Before everyone gets their hopes up on an IAD to PEK trip report, this is actually a domestic capital to capital trip report. I flew AUS-DEN-ORD-SPI-ORD-AUS on UA--the capital of Texas to the capital of Illinois. I enjoy UA service and because I wasn't feeling well earlier in the week, I decided to upgrade my flights up to SPI. It was a pretty good use of 15,000 miles. I purposely booked my trip through DEN because of the internationally configured planes between DEN and ORD. I hope everyone enjoys the trip report.
After waking up really early and having a McDonald's breakfast with my girlfriend, I headed out to Austin Bergstrom International Airport. Parking prices recently went up from $6 to $7/day, but it is okay because my new company will be paying for all of my travel expenses. This trip is to find an apartment in the soybean capital of the world, Decatur, Illinois. I recently accepted a job at one of the main companies in Decatur.
Once I parked and got inside the terminal, I headed to the United Mr. Chicken. The Chicken wasn't cooperative and wouldn't give me my ticket, so I had to see an agent in the First and Premier line. I was happy that I upgraded because the non premium line was about 20 people long. Unfortunately, I lost Premier in February, but I might get it back this year because I will be doing the long distance relationship thing, and the double EQM promotion that they have going on will help also. The agent was able to quickly print out my tickets and told me that all my upgrades cleared, but ORD-SPI only is Economy. After making it through security and picking up a Wall Street Journal, I waited for my 8 am flight.
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
Equipment: Boeing 737-500
As usual about 20 people lined up before the gate agent called pre-boarding. Many of them weren't Premier, Global Services, or First class customers, so everyone had to cut in front of them. I made my way to seat 2D and made myself comfortable. After general boarding started, the first FA came by to ask for our pre-flight drinks. Since I already had one coffee this morning, I asked for just ice water. It is nice that United uses actual glasses in First these days. The last time I flew in DL domestic first we got plastic cups. Thumbs up for United!
I also asked if Ch. 9 would be working today. He told me that with the way things are going these days, probably not. I told him currently it was just country, and my seatmate joked that was probably the tower here in Austin. Unfortunately, it stayed on XM Country through the entire flight. I really don't see how turning off Ch. 9 is a way of showing management that pilots should get more money. We took off from AUS on time. Within a couple of minutes after reaching cruising altitude, the flight attendant came by to refill our drinks and ask us what we would like for breakfast. Because I already ate a large breakfast, I declined the omelet and chose the fruit and cheese platter.
I really have to say how much I like the United domestic First class seats, I find them extremely comfortable. They are still cloth, and I like this over the recent push to make all seats "leather" (vinyl). United domestic First is really worth the E-500's, CR-1's, or 15,000 miles in my opinion, especially if you have a couple of long flights. I have scoliosis and after a long air trip, my back often hurts, especially if I'm flying on those near bleacher seats of a regional jet. My back didn't hurt at all after all my flights today.
It was pretty enjoyable and pretty comparable to what you receive for breakfast on European flights. As we got closer to Denver, the weather started to deteriorate and we had a lighting strike about 10 minutes out from Denver. People were pretty shook up, but this wasn't my first lightning strike, so it wasn't all that bad. The FA came on the PA to let everyone know she talked to the captain and everything was normal. Since we were on final approach, I assume this wasn't totally the truth because the cockpit is supposed to be sterile at this point. We had a nice smooth landing and made our way to the United terminal in Denver. Another reason I did AUS-DEN-ORD-SPI was because my dad was going to be in Denver at the same time, and I had plenty of time to leave security and see him. So after deplaning, I went outside of security and we talked for about 2 hours about chemical engineering and aviation stuff. It was nice to see him.
Afterwards, I made my way through premium security in Denver. Premium security in Denver isn't too special because it is just a separate line to have your ticket checked. Often times you will be able to get through normal security quicker because they have more TSA agents looking at tickets. Because I was making my way at around 11:30am, there was no line anywhere. I headed back out to the United terminal after I made my way through security. You have to get a picture of this for any DEN based trip report.
Once I made it to the gate, I was disappointed to see that we had an equipment substitution from a 777 to a 767 and a 30 minute delay. I hoped that it was still going to be an internationally configured plane. Once the 767 showed up it had ETOPS on the side, so I was slightly relieved. I didn't even check to see my ticket until after I boarded and noticed that I was in 6A, which means UA already knew when I checked in back in AUS that there would be an equipment substitution since there are no business class seats on a 777 in row 6. The newly configured 777s will have a business class seat in row 6.
