I’ve been meaning to finish and post this trip report for about 5 months, and am just now finding the time. Still, better late than never, right?
To summarize, we (my girl and I) live in Washington, DC, and took a wonderful trip to Asia over New Years 2008. The itinerary between December 24, 2007 and January 6, 2008 looked like this: DCA
. I’ve already posted trip reports for the outbound and inter-Asia flights, which are available at:
DCA-PHL-SFO (with Pics) (by BZNPilot Jan 29 2008 in Trip Reports)
MRY-SFO-HKG On UA (with Pics) (by BZNPilot Feb 2 2008 in Trip Reports)
Manila-Caticlan-Manila For New Years (Pics) (by BZNPilot Jan 24 2008 in Trip Reports)
This posting will therefore cover the only part of the itinerary I hadn’t yet reported on, the homeward-bound flights, HKG
, on January 6. Hope you enjoy!
January 6, 2008
Scheduled Departure: 11:40 am
Actual Departure: 19:21
Scheduled Arrival: 11:49 am
Actual Arrival: 18:57
Actual Flight Time: 13:36
Seats: 44 J/K
Load Factor: 80%
Scheduled Departure: 20:45
Actual Departure: 22:13
Scheduled Arrival: 23:16
Actual Arrival: 00:26
Actual Flight Time: 1:13
Load Factor: 100%
After three wonderful days in Hong Kong (and 2 great weeks in Asia), it was time to fly home to DC…back to reality and work. Our driver picked us up at the hotel, the Excelsior, at 08:00 and whisked us off to the airport. It was a Sunday morning and traffic was very light. We arrived at the terminal around 08:30 and made our way to the United counter.
The regular check-in line was quite long, but the Premier line was pretty short and we were at the desk within 5 minutes. That’s when we heard the bad news. The agent informed us that our 11:40 am flight was delayed until 19:00 that evening because of a “scheduling issue.” I glanced at my watch realized what that meant—about 10.5 hours until takeoff. In addition, the agent explained that the LA
and San Francisco flights were not only full, but also overbooked, and that we had no choice but to wait for the delayed Chicago flight. We went ahead and checked our bags and were given our boarding passes. The agent was about to send us away, when I realized we could probably get some meal vouchers out of the deal, at the very least. I asked and he obliged. We were happy to have them, but I was a bit disappointed in United for not taking the initiative to offer them in the first place. In my opinion, the passenger should not have to ask!
With a whole bunch of time to pass, we had two options: either leave the airport and go do some more sightseeing, or hang out and relax. We still had our carry-on bags, which were quite heavy, plus we exhausted. And after a couple of weeks of non-stop sightseeing, the thought of relaxing seemed rather nice. So, we decided cash in our vouchers for a leisurely breakfast, which took up the better part of an hour.
Next, we headed through security, and into the main terminal. We walked around for a while until we found a day-spa, and my girl decided to get a manicure/pedicure. I hung out and waited. Another hour passed. When she had finished and we were about to leave, the idea struck that I could get a massage. So I did, and I enjoyed every minute of it. And after my massage, we realized that since we had both spent money at the spa, we qualified for discounted tickets to the travelers lounge, a deal that we couldn’t pass up. At this point, I think we still had about 6 hours to go until boarding…
We headed for the lounge—a generic, but still nice—refuge for those of us who aren’t elite passengers, but who have a bunch of time to spare and don’t mind paying for a comfy couch and some finger food. My girl settled in with some tea and snacks and I headed out again to do some spotting. Here’s some pics of what I saw.
And some shots of the inside of the terminal. I really like the architecture of HKG
After scouring the terminal for a couple of hours, I headed back to the lounge to hang out with my girl and grab some food. Another hour or two passed and the sun began to set.
Around 18:00 we decided to head over to the gate. Our aircraft had arrived, and I grabbed a pic of the beauty while it was still light enough to see.
Boarding started a little before 18:30. As the agent scanned our boarding passes, she handed us each an envelope containing a letter apologizing for the delay, as well as a form to fill out to claim a “gift” (no specification, though, about what exactly this gift would be).
