Here's some background info to get us started. My girlfriend was graduating college in ND in Aug '12, so in June I started looking for a flight because I couldn't bear the thought of driving 1,400 miles round-trip across MT and ND again. I am a die-hard Star Alliance fan and bleed blue for my loyalty to and love of United, so the first stop was United.com. Two years ago I flew BIL-DEN-ORD-FAR with a 777 on the DEN-ORD leg heading back to school from my brother's college graduation, so I thought why not do it again? The routing I found was BIL-DEN-ORD-FAR with a 777 and FAR-DEN-BIL on the return trip. It was an extra $150 to get the 777, but with some strong encouragement from my best friend, Derek (SiouxATC), I realized I would regret it if I passed up the opportunity. Itinerary booked!!
Before we get to the pictures that all of you are waiting for, I must take the opportunity for a shout-out to 2 aviation enthusiasts who made this trip very memorable. My friend Derek told his dad, Dave, about my trip because Dave is just as big a fan of United as I am, maybe more. Unfortunately, I don't hold enough status with UA, yet, to receive complimentary Red Carpet Club passes, but Dave had 2 passes laying around that he wasn't going to use, so they sent me the passes so I could use them in DEN and ORD since I'd never been to a UA club. Thanks again guys for making the trip that much more special!
4:00am on Aug. 2nd I grabbed a quick shower and decided to head to the airport early due to my excitement for the day. After a short 10 min drive I arrived, checked in, and cleared TSA around 4:45. TSA was a breeze since they've added a 2nd screening line. I picked the shortest line that didn't have to wait for 80 year old Norma and Gene who don't understand they need to remove the thousand pieces of jewelry and massive rodeo belt buckle even if they are family heirlooms. BIL is a smaller airport, but is used by many people in Eastern MT and Northern WY so it can be a very busy airport considering how small it is.
I apologize ahead of time for the lack of quality in many of the pics. I'm a very amateur photographer and use just a basic Sony digital camera. Here we go!
Scheduled Departure 5:57am - Wheels Up 6:05am MDT
Scheduled Arrival 7:24am - Touchdown 7:13am MDT
We departed runway 28R at KBIL with a left turn direct Muddy Mountain (DDY). The biggest let down of the trip was no Channel 9 on either of the UA mainline flights so I couldn't hear ATC. I work at BIL Airport Operations and normally UA pilots ask for direct MBW as soon as they switch over to ZLC depending on sequencing into DEN. The flight was very pleasant with an open middle seat between myself and the gentleman by the window. The descent was slightly bumpy as usual descending over the frontrange of the Rockies. We landed 35L with a special treat sitting on a remote ramp. We passed P4-MES too fast to get a pic. Roman must have been at his place up in Aspen.
Photo © Gilbert Hechema
When we de-boarded at B46 I headed straight to B32 to see if my 777 was waiting for me...and it was! I must note that I had been on the old battleship color 777 on my trip to London in 2006, I flew on the tulip color 777 DEN-ORD in 2010, and now I was to complete the series by flying on the new UA/CO color 777.
Next stop was the United Red Carpet Club West.
My first Red Carpet Club experience was great! I'm sure it sounds lame to many of you elite flyers, but it was exciting being in the club for the first time. The club was extremely clean and offered a variety of snack items that I took advantage of.
Here's the view of my 777 from the club.
We were told the flight would be full and boarding commenced on-time. I chose a seat in H so I could walk through the galley, which is always a cool experience. This would also be my first flight in the new 3-3-3 seating configuration. The new config was ok, but I still prefer the 2-5-2 while traveling alone or with 1 partner. I got to my seat to find a lady and her young child already seated. First thought like everyone else, "UGH, there's a kid on board!" I must say that was the most well behaved girl I've had on any flight; she didn't make a sound, and I thanked the mother at the end of the flight for having such a good kid. Cabin door closed.
Scheduled Departure 8:40am - Wheels Up 8:52am MDT
Scheduled Arrival 11:59am - Touchdown 11:37am CST
Obligatory legroom shot on the 777. I thought it was a very comfortable ride!
We departed runway 34L with an immediate right turn to climb via the Yellowstone Six departure. We leveled off at 39,000ft somewhere between SBB and LBF for a very smooth flight. Our descent started just west of DBQ for the BULLZ3 into ORD. We landed runway 28 with a short taxi to Gate C10.
