The State of Denver International (Trip Report)

When Denver International Airport asked me if I wanted to participate on a panel at the State of DIA annual luncheon, I thought it would be a lot of fun. Turns out, I was right, and I had the added bonus of meeting some readers, including frequent commenter Jason H. I’ll have the video posted when Denver puts it up for those who are interested, but for now, here’s the trip report.

I figured leaving home two hours before my flight would work, and it did but not by much. There was plenty of United Mobile Boarding Passtraffic, the parking shuttle was slow, and by the time I rolled up to Terminal 6 at LAX, it had been an hour and a half since I left. I can’t wait for Frontier to start that Denver flight from Long Beach.

A friend nominated me as Premier Associate on United (1K members can do that) so I thought I’d try it out. I went to the premium line and broke out my super cool mobile boarding pass. I walked right in and the security line was short.

Once through, I headed to the gate. An announcement was made that we would be boarding in 5 minutes. Then 5 minutes later, another announcement was made that they were still servicing the airplane so it would be another 10 minutes. That seemed strange since the plane had been at the gate for two hours. Sure enough, the same guy came on not a minute later and announced that it was time to board. Ok.

March 17, 2010
United #814 Lv Los Angeles (LAX) 1102a Arr Denver (DEN) 217p
LAX: Gate 75B, Runway 25R, Dept 2m Early
DEN: Gate B43, Runway 35L, Arr 18m Early
Aircraft: N549UA, Boeing 757-222, New White/Blue Colors, ~85% Full
Seat: 14A
Flight Time: 1h50m

I had forgotten that United had segmented boarding so much. First the super fancy cool fliers board, then the moderately cool fliers board. Then Economy Plus boards and so on. As a lowly Premier Associate, I boarded with the Economy Plus crowd. It was very cool just holding my phone up to the scanner for boarding. Look ma, no paper.

Boarding was creeping along very slowly, but when I finally reached the door I saw a flight attendant wearing green accessories for St Patrick’s Day. I figured she was in a good mood, but I was wrong. I Cabin United 757looked at her and said “good morning” but she responded with a sarcastic “Here at United we board forward – aft, see how well that works?”

Um ok, I just kept walking. I took my seat and soon heard a stern announcement that every seat on this flight was full so you had to put your bags up in the bin or under your seat quickly. Too bad it wasn’t actually full. The monitor outside showed only a handful of people on the standby list and about 40 open seats. Sounds like she was just using her standard speech to combat the rising bag problems that have been plaguing airlines that charge for checked luggage.

We pushed back a couple minutes early and then rocketed out over the Pacific. There’s nothing like taking off in a 757. Once we were over the San Gabriel mountains, about 10 minutes into the flight, the flight attendants began their service.

They slowly made their way back and when they got to my row, they asked the guy on the aisle if he wanted a drink. He said no and then they just moved on. When I flagged the flight attendant down, she Winglet Over Rockiessaid she thought he had asked me if I wanted something. Weird. At that time, Channel 9 (where you can listen to cockpit communication) wasn’t on so I asked her if she would ask the captain. She said she would.

I never heard back from her and Channel 9 never came on so I have no clue if she even asked. Soon we were on our way in to Denver. It was incredibly smooth on approach, which in Denver terminology means there was *only* light turbulence. It was a quick taxi in and I was off quickly.

After a successful day on the panel at the State of DIA luncheon, I was ready to get out of town. It’s not that I didn’t like Denver but there was a storm coming. The partly cloudy skies and mid-60 degree temps were giving way to a lot of snow and a high of 30.

I walked into the airport and, with my mobile boarding pass in handMobile Boarding Pass Reader, headed straight to security. A TSA agent was standing there directing people to use a further line that had fewer people in it.

I went there and expected to have to flash my boarding pass at the elite line showing my premier associate status but the lineminder couldn’t have been less interested. He didn’t even look and just waved me on.

The next stop was the ID check. You’re probably wondering how the mobile boarding pass works there. Well, you just show them your ID and they have the same scanners that United has at the gate (at right). Once they see it’s valid and the name matches, they let you through. Seems much more secure than a regular paper boarding pass to me.

I made it through security in 5 minutes and hopped on the train. I saw there was a slightly delayed earlier flight so I tried to make it but the door was closed when I got there. My flight was going out of gate B47 Our Faded Paint Planeand I was happy to find B45 empty with plenty of open seats facing the ramp.

I parked myself there and went through emails to pass the time. Soon, our plane pulled up, and man did it need a paint job. It was in the older colors but it was so faded that it made me cringe. The nosecone was painted in the old gray scheme as well but it was much brighter, giving a contrast that was far from flattering.

March 18, 2010
United #753 Lv Denver (DEN) 431p Arr Los Angeles (LAX) 559p
DEN: Gate B47, Runway 34L, Dept 2m Late
LAX: Gate 70A, Runway 24R, Arr On Time
Aircraft: N422UA, Airbus A320-232, Malevolent Skies Gray Colors, 100% Full
Seat: 7F
Flight Time: 2h7m

They boarded us up quickly and the flight attendants seemed to be in a better mood this time. I was bummed to see the old cloth interior on this A320. I’ve been hearing really good things about the new interior and I wanted to test it out. At least the plane was clean, though my seat kept reclining on its Flying Home Over the Rockiesown and you had to basically punch the channel and volume controls to get them to work.

We took off to the north and before we even hit the Rockies, the seat belt sign was off. We went under, through, and eventually above some scenic high clouds with great views all around. I tried to sleep but I couldn’t. I got a glass of water and watched a rerun of The Office that I’d seen before.

When we first boarded, Channel 9 had been on and I was hearing communication between air traffic control and the airplanes, but it was shut off before we left. I asked the flight attendant if she would mind asking the captain if he would turn it on, and she quickly replied that he wouldn’t be doing that. Man, 0 for 2. That’s my favorite thing about United too. So, I just sat back and stared out the window, drifting in and out of an uncomfortable half-sleep.

The descent in to LAX was very hazy so it was hard to see much, but we put down and taxied across the airport back to our terminal. I headed to the parking lot so I could go fight my way home through rush hour traffic.

[More photos via Flickr]
[Video of Flying over the Rockies (~30 secs)]
[Video of Landing in Denver (~4 mins)]

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