic cups) with top ups offered along with some bags of that nut mix stuff to nibble on. Once at cruise altitude I got up from my seat, not really helped by the fact both the girls in front had reclined their seats as far as they'd go and the guy in 2C was quite chubby and didn't want to get up from his seat!!
One of the few spots where the cloud cleared
Up at cruise altitude there were a few clear spots where we could see mountains below but it was pretty much blanket cover with not much to see. There was some mild turbulence that warranted the seatbelt sign being switched on so I just read my book and reclined, taking advantage of my bigger seat.
First Class cabin aboard this 737
Time ticked on and we seemed no nearer our destination. At 10.45am Chicago time we still seemed to be up at cruise altitude with no signs of descent and my connection seemed doomed, we did begin to descend, only to hear the engines spool up again and we climbed. Time ticked on and I was considering quite how I was going to salvage my itinerary if I missed this Portland flight. My heart was racing somewhat, I knew this was going to be cutting it close but I was just praying the gods were looking down on me this one time! Just as I resigned myself to a missed connection and a trip to the Red Carpet Club to figure out how to sort this out the captain asked flight attendants to prepare for landing. This seemed like it was the eleventh hour, literally, it was 11am ( ) and the Portland flight was due to pushback in less than an hour. The 737's shadow on the clouds below grew larger and we were enveloped for a few minutes until the snow covered Chicago suburbs appeared below on our final approach onto 27R.
Snowy Chicago suburbs
I told my seatmate I was on a tight schedule and asked if it was OK for me to leap out as soon as the seatbelt sign went off and he seemed happy to comply. Now for the taxi! We went south down the west side of the C concourse, only to turn around and head back north up the west side of the C concourse, round the top end and taxi down between the two concourses docking up at gate B1 right at the very end. I became that annoying person to leap out of their seat as soon as the seatbelt sign ding was made and was up by 1L in about a tenth of a second. Once the gate agent had opened the door I dashed up the jetway checked the departure boards and noticed, much to my chagrin I'd got to get to gate C23. With about twenty five minutes until departure I put my imaginary running spikes on and sprinted half the length of concourse B like something out of the movies. I could almost imagine the steadicam hovering just off the floor behind me, with a close shot of my feet dancing my way between other passengers. I was tempted to slide down the banister into the underground walkway to save time but opted against it. I made a decision to avoid the moving walkways because of dawdlers blocking the way and sprinted down the edge. I manage to keep up the pace until about two thirds of the way to the stairs up into the C Concourse and walked the rest in order to avoid killing myself. I used to be pretty fit and a seven mile run three times a week wouldn't bother me but put me in some loafers with no grip, a sweater, add four years of no exercise and a black carry on bag and I'm as good as useless! As I breathe heavily on the escalator up into the airy space above I look down the concourse. C23 isn't too far away and a sizeable crowd is still round the gate. I have time to freshen up before taking advantage of the moving walkway to get to the gate. Despite the efforts of yet more dawdlers blocking the walkway (Can these people read? Have no common sense? Just stupid?) I get to the gate and just as I come to a stop the first boarding announcement is made. Perfect timing!
Route: Chicago-O'Hare Int. - Portland-Int.
Airline: United Airlines
Flight Number: UA673
Aircraft: Airbus A319-131
Seat: 02A (First Class)
Distance: 1739 miles
Route: PLL PLL275065 MCW J16 PDT BONVL5
Duration: 3hr 50mins
Date: Saturday 5th January
Photo © Botterman Bram
Photo © Vasanth Dharmarajan
Once again the excellent Red Carpet boarding is announced, although unlike at Charlotte we already had people standing in the lane waiting to board! Off on a little tangent here...I've taken more than my usual amount of United flights this year and have noticed a rather odd phenomena on a pretty regular basis. The red carpet line does actually have a small patch of red carpet, surrounded on three sides by tensa barrier. but the lane is closed off at one end until boarding is announced. Usually though you'll see a number of eligible passengers will decide to make the red carpet their home and for quite some time! In September my wife and I connected through Dulles and walked past our gate on the way to the Red Carpet Club with about thirty minutes until the flight boarded. There were already people waiting for our flight standing on the red carpet just going about their business; reading the newspaper, making phone calls, even working on their laptops! It is pretty hilarious and almost defeats the point of the red carpet boarding itself. Why not take a seat and go about your business, then when boarding is announced get up and make your way to it. It isn't as if the flight has non-assigned seating or anything! The whole point of this boarding process is that you can turn up at the gate at any time and not worry about lining up behind a hundred other people! Anyways...