Once aboard, we took our seats in 44 J/K on the right-hand side. As we settled in, I was a bit disappointed to see that the window was well forward of the seat, meaning that looking outside required a bit of effort to lean forward. Fortunately the seat in front of me was empty the whole flight; otherwise, if reclined, it would have blocked my window completely. At least the seat pitch was good—and Economy Plus really makes a difference on a 13+ hour flight!
As we waited for the boarding process to finish, we filled out the gift claim forms we had received at the gate, then handed them back to the flight attendant.
A few minutes past 19:00, the boarding door closed and we pushed back. As we taxied out to RWY 07R, the cockpit crew welcomed everyone on board and announced that the departure would treat us to some nice views of Hong Kong out the right-hand side.
At 19:21we began our long takeoff roll, followed by rotation and a slow initial climbout. And sure enough, a minute or so later, the spectacular skyline of Hong Kong came into view as we climbed out just to the north of the city. I grabbed a few pics, all of which turned out blurry (so I won’t bother posting them).
After passing the city, we continued our climb up to our initial cruise altitude of FL290. Once level, the drink service began immediately. I asked for a Tsingtao beer and my girl ordered a white wine. Very refreshing!
Within just a few minutes of having our drinks, the main meal service began. The flight attendant told us that because of the long delay in HKG
, they decided to expedite the dinner service based on the assumption that most passengers would appreciate dinner right away (as opposed to the usual routine of handing out a snack of pretzels first). Sounded like a good plan to us!
I ordered beef with veggies and mashed potatoes. The meal also came with a roll, salad, and some cream puffs for desert—those were very, very good! The FA
also asked if I wanted wine to go with the meal. This sounded like a good idea, and I gladly accepted a Merlot.
My girl ordered pasta—sorry, no picture of that. Both of us thought the meals were very tasty, and the portions were just about right. I thought it was actually one of the better meals I’ve had aboard a U.S. carrier in coach.
After dinner, our trays were cleared and the FA
asked if we wanted anything else to drink. We didn’t, at the moment, but he mentioned to us that “the bar” was just a push of the button away at all times, and that we needn’t hesitate if we needed anything. He also handed us about 10 bags of pretzels, just in case we got hungry later on. I was very impressed with the service thus far—the FAs were very conscious of the delay and were doing their best to make up for it.
We continued our cruise to the north-northeast passing over Taiwan, followed by Japan, where we made landfall around Kagoshima. By that point, we had moved up to FL310 and had a fairly advantageous tailwind giving us a groundspeed of 701 mph. (1,128 km/hour). Soon thereafter, the tailwind increased even more, giving us an incredible groundspeed of 733 mph (1,180 km/hour). At this point, the flight tracker showed 11 hours, 16 minutes until landing in Chicago.
I snapped a couple shots of the cabin as we continued through the darkness.
As the flight continued, we slept off an on. About 6 hours into the flight, the FAs came through offering the mid-flight snack. Just like our westbound leg from SFO
, the snack consisted of instant noodles and a shortbread cookie. My girl and I also each had a cup of tea and some water.
About 45 minutes after the snack service, a faint sliver of blue appeared out of the inky blackness ahead. Over the course of the next half hour or so, the sky gave way to daylight. Here are a couple of pics, taken 28 minutes apart.
We continued on in daylight, skimming just above the surface of a high layer of overcast clouds. It remained like this for the next 3 hours, all the way to the U.S. west coast. We made landfall near Seattle, according to the inflight map, after having taken the southern route eastbound over the Pacific (as opposed to the northern route which roughly follows the Aleutians of Alaska).
Once we had passed the Cascade Range east of the Seattle area, the cloud cover cleared and revealed some beautiful snowy landscapes.
Next, we continued eastbound over Idaho and Montana. The overcast returned, which was unfortunate as the map showed us passing just north of my hometown of Bozeman, MT
, 30 miles or so off our starboard wing. I found it intriguing that such a long flight, between two vastly different (and for me, unfamiliar) places, would pass so close to home. Although it was cloudy, I snapped a picture anyway.
