Yeah, I remember it... of course it was only October 2003. I was in grad school at the time and was in a long distance relationship with a girl, and wanted to go visit her in Seattle during my fall break.
The night before the flight I ran to the store and picked up some over the counter sleeping pills. If it weren't for those I doubt I would have gotten any sleep before the flight, due to the mix of excitement and nervousness I was feeling. I still didn't get much sleep. Being a poor grad student I didn't want to have to pay for parking, so I got up at 5:00 in the morning to catch the bus to the airport. And so my journey began...
This was the era of e-tickets, and not having a piece of paper to prove I'd bought a ticket made me a little nervous at the time (I've since learned to love e-tickets). I arrived at the airport and found my way to the United Express ticket counter. I didn't know the terms "mainline" and "regional" at the time, but I remember being a little surprised that RDU
was only served by United Express and not United. UA
didn't have self check in kiosks at RDU
at the time, so I showed my ID
to the agent and she checked me in, and gave her my bag to check. It was small enough to take as a carry-on, but she told my I couldn't bring my razor through security (in retrospect maybe I could have as it was a safety razor and not a straight razor, or were the the rules stricter then?)
I found a fairly short line at security, watched what the people in in front of me were doing and got through with no problems. I found my gate and saw the podium with an agent standing behind it. I wasn't sure if there was something I was supposed to do there, so I walked up to it and showed the agent my boarding passes. He politely informed me that I was all checked in and there was nothing further I needed to do until it was time to board. I'm guessing he got that a lot from first time fliers.
I had quite a bit of time to kill as the bus schedule forced me to arrive much earlier than I needed to and the line at security was shorter than I expected, so I sat around watching a group of people at the next gate whose flight had been delayed several hours and told myself how glad I was that I wasn't on their flight, listened to some music, and walked to the window to check out the plane I'd be on, a BAe 146. I thought it was cool the the plane was neither an Airbus nor a Boeing, though I had no idea at the time that I was actually pretty lucky to fly on one as they would be phased out from flying in North America just a few years later.
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Photo © Michael Licko
We boarded on time, but took off a little late due to the fact that a non-English speaker from that delayed flight I mentioned before accidentally boarded out flight, and that took a little while to straighten out. One thing that I distinctly remember about this United Express flight operated by Air Wisconsin was the FA
's rather pronounced upper Midwestern accent, which I loved. It reminded me of my grandparents, who are in fact from Wisconsin. The rest of the flight was pretty uneventful. It was a very smooth flight. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but I was impressed by how smooth it was. I absolutely loved the approach to ORD
! It was a clear day and the view of Lake Michigan and downtown Chicago was spectacular. The landing was incredibly smooth as well; you could barely notice we'd touched down. I was also impressed how quickly we got to Chicago. I'm sure to seasoned fliers an approximately 2 hour flight from RDU
is nothing special, but my family always took road trips when we traveled. When we drove from NC
to Wisconsin to visit relatives it took all day to get to Illinois, where we'd stop and get a hotel room, and yet here I was arriving in Chicago and it wasn't even lunch time!
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Photo © Jean - AirTeamImages
We got to Chicago a bit late, and then I had to tackle the next thing that had me a little nervous -- connecting at O'Hare. I'd heard stories about how big O'Hare was and how long it can take to walk between certain concourses there. I remember starting out near the end of the concourse, probably somewhere in the vicinity of gate C3
, and walking to gate B-something. It turned out I had nothing to worry about. Everything was well marked and I easily found my way to the gate. I thought the moving sidewalks were quite fun, and enjoyed that tunnel between the two concourses. I also liked all the activity there, the crowds of people from all over the country and probably all over the world. I got to the gate with about 10 minutes to spare and boarded the next leg, which was on a 757-200. Compared to the BAe 146 I'd just been on the 757 seemed huge.
This flight took off right on time and was also pretty uneventful. We got a cold meal: a turkey sandwich, a bag of chips, and probably a candy bar or something. There may have been a salad as well. Then I watched the movie, which as I recall was Hollywood Homicide starring Harrison Ford. A so-so movie, but it was something to do. The captain informed us that were making very good time and would likely arrive in Seattle well ahead of schedule. That turned out not to be the case, as he later informed us that ATC was putting us in a holding pattern. Landing at SEA
was not as smooth as my previous flight, and during the approach it felt like we were being blown around by some pretty gusty winds. I'm sure we were perfectly safe, but that had me and some of the other passengers gripping the arm rests.
When I got off the plane, I was a bit surprised at how small and uncrowded the terminal felt. I thought surely Seattle would have a bigger airport. Then I followed the signs to baggage claim -- and got my first ride on the people mover. As it tuned out I was just in the North Satellite, and the rest of the airport was much bigger. I met my then girlfriend near baggage claim, where she coached me in the art of pushing my way through the crowd at the baggage carousel.
And that concludes the story of my first flight. Wow, that was a lot longer that I was expecting it to be!