I followed another passenger down the jetway who turned out to be my seatmate, a bohemian looking, weird-beard woman in her late fifties. I unpacked a few items and decided to listen to my mp3 player instead of reading. My winter ailments that were playing me up at the beginning of the day were beginning to take their toll after my cross airport run and I was really in the need for some water! Pre-flight drinks were once again handed around and I take a glass of the clear stuff. My seatmate must have been new to First Class travel as she said, 'My friend told me to get a mimosa, since I'm traveling First Class'. I didn't quite catch the purser's response but she didn't get one so I'm not sure if she was rebuffed until takeoff or quite what.
A water to get me started
As boarding was finished up an announcement was made to say our departure will be delayed as the APU wasn't functioning and that we were waiting for an air truck. Apparently it was getting hot down the back. With the newly announced delay all my hard work seemed a little pointless and as we sat there I figured I could have probably leopard crawled my way to the gate and still made the flight! The purser started in row 1 asking for our lunch choices, it seemed there was either a turkey sandwich or chicken breast. By the time he got to me (fifth person to be asked) they were out of turkey sandwiches and it was chicken or go hungry. At least I didn't have to make a decision! I was also asked about my post takeoff beverage and picked a Heineken.
We pushed back at 12.05pm and taxied round to join the lengthy queue for a 27L departure. The line stretched as far back as the United Express concourses and there were planes as far as I could see. It was announced we were number ten in line but I knew that wasn't the case, unless I'd developed double vision during boarding. The mention that it'd fifteen minutes to departure seemed exceptionally optimistic.
The wait for departure from Chicago O'Hare on this busy Saturday afternoon
As I suspected about thirty minutes later the FAs were asked to prepare for takeoff and we were now apparently number four in line. During this time weird-beard woman had decided to take a nap...on the drinks table thing separating the seats with her scraggly hair falling into my lap. Delightful. A few movements ensured hair was sufficiently tugged (by accident, your honour!) and she sat up.
Departure from runway 27L at Chicago O'Hare
At 1pm we were up in the air, and through the thick cloud enveloping this part of the country and back into bright blue sky. I fired up my mp3 player once again and opted for an old favourite Global Underground mix.
From up here you'd never guess down below it was gloomy and grey
Despite our late departure from Chicago it transpired we'd only be into Portland thirty minutes late, something was certainly in our favour, whether it be winds or a nicely padded schedule I'm not sure. The movie was announced as being, 'December Boys' and we were asked to close our window blinds. Sigh. Another annoyance. I can understand that some might want to watch a film and there might be glare on the screen but I pick a window seat because my inflight entertainment is most often the view from the window. I closed my forward blind but the one right beside my seat I only closed about a third. My seatmate, naturally, asked me to close it as she couldn't see and I complied. There were problems with the sound on the movie after only a couple of minutes that forced a restart. She went to the bathroom during this so I leaned over to see it from her perspective; there were no problems so I kept the window open a touch so we were both happy. No more was said
The First Class cabin onboard the Airbus A319
About forty minutes into the flight and that staple of American carriers First Class cabins, the hot nuts, were brought out along with our requested beverages and tablecloths. Fifteen minutes later and we had our proper meals.