About an hour and a half before landing, “breakfast” was served. After all, the original schedule for this flight had called for an 11:49 am landing in ORD
, and the meal reflected that timing, even though the eastern sky was already turning to dusk. No matter, as my body and mind didn’t have much of a sense of time at this point anyway. We were served standard breakfast faire: eggs, sausage, and hashbrowns, plus fruit and orange juice. I washed it all down with coffee. Not amazing food, but it was okay.
I grabbed a few more shots out the window as we ate our evening breakfasts over the midwest.
Over north-central Iowa, the flight tracker showed us at FL390, 325 miles (523 km) from Chicago, and with 8,127 (13,079 km) miles behind the tail. By taking the southern route across the Pacific, we by far surpassed the 7,787 miles listed as the official, great circle distance of the HKG
route. I find it incredible that winds can be so powerful as to yield a shorter flight time despite a route that took us 700 miles out of the way. What a cool phenomenon.
The last 45 minutes of the flight were in darkness and clouds. We were already well established on the final approach by the time we popped out of the overcast, barreling over the lights and traffic of the neighborhoods northwest of O’Hare. We finally touched the asphalt of RWY 14R at 18:57 local time, after 13 hours and 36 minutes on the wing. Again—not a bad flight time considering we had traversed close to 8,400 miles (~13,500 km). The very fact that such a trip is even possible never ceases to amaze me, no matter how commonplace it has become.
We picked our way slowly through the icy taxiways to Terminal 5, the international arrivals terminal. After the door opened, we were off the aircraft within 5 minutes. We immediately proceeded to immigration, where upon first glance, the lines didn’t appear too long. Once in the queue, however, we realized how slowly the line was moving. It took us about a half hour just to get ourselves legally into the country, followed by another 20 minutes to do the same for our bags. By the time we were on the train over to United’s B concourse, we had already been on the ground for more than an hour. My experience with ORD
, both this time and on other occasions, is that one needs a little extra time at this airport for an international-to-domestic transfer. Fortunately on this evening, the security line to enter the B Concourse was non-existent. Even so, we were cutting it close and arrived at the DCA
gate just before boarding was to begin.
It would have been nice if this was actually the case. In reality, our ORD
flight was delayed as well. While boarding was supposed to start around 20:15, our aircraft didn’t arrive at the gate until an hour later, at 21:15. United never did explain why. Once the aircraft arrived, though, the ground crew did a good job of turning it around quickly. We were onboard by 21:40 and pushback was at 21:55. We were airborne at 22:13.
We climbed out to the east over Lake Michigan before finally leveling off at FL370. My girl and I, completely exhausted from our long day of travel, slept for most of the flight (and I was too tired to care about taking pictures). Beverage service was offered, but neither of us had anything. I awoke again as we were descending, and a few minutes later, noticed the runways of Dulles Airport out the window. I tuned my headphones to Channel 9 and listened as our flight was cleared for the approach to RWY01 at Reagan. We flew to the south toward Mt. Vernon before pulling a giant u-turn and heading back up the Potomac toward DCA
. Our bird touched down at 00:26, an hour and 10 minutes behind schedule for this flight, and six hours and 38 minutes behind the schedule on our original itinerary.
By 01:00, we had our bags and were in a taxi to our home in Arlington. We were exhausted but happy to be home (though considerably less happy to bet getting up and going to work 6 hours later). As a final note, a piece of mail arrived for each of us about 2 weeks later. In it, United apologized again for the lengthy delay we experienced in Hong Kong and included a $150 travel voucher. While a free domestic roundtrip would have been nice, I do feel that the voucher was fair and appropriate. All in all, we arrived just under 7 hours behind schedule at our final destination—something that happens every day to countless passengers, even on relatively simple domestic itineraries (and with barely a meal voucher to compensate). I realize that air travel is not perfect, delays do happen, and in this case, United took responsibility and offered something in return. I’ll continue to fly the “Friendly Skies” in the future.
Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed! Feedback always appreciated.