Next stop was the United Red Carpet Club on the C Concourse. There was a line to get checked in. The agent was very personable and friendly. "Good afternoon Mr. Smith. Please help yourself to anything including our complimentary bar. Enjoy your stay!"
I definitely enjoyed my stay with a couple drinks. Nothing better than my go-to cocktail: Baccardi and Coke with Lime.
Next order of business was to score a prime spotting seat near the windows. Mission accomplished!
N197UA pushing back as UAL895 with service to HKG.
I considered trying to get on that flight instead of heading to Fargo, but then I came to the realization it probably wouldn't be a good idea to miss the girlfriend's college graduation. Back to spotting then!
D-ABTH under tow to Terminal 1 to fly DLH431 with service to FRA. It had already completed DLH430 earlier that morning.
VT-ALQ taxing out as AIC126 to FRA
Some of the other highlights of spotting include a Swiss A333, Alitalia Skyteam color B764, AA 777 to NRT, DLH Cargo MD11, barely visible when I was taxing en-route FAR were a GTI and CAO 747 at remote cargo stands.
Time to head down to the dreaded Terminal 2 for my RJ flight to FAR. I arrived in the narrow, crowded, hot, and smelly F Concourse that reminds me of the stock yards of Montana full of cattle anxiously pacing around, hating life, and awaiting slaughter. Not my favorite place to be at ORD, but I digress. I arrive at Gate F4A to find there are numerous broke aircraft so agents were switching gates around like crazy. My gate was switched multiple times due to late/broke aircraft and late crews.
Finally we end up at F11 and started boarding 60 minutes late. Everyone is on board, but the ground ac wasn't working so there was no cold air. No big deal, at first. A few minutes go by and we are informed by the crew that the ground crew neglected to empty the lavatory and it is too full for the flight to make it to FAR and back. The crew told everyone to get off and stand out on the tarmac because it was cooler out there than it was on the plane. FALSE. It was cooler on the plane, but the crew handed out water and it was the thought that counts, right? Finally the ground crew shows up and gets everything serviced. Back on the plane now. The captain was very apologetic about the situation. When we arrived in FAR he pretty much threw the ground crew under the bus and admitted how the delay was unacceptable and asked us to fill out a survey online about the situation. Definitely one of the best crews I've had handling a delayed flight.
Scheduled Departure 3:50pm - Wheels Up 4:55pm
Scheduled Arrival 5:41pm - Touchdown 6:19pm
Legroom was decent and seat was comfortable for a regional jet. This was my first flight on an E145 and my new regional jet of choice.
As much as the delay was annoying, I must admit it turned out ok because I got to see THY5 A332 land from IST as we were taxing out. We departed runway 32L at T10 with a left turn abeam the shoreline. The flight was pleasant, but not much to look at since the midwest is comprised of mostly farms and small lakes. We landed on runway 36 at FAR with a quick taxi to Gate 5.
The next 6 days consisted of road trips to my girlfriend's hometown of Fergus Falls, MN, and Grand Forks, ND for graduation. Most of the time was spent in Fergus Falls. 6 days passed like a blink of the eye, so it was back to FAR on Aug 8th for the return trip home. Check-in at FAR was fast and TSA was a breeze again.
Scheduled Departure 1:05pm - Wheels Up 1:36pm CST
Scheduled Arrival 2:02pm - Touchdown 2:07pm MDT
The flight was pleasant. Continuous turbulence all the way into DEN as usual. Landed on runway 35L with P4-MES still parked. During our taxi to B59 I spotted an ICE 752 parked at a remote stand. Sorry for the low quality, it was pretty hazy out west due to all our wildfires.
Quick run up to the main terminal for a bite to eat, then back to B57 for my flight to BIL. The flight was delayed about 30 minutes due to a late crew arrival from another flight.
Scheduled Departure 3:18pm - Wheels Up 3:48pm MDT
Scheduled Arrival 4:48pm - Touchdown 4:54pm MDT
The climb out of DEN was rough as well as the descent into BIL which is normal due to our winds and location in the Yellowstone River Valley and proximity to the mountains. We landed on runway 10L which is a first for me even though I've flown into BIL numerous times.
Below is the aircraft parked at A1 after landing in BIL.
Here's a look at my hometown of Billings, the Heart of Big Sky Country and the Trail Head to Montana.
Thank you to everyone who made it to the end of my first trip report. Feel free to comment and give advise for future reports. I hope you all enjoyed it! Frequency change approved. Good day!