Tomato and red pepper soup with chicken breast salad and honey mustard sauce
The soup was pretty tasty, my taste buds were a little worse for wear due to my sore throat and general winter malaise but I'm sure it was a mixture of red pepper and tomato in there. Very nice it was too. The chicken breast with honey mustard was alright, the breast meat was a little low rent but it was edible enough and served well as lunch. The purser was doing a good job at keeping everyone topped up on the drinks front, to the extent where I had to ask him to ease up a little! Once the meals were cleared away I was asked if I wanted a warm cookie fresh from the oven. Yes please! I'm not sure what it is about cookies but they just taste so good when warm and soft. I'd had some a couple of weeks before on a BA Club World Sleeper Service flight that tasted almost divine when teamed up with some hot chocolate.
Warm chocolate chip cookie and Heineken
I folded my tray table in half with my Heineken now resting on my tablecloth and reclined the seat a little, now listening to some classic Paul van Dyk mixes that I'd neglected over the last couple of years. Weird-beard woman decided to relax too. Her way of doing it was a little more odd. She was quite short but opted to put one leg on top of the seat in front and another in between the two seats so it was poking through the gap almost onto the drinks table between the seats!! Now watching the movie she had some weird fleece thing on her head that she wore but only while the headphones were on. Truly bizarre.
With the movie over 'NBC on United' started up but I was happy just looking out of the window, there was some pretty spectacular scenery down below. The young lad with his father in 1A and 1B had his DSLR out and was snapping away below. Behind him I was attempting a similar thing on the cheap with my point and shoot!
A few snaps out of the window from this flight
We began our descent into a slightly gloomy looking Portland with a great view of ships navigating the Columbia River, the airport and the city of Portland below.
The Columbia River on descent into Portland
We made a steep descent followed by a 180 turn and came down on approach for runway 10L. We got a nice view of Pearson field whilst right on final approach including some light aircraft traffic that seemed to be operating from there.
The Washington side of the Columbia
We had a short wait to pull into our gate and before long we were off into the terminal and I kept an eye out for the Red Carpet Club so I could get my onward boarding passes. The agent in the RCC said my flight looked pretty delayed and that I might miss my connection at SFO. I had a nice buffer in place at LAX for my connection to the redeye and with plenty of flights between SFO and LAX I wasn't too worried. It seemed there was conflicting information as to whether the flight to San Francisco was delayed or not and a quick call down to the gate and it was all settled. I got my boarding passes as far as Washington-Dulles and was advised to head down to the gate in a few minutes.
The Red Carpet Club at Portland
I grabbed a glass of water and some snacks from a near empty RCC before making my way to the gate.
Route: Portland-Int. - San Francisco-Int.
Airline: United Airlines
Flight Number: UA1171
Aircraft: Boeing 737-322
Seat: 02A (First Class)
Distance: 550 miles
Route: EASON Q1 PYE
Duration: 1hr 21mins
Date: Saturday 5th January
Photo © Nathan Zalcman - AirTeamImages
Photo © Mike Primamore
The flight appeared to be slightly delayed and the gate agent was busy shifting people around onboard, at least a dozen people were called forward. One idiot did his best to disrupt the gate agent's work by trying to get a seat assignment changed on a completely different flight that was departing a few gates down the concourse. I try to wonder what goes through someone's mind when they notice a flight is just about to board and decide, 'I know what, I'm going to interrupt this guy right at a stressful time and they tell him what I think of him when he asks me to see someone else'.
Once the gate agent was done re-seating those passengers, at 3.40pm he makes the announcement for red carpet boarding and a couple of people board with me but go down to the main cabin. The flight attendant seemed surprised to see me and asked if we'd snuck through!
The First Class cabin on this 737
I was offered a drink and took another glass of water. I unpacked my mp3 player and camera and took a look out the window where a couple of United Express and Skywest prop jobs were boarding before taxiing to the runway.
