United’s 747 Flying Museum (Trip Report)

It’s a light week, so how about another trip report? We used 25,000 miles to get home using a one way saver awards on United in First Class, the weather was good 747 in Chicagoand I expected it to be routine . . . until our flight home from Chicago was upgraded to a 747, the one I now call the Flying Museum. What a trip.

When we made the reservation, there was no First Class available on the short hop to Chicago but we could get it on the flight home to LA. That was fine. A friend of mine who couldn’t stand the thought of us using miles for First but sitting in coach put us on the waitlist for the short haul.

I had already checked in and gotten a mobile boarding pass, but my friend said to check at the counter for our upgrade. There was a line, even in the First Class line, so we checked in at the kiosk seeing if that would do anything. It just printed new boarding passes in coach.

At the gate, I had this frustrating conversation with the United Express-employed gate agent who clearly doesn’t know much about the airline.

Cranky: Hi, just wanted to see if any upgrades were available. We should be on the FFCC list [which is a higher priority, apparently].
Agent: [Blank stare] Uh, what’s your name?
Cranky: Snyder
Agent: I see you’re on mileage ticket so you can’t upgrade.
Cranky: We’re on a first class mileage ticket so we definitely can upgrade.
Agent: I don’t show that.
Cranky: Then why does my boarding pass for the next flight say First?
Agent: It says Business.

At this point, I had to do a double take. There is no business class on the 757 we were supposed to be flying, and I saw our seat had been moved to row 7, which doesn’t exist on the 757. So I regrouped.

Cranky: Huh, well that’s still premium cabin.
Agent: Yeah, sorry there are no upgrades to first on that flight.
Cranky: But I’m asking about this flight
Agent: Oh we’re full.

It was way too early to be so agitated, so I just walked away and boarded when it was time.


December 27, 2010
United 7558 Lv Indianapolis 652a Arr Chicago/O’Hare 655a
Indianapolis (IND): Gate B24, Runway 23R, Depart 3m Late
Chicago/O’Hare (ORD): Gate B18, Runway 28, Arrive 4m Late
N639RW, Embraer 170-100, United white/blue colors, 100% Full
Seat 4A
Flight Time 43m

This was my first ride on an Embraer 170 and it was, well, just like the Embraer 190. We boarded in the pitch black (dawn comes really late in the winter in Indy) and filled up. Soon, we Descending over Chicagowere on our way into the dark and smooth early morning.

There was no service on the short flight, but we did have a spectacular view of Chicago on the way into the airport. After landing, we had to sit in the penalty box while an airplane cleared our gate, but we still blocked in just a couple minutes behind schedule.

Our connection was right next door, and our airplane had been upgraded to the Flying Museum, ship N194UA. United likes to say that all of its 747 and 767 aircraft have been outfitted in the new interior, but that’s no longer true.

United pulled N194UA out of the desert to offer extra capacity. At one point it was scheduled on domestic flights but it did work the occasional long haul as well. Now, I’m told it’s a spare that goes wherever necessary. Today, it was going to LA.

From the looks of the long, worn faces in the gate area, people had been waiting to go back to LA for awhile. There had been snow the day before, and the 89-person long standby list was a telltale sign of a flight meant to clear the backlog in Chicago.

The airplane is one of the only (if not the only) 747s still in the old gray colors. We boarded through the chaos and looked for our seat.


December 27, 2010
United 842 Lv Chicago/O’Hare 810a Arr Los Angeles 1045a
Chicago/O’Hare (ORD): Gate B16, Runway 32L, Depart 5m Late
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 77, Runway 25L, Arrive 40m Early
N194UA, Boeing 747-422, Gray Malevolent Skies colors, 95%+ Full
Seat 7A, Business Class (old seats)
Flight Time 3h30m

It’s clear that the airplane had been sitting overnight because it was a popsicle. We quickly took our seats in row 7, in the first business class cabin on the main deck and unwrapped the blankets to warm up.Biz Class Seat Pocket Broken

Once a door problem was fixed, we were on our way into the clear blue sky that only accompanies a very cold day during the Chicago winter.

The crews did a great job of working what appeared to be a last minute call-out for many of them on this mess of an airplane. We had crewmembers from Chicago, LA, San Francisco, and Seattle. They were all friendly and the attention was good, despite not getting a drink before departure.

The airplane, the only 747 not to have received the recent cabin upgrades, was like a time machine. For a short daytime flight, I probably actually prefer the cradle seat to the flat bed. It’s more comfortable for lounging, but these had clearly seen better days.