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
Equipment: Boeing 767-300 (WW1)
The flight attendant was quick in getting us pre-flight drinks. I ordered ice water again. He also was on alert to stop economy class passengers from cutting through the middle of C class to the other aisle of the plane. A couple of passengers tried, and he thoroughly reamed them out. The weather cleared out of the area fairly quickly, and it was already sunny by the time we took off.
It seemed like no one had any headsets, including me, because the flight attendant went around seeing if anyone had any they weren't using. I wasn't too disappointed because I figured it was a lost cause to try and listen to Ch. 9. I just set my PTV to Airshow. Before no time meal service began. A flight attendant came by with a hot towel before the meal service. Today they were serving a chicken salad, and I decided to have white wine with it.
The guy next to me was pretty funny. He didn't order anything for the entire flight except a diet Coke. Pretty soon after take off he pulled out huge easel based post it notes and started to transcribe them on his laptop. After lunch, I decided to put my seat in full recline and sleep a little bit. As we got closer to ORD, things got a little bumpy even though we were in a fairly large plane.
Because of the 45 minute delay in DEN, connections were pretty tight in ORD. We came into Concourse C in ORD. I ran toward the F bus at the other end of the Concourse, because boarding was going to begin in 5 minutes. Luckily, the bus was just about to leave, and I didn't have to wait a single minute for another bus to leave.
Once I got to the gate in the F concourse, I saw there was a delay and no rushing was necessary. I talked to a woman that was sitting next to me and she was saying she should have just driven down to Springfield because she got to the airport around 2pm. Our flight didn't leave until 6pm because it was delayed leaving OMA.
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
Equipment: Embraer ERJ-145
Once we pulled back from the gate a big rainstorm moved in and we had to wait another 30 minutes before we could takeoff. The woman next to me was claustrophobic and was kind of nervous as we waited. Once I saw a UA 757 takeoff, I knew we were about to go. After a couple of planes ahead of us took off, we were ready to go. The pilot held on the brakes as he throttled up to gain some thrust because it was still raining and the wind might not have been behaving that well. This had to be one of the bumpiest flights I ever had. We were vectoring past many storm clouds the entire time. I passed the time by doing a puzzle.
We landed in SPI in no time. One of the nice things about SPI over BMI is the fact they use jetbridges for the regional jets. I will probably try and fly out of SPI over BMI for all of my flights because of this and the fact that it is easier to get to from Decatur.
After spending two full days looking for housing in Decatur I made my way back to SPI. I returned my rent-a-car and headed to the UA check in. There are no Mr. Chickens in SPI, so a CSR had to check me in. He offered me a $29 upgrade to Economy Plus on my ORD-AUS flight that I declined. I had no seat assignment before getting to the airport, and I received an Economy Plus flight anyway. The seats on an RJ a crappy all the way around, so I figured it wasn't worth any money to me.
Friday, May 9, 2008
Equipment: Embraer ERJ-145
Once I made it past security I checked my AT&T Tilt to see where our plane was because it should have been there already. Because of "Crew Scheduling" it wasn't around yet. There was no UA agent around or any electronic signage to let people know what was going on, so I was the source of updates for people waiting around me.
The flight originally began boarding around an hour late, but the turn around time was about 15 minutes! Well done SPI rampers! The flight up to ORD was fairly uneventful, and much smoother than the flight down a couple of days ago. There was some great cloud formations on this flight. I always love flying around this time of day.
Once I made it to ORD I made a quick trip to the McDonalds in the F concourse because our flight was on time.
Friday, May 9, 2008
Equipment: Bombardier CRJ-700
This was a pretty uneventful flight and I pretty much just read pdfs on my laptop the entire time. I must comment that I was a little disappointed with the cushioning on the seats of this plane. It was sub par for an "Ex Plus" experience in my opinion. I flew in first on one of the first ERJ-170s, but don't remember if they are comparable to the first class seats on mainline. That is one of my grumbles about regional jet seats—they feel more like bleachers than anything else.
Overall, my United flying experience was very good. It is good to know that UA has a best in class domestic first class product. I was fairly pleased with my use of 15,000 miles and I can't wait to see the new international product once it rolls out to more planes.