The view from 02A
The flight crew seemed like they were just waiting for us to board and get on their way and I did consider asking for a tour of the cockpit to pass the time but decided against it. The purser took a seat and read a magazine as we waited for the rest of the passengers to arrive. About ten minutes after I originally boarded another couple of people arrived and then boarding continued. The 8 seat First Class cabin was once again full, this time with two deadheading crew, one in 2B beside me and another in 2D. My seatmate seemed pretty keen on sleeping right from the off. We were offered another drink and the captain gave an update on the situation. Due to weather in San Francisco the FAA had a flow control system in operation and we had a scheduled departure time of 4.37pm (to be exact) with a 4.15pm push back to fit in with this. I decided to put on my non noise cancelling earphones (wearing an electronic device whilst sitting next to an FA seemed daft! Even if she was asleep ) and tuned in to Channel 9 as I assumed the FAA flow control would make it quite an interesting flight. Unfortunately it seemed as though there was a problem with the volume as it was just so damn loud I tried turning the volume down with little effect and resorted to pulling my headphone jack out so it was only half in the socket. Alas this didn't quite cut the mustard. I thought maybe my Bose QC2 headphones on low setting would remedy the issue so switched them around so the on/off light was facing the window and listened in as we taxied to runway 10R. As we were a little early for our 1637 allotted departure we sat back and listened as ATC gave permission for several aircraft to land including a couple of the smallest FedEx aircraft I've ever seen! I'm guessing they were Cessna Caravans or the like. I didn't realise the FedEx fleet was so diverse!
After takeoff we turned to the south and ascended through the thick cloud and into a beautiful pink sky. I decided my ears had had enough erratic blasting for one day and attached my headphones to my mp3 player for some more Paul van Dyk mixes.
Climbing away from Portland, San Francisco bound
The flight deck announced we were due for a 1hr 26min flying time today and that currently SFO were operating a quite inefficient arrivals process but hoped that would change by the time we arrived in the Bay Area.
Sustinence for our 1hr 21min flight to the Bay Area
Hot nuts and drinks were handed out and once I again I chose Heineken. The cruise portion of the flight was pretty uneventful. I did think for one minute we were going to get something more substantial than nuts. I'd read reports on Flyertalk that some of these shorter afternoon flights (PDX-SFO was specifically mentioned) would get some food, just a fruit plate or the like. Alas it was just a crew meal being prepared! It was up to us to provide our own entertainment in between drinks top ups and I decided just to recline and enjoy the music watching the sun set. Just before descent into SFO hot towels were handed out which was a nice touch and something I was surprised we didn't get on the ORD-PDX midcon.
As we descended into SFO the outside of the aircraft was lashed by rain, this was especially evident when every individual drop was lit up by the lights on the wing. We had a really odd approach into SFO, maybe this was the inefficient approach the flightcrew were referring to. We flew west of the city and Golden Gate heading south, then turned and flew north with the Golden Gate on our port side before turning once more and arriving onto runway 19L.
Spot the Golden Gate Bridge
We docked up at gate 75 and I had time to pop into the Red Carpet Club briefly and get a cup of water before walking down to gate 82 for my LAX bound flight.
Route: San Francisco-Int. - Los Angeles-Int.
Airline: United Airlines
Flight Number: UA249
Aircraft: Boeing 757-222
Seat: 03D (First Class)
Distance: 337 miles
Route: PORTE3 AVE SADDE6
Date: Saturday 5th January
Photo © Rudy Chiarello
Photo © Sam Chui
Just as I arrived at the gate the red carpet boarding announcement was made (my timing was right on for this trip so far!) and a small group of people approached the gate, with some of our daft friends already waiting on the red carpet!
First Class was very empty on this flight, of the 24 seats in the cabin there were five passengers plus three deadheading crew but economy looked pretty full.