The manual controls were a little sticky and the seat didn’t seem to extend fully without some serious effort. The small video screen wouldn’t stow for departure, and when I did pull it out, it wouldn’t stay upright. The screen’s case was really dirty and was actually coming apart in one place. The seatback pocket in front of me had no elastic, so it just hung open and Broken TV Screentempted me like a basketball hoop.

The movies were all looping (not on demand), but I had to find one of the channels that didn’t have sound cutting in and out. (I’d say two or three were unwatchable/unlistenable.) So I caught the Expendables as it started and hope it would turn out better than I had heard. It didn’t.

They did serve us breakfast which consisted of a fairly good omelet with sausage and some dry breakfast potatoes, among other things. There was no choice of United 747 Economyfood, but that’s probably what I would have picked anyway.

After the movie, I wandered to the back to see what I was missing by riding up front. That looked like the ultimate torture chamber. People were sardines in the aft cabin trying to watch a movie on the projector screen. It was barely visible with the windows open and it wasn’t helped by the horizontal lines obscuring and blurring the picture. Then again, most people were asleep, probably because they had spent an uncomfortable night at the airport, so I’m sure none of them cared.

We descended into LA nice and early and we were in a cab before our scheduled arrival time. What a fun trip on an ancient bird. While I have faith that United wouldn’t fly an unsafe airplane on the outside, the interior was in such poor shape that it must have been on the minds of many of the passengers. But for me, it just felt like a blast from the past. It’s not every day you get a ride a 747 on a domestic flight, that’s for sure.

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50 Comments on "United’s 747 Flying Museum (Trip Report)"

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Nick Barnard
Member

I wonder how long they’ll continue flying N194UA. Seems like the Continental side would like to put a stop to flying this old bird…

I looked around at airliners.net and it was parked in VCV back in February, with two of its littermates in the white/blue colors, and a bunch of other 744s. I wonder why they chose this 744 instead of the others? Probably cycles or something, but it’d be nice to know..

rewthur
Guest

This was from the CO/UA combined Q3 earnings conference call…

“During the fourth quarter, we will remove one Boeing 747 that had been servicing as an operational spare and add two Boeing 737-900 ERs to the fleet.”

I guess they just haven’t got to it yet.

David SF eastbay
Member
Sounds like a blast from past of the Shuttle by United days. Some days during the week the hourly flights between SFO and LAX would be so delayed by the afternoon, they would just cancel a bunch in each direction and put in a couple of 747’s each way to handle the back log of people. At least they had the equipment just sitting there during the day and were smart to use them until they were needed for the later night international flights. But since this could happen a couple of times a week, they must have planned to… Read more »
Oliver
Guest

@Brett – Maybe it’s just me, but I’d prefer a somewhat tattered international business class set over a standard domestic first seat (on your originaL 757) any day.

@Nicholas — there are rumors that The New UA might pull more UA 747s out of the desert. 787 delay and such. And they probably considered needed maintenance and other factors (ownership) when deciding which aircraft to reactivate.

MeanMeosh
Guest

Wow – I haven’t done a domestic hop in a 747 since 1986, a NW bird from DFW to SFO (I have to assume the flight continued somewhere else). That was my first ride on a plane, so naturally, I’ve always had fond memories of the 747. It’s also been awhile since I’ve been on the Flying Museum. 1998 to be precise. The UA 747 actually wasn’t a bad product back then, but sadly, it would appear they haven’t updated it since.

Oliver
Guest

They have updated ALL 747s that are n service except the one that Cranky was on.

In general, lots more information about this particular aircraft, where it’s going when, and speculation about its future and that of the others in the desert can be found in this FT thread:

http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/united-mileage-plus/1094672-non-reconfigured-old-747-n194ua-service.html

david
Member

This is always so annoying, when you are expecting one type of aircraft, even go out of your way to get that kind of aircraft and it is substituted for another. I wonder what other travelers must thing when they get on an old bird like that.

David

ptahcha
Guest

Actually, it went from a 757 to a 747. Granted, it’s an old bird, but still an upgauge, and I don’t think people are complaining about it, especially folks in the premium cabin.

Oliver
Guest

Ya think the ride on the probably equally dated 757 that was originally scheduled would have been more comfortable?

yo2
Guest

Don’t complain I’m sure there were alot of people planning on a trip in Y but got F or C instead

David SF eastbay
Member

Using this plane was just to get people moving since so many were stranded from the snow storms, so they were just glad to be flying out. But if the plane did look ‘sad’ inside the flyer who doesn’t travel much or on a 747 at all might think that is how all of UA’s 747’s look inside. That could effect those people some day if they were to travel out of the U.S. and pass on UA thinking they would be flying in a ‘sad’ looking plane.

jcapello
Member

Whenever I’m feeling the need for a true Time Warp experience, I hop a United flight from DIA to Maui via LAX or SFO in first class. I always feel like that plane, and the attendants, were there for the inaugural run to Hawaii back in the . . . . 50’s? 60’s?