The First Class cabin on this short 757 flight to LAX
When I took a similar timed SFO-LAX flight back in November, again on a 757, there were only about thirty people on the aircraft, a handful in First and a group of Japanese students right at the back of the main cabin! On this particular flight I had a whole row to myself, both sides of the aisle, so I spread out a little
A pre-flight Coke
Drinks were offered and I opted for a Coke with ice to accompany the continuation of the Paul van Dyk mixes. We pushed back at 7.10pm and were asked what post takeoff drinks we'd like and once again I opt for a Heineken. As we taxied round to runway 10L we could see the aircraft approaching SFO in the flow control pattern I'd experienced an hour or so earlier. As per usual it was a pretty sporty takeoff, even by 757 standards and it was up through the driving rain to a cruise altitude of 33,000ft. Our drinks were delivered along with untold amounts of the premium snack mix. I could barely eat one packet and was saving room for In-N-Out when I landed at LAX.
As per the PDX-SFO flight not very much happened during the flight itself. The other passengers were a bit of a mix. An elderly couple in row 2 who appeared to have arrived from London and were completing the last hop of their longer itinerary, an unaccompanied minor that appeared to be being escorted by someone from United (they were wearing some kind of uniform similar to that of a flight attendant) and a pretty attractive SoCal couple in their forties that were trying to drink the plane dry! I sat back sipping on my Heineken, watching the other air traffic zipping up and down one of the busiest corridors in the country.
It wasn't long before the most enjoyable part of the flight began. Say what you want about Los Angeles but at night it looks quite magnificent from several thousand feet, and this particular approach gives a pretty good tour of the place. Flying east over Santa Monica just south of the Hollywood Hills you then turn over the middle of LA itself and approach from the east. LAX itself stands out since the two runways are about the only dark patch of LA in all directions! You also really do get to appreciate the size of the city at this time, not that you don't during the day but the lights stretch as far as the eye can see, the lights of the boulevards and interstates stretching for miles in all directions.
The urban sprawl of the Los Angeles conurbation
We landed on runway 24R, the wrong side of the airport for arrival into the United terminals and passed round the back of the Tom Bradley Intl Terminal and parked up for a short time. Apparently the previous occupant of our stand was running a bit late but a couple of minutes later and we taxi up to gate 71. I popped into the United Red Carpet Club to get some change from the bartender and then went to catch the Parking Spot bus to In-N-Out. Traffic getting out of LAX at this time was a bit of a nightmare and it took about ten minutes for us to get down to Sepulveda Boulevard.
In-N-Out is always a bit of a treat for me. I'm not quite sure what it is but I just get a craving, usually when I'm on the east coast! Just typing about it now is getting my juices flowing! We have pretty good burger places too, I even think Five Guys burgers are as good as In-N-Out, and my wife prefers them...It was a little cold outside so I sat by the window and watched the approaching aircraft onto 24R until my order was ready. It's quite funny that I recognised quite a few of the staff from my previous visits to this place, even though it's 2300 miles away from where I live
3x3 and Animal Style Fries
Once I was done I chose to brave it outside for a little bit, watching the departures from 24L and the arrivals onto 24R. There were some pretty late departures for flights to Europe including an Air France 777 that produced notably more noise than the other aircraft departing whilst I was there. My last couple of visits had been in the evening and it wasn't quite as interesting as the near constant stream of widebodies I had on my early afternoon October visit. Nevertheless I have a soft spot for the place, good food and an interesting view!
Route: Los Angeles-Int. - Washington-Dulles Int.
Airline: United Airlines
Flight Number: UA214
Aircraft: Boeing 757-222
Seat: 04A (First Class)
Distance: 2288 miles
Route: SLI5 SLI SLI080 HEMET TRM263 TRM PKE J78 DRK J134 STL J110 VHP APE MGW SHAAR SHNON1
Duration: 4hrs 6mins
Date: Saturday 5th January
Photo © Rudy Chiarello
Photo © Rudy Chiarello
At around 10pm I walked back to the Parking Spot and took the bus to the terminal, sharing the ride with a Delta flight attendant. The driver seemed exceptionally concerned about security at LAX and was hoping that the Sheriff's department were going to have the airport under their jurisdiction in the near future, or something!
With my boarding pass in hand already I just went to security. I followed behind a family with a young child and they were allowed to cut right to the front of the line, but the tensa barrier was closed just ahead of me. The line was truly enormous, snaking from the checkpoint area to the United p.s. & International First check-in and back several times. I was really surprised as on my last visit a couple of months back there wasn't any line for security at this time. I asked one of the number of terminal employees if there was a premium or First Class line and they said to follow a red stripe in the carpet. It certainly helped me out a bit but it wasn't properly policed by any means. I ended up waiting about fiteen minutes in the end, but others weren't so lucky, with a constant stream of announcements for Sydney bound passengers it seemed I wasn't the only one caught out by surprise.
After the TSA dressing down I headed to the Red Carpet Club which was due to close in about twenty minutes at 11pm. There were only a handful of passengers in there and everything had been cleared away and closed down. There was no snacks, no hot drinks, not even the water cooler thing was out It really was a waiting room with some nice chairs and CNN International! I put on my mp3 player for a few minutes before taking the five minute walk to Gate 69A just a few minutes before the RCC shut.
The deserted Red Carpet Club at LAX this evening
Terminal 6 is quite a dump, even by LAX standards! Some of the bathrooms were out of order for maintenance and it just felt grim and pretty miserable. I arrived at the gate where neighbours, Virgin America, were also boarding their flight to Dulles. A couple of minutes passed and the first boarding announcement was made and a few other passengers headed for the red carpet. By this time I was flagging a little and looking forward to getting onboard and sleeping. It'd been five flights, 3483 miles and 21 hours and it felt it!
We were welcomed onboard through 2L by a friendly blonde flight attendant who was primed with orange juice and water. Just the ticket before a nap. The First Officer welcomed us aboard flight 214 and noted that they were expecting a full flight today with the usual instructions on how to stow your roll-a-board. At this stage the First Class cabin was around half full and I was still without a neighbour. No more passengers arrived in the First Class cabin so I was surprised when it was announced that we are all onboard and the doors are to be closed. I packed up my mp3 player and raided an empty seat across the aisle for the blanket and pillow. Unfortunately, unlike on AA, the pillows on United's transcontinental flights are those horrible things that feel like you could squash them up into something the size of a golf ball. At least the seat had adjustable wings which helped me find a comfortable spot, however, on both 4A and 4B seats the 'ears' on the left (my preferred side) wouldn't stay in place and I was forced to stuff the gap between the window and the seat with pillows and blankets to create something stable to lean on. For some peculiar reason it didn't spring to my mind to switch to the other empty pair of seats a couple of rows back, also my neighbouring seat had less room to stretch my feet out so I stayed put.
The jetbridge retreated away from the aircraft yet we remained on stand for some time, apparently there weren't many baggage handlers around this evening and we were waiting for them to complete work on the delayed flights before helping us out. Around twenty five minutes after our scheduled departure time the safety demo was played and we felt like we're heading for the off. About a quarter of the way into the tape our flight attendant runs back to the main cabin and the tape is stopped, followed by a rather stern announcement that we should be sitting down and watching the video as a courtesy to our flight attendants. It is rewound and played from the beginning.
I must have been tired because the next thing I'm aware of is that we're in the air! I don't even recall takeoff or taxi! The purser asks if I'd like a small platter of cheese, crackers and fruit and I do accept but promptly fall asleep again! Sorry!
The United First seat on the 757, whilst not the most comfortable way to travel overnight, seems to fare much better than its AA counterpart as I next woke up some forty minutes from Dulles and ten minutes from the top of or descent. The AA 757 seat doesn't have any adjustable headrest and is just a flat leather surface. You have little option but to wedge the (infinitely better) pillow against the window and try your hand that way
Most of the cabin seemed to be awake by this stage and we were offered water and the snack platter once more. During the night I seem to have lost interest and just lay back watching the sun rise ahead of us. We quickly descended through the cloud and landed on runway 12 before taxiing through a wet Dulles to gate C6.
Disembarking was speedy enough with a few weary looking passengers amongst us. Fortunately for me we were just across from one of the Red Carpet Clubs so I nipped in for a few yoghurts and to get my boarding pass to Richmond. Due to the late arrival I finished up my makeshift breakfast pretty quickly and walked down the terminal and waited a couple of minutes for the shuttle to Concourse A to arrive.
Route: Washington-Dulles Int. - Richmond-Int. (Byrd Field)
Airline: United Express Operated by Trans States Airlines
Flight Number: UA7953
Aircraft: Embraer EMB-145LR
Seat: 04C (Single Class)
Distance: 100 miles
Date: Sunday 6th January
Photo © Ralph Duenas - Jetwash Images
Photo © Chris Barrow
There was quite a buzz around Gate A4, pretty standard for this regional jet concourse where you'll find three or four flights boarding simultaneously through the same gate! It turns out I'm one of the last to board my Richmond flight even though I'm there fifteen minutes before pushback. The flight wasn't too full and once again for the third flight in a row I was neighbour free. The first thing that struck me about this aircraft was how filthy the seats were; it appeared as though they were splattered with paint!
The flying time was announced at 23 minutes, and with a cruising altitude of just 7000ft we were informed that there would be no beverage service and that electronics wouldn't be permitted for the duration of the flight. I call the wife to let her know I'm going to be a few minutes early and we then pushback right on time at 8.25am. We taxi round to runway 19L behind a 757, which from a regional jet standpoint is truly enormous. It felt that all was needed was one breath from one of the Pratt & Whitneys and we'd be nose first in the turf beside the taxiway!
As Richmond is due south from Dulles it was pretty much a straight shot after departure. I was treated to a pretty decent view of Dulles as we departed and climbed to cruise altitude which put us just skimming below the clouds.
Looking back at the Dulles concourses after departing from runway 19R
I rather enjoy these short Dulles-Richmond flights as it gives me an opportunity to look out on very familiar territory. Last time I flew right over our house and could see that my wife was running late because her car was still parked up although I was expecting her to pick me up from the airport in about ten minutes! This time, however, our flightpath was a little different. Once we got to Fredericksburg we flew just east of Interstate 95, a road I'm all too familiar with, if only it took me fifteen minutes to drive that stretch! We got a pretty good view of the King's Dominion theme park just north of Richmond, and even from low altitude it looked like a child's toy.
Paramount's King's Dominion at Doswell, VA
And before long it was all over, the middle of Richmond appeared ahead and a couple of minutes later it was down onto runway 20. This enabled a quick taxi to the B concourse that United flights operate from.
For a product labeled as First Class I think there could be some small steps that both United and US Airways could make to ensure a better, more saleable product. Steps have been made recently including the excellent Red Carpet boarding lane and this is a step in the right direction. With the exception of the RIC-CLT flight on US and the SFO-LAX flight the FA's were really rather good, especially the ORD-PDX purser.
The seating is perfectly fine and a much more standardized product than say AA operate. On the latter you really plan your flight timings depending upon which aircraft is going to operate the flight with some aircraft being far superior to others. With United I don't feel much difference whether I fly on a A319, a 757 or a 737, the lack of inflight entertainment on the latter being the only discernible difference. The service itself is something that could be tweaked with real benefits at little cost. Why not offer drinks in a glass before departure, or a mug for hot drinks? It isn't as if it'd cost much to implement since they offer glass in the air already! I thought the meal on ORD-PDX was just about right in terms of quantity and the quality wasn't bad either but why not offer something more substantial on all flights that are more than an hour in length? The CLT-ORD flight was almost 2hrs in length yet we just got a bag of mix. That might be fine for a shorter RIC-CLT length flight but for something right in the breakfast window it didn't really fit the bill. I've heard that on US Airways you don't get fed in First Class unless the flight is at least 4hrs (or 3hrs 30mins I can't remember exactly) in length! That's flying almost the entire way across the continent!
Anyways, it was quite an enjoyable day out, and lucrative too. Plus I got to satisfy my In-N-Out craving once more!