Yo
Guest

Could be worse, doesn’t Orient Thai 123 or whatever the hell they are called these days still fly some ancient 200’s?

I once had a choice to fly on a Laotian airline ATR-72 or a Orient Thai YS-11. As a plane geek, the chance to do the YS-11 was intriguing, but, given their less than stellar safety record, I opted for the Lao flight…which was interesting in its own ways.

David SF eastbay
Member

Just think at times during the 70’s it wasn’t unusual to see 747’s/DC10’s/L10’s flying around the USA to places like BUF, TUS, ELP, SAT, IND, DAY, or AA with their 747’s between ORD and PHX. And you know you’ll never again see daily 747 flights on UA ORD-CLE or ORD-PIT.

Martin J
Member

so what are the crappy 747s United use from Australia to the west coast? I think they are the same 747s they have been using for 20 years? If they are a refurbed upgrade…ugh. The only reason they are full is that Americans dont realise that they can fly other airlines to Australia! The difference between the Air NZ/Virgin/Qantas classy offerings and United’s appalling offering on that sector is extraordinary!

Oliver
Guest

Yes, they are refurb’ed — primarily in C and F.

So tell me, how much more tickets do you think would UA sell on those routes if they ripped out the economy seats and replaced them with new ones with state-of-the-art AVOD?

I have never flown that route, but since I always bring my own IFE (fully loaded iPad), I factor in seat pitch (Economy Plus on UA… how does Qantas compare?) and loyalty program benefits (how’s your upgrade chance on Qantas/Delta/Virgin/Air NZ?).

Joe B
Guest
Wow..of all the flights you manage to fly on! As a crew member this plane is so random that the majority of the crew will most likely be reserves. I was so proud to fly this aircraft between SYD and LAX and AKL and LAX but that was in the early 90’s. I think airlines naturally go through cycles with the most up to date product. I have a feeling United is at the beginning of the next cycle as we start to take delivery of B787 and A350 in the coming years. I look forward to some new equipment… Read more »
Nomadic Matt
Guest

More reasons why I hate united…

Oliver
Guest

Useless comment to increase page rank?

Nomadic Matt
Guest

Comments don’t increase pagerank. Sorry. Old planes are more reasons why I hate united. That better?

james
Guest
I like Matt’s site but I disagree on this. There’s no reason to hate one U.S. legacy airline or love another. I’d make the blanket statement that they’re all pretty much the same, and your “happiness” with an airline, which for most people is formed from a few flights a year, is based on random things like an empty seat next to you, a pleasant FA, early arrival, overall comfort and other invidivual factors. Same with one’s dissatisfaction: it’s the small things. I live in Denver, fly often to UAL hubs, so I fly UAL and partners since they offer… Read more »
Bittenonce
Member
Hey Bret, I am a long time reader and supporter. Still, what was your point with the last post I read ” United’s 747 Flying Museum (Trip Report)” ? Surely, there must have been something good about the flight more than pompous whining? I have always trusted and read your articles as one of the real people of this world. What is happening to you? Are the spoons not shiny enough for you these days? Down just a notch please. With respect to my fellow co-workers in CS and on board, I remain your humble UAL Mechanic, dedicated to get… Read more »
Joe B
Guest

Well said. I think t is amazing that United uses a 747 to pick up extra sections. I am sure a lot of snow stranded pax were pleased to get on a plane and get home.

CP
Guest

I believe that Cranky calls it a “fun trip” and fully explains that the 747 was deployed to get people home, so I’m not sure the point of YOUR post.

Frank
Guest

but, he also explained that he was AGITATED and FRUSTRATED by the conservation he had with a gate agent.
Who clearly didnt know what aircraft they were taking??????

Over a 100 thousand passengers (7 THOUSAND cancelled flights) were disrupted by the weather this holiday season. I understand that “cranky” is your style, but it just doesnt seem appropiate during the holidays when YOU got home in BUSINESS CLASS while I witnessed airports full of distressed passengers sleeping on the floor. How, what was frustrating?

Nick Barnard
Member

I think the fustration is due to the gate agent’s inability to explain the equipment substitution.

Frank
Guest

according to HIS POST, he knew that.

Quote:Our connection was right next door, and our airplane had been upgraded to the Flying Museum, ship N194UA. United pulled N194UA out of the desert to offer extra capacity.

and, reread the conservation. I dont see a QUESTION about the equipment sub, just questions pertaining to an upgrade.

Frank
Guest
It was a quiet morning for United in Indy, there weren’t long lines, flights were going on time, and there was no extra stress on her from the operation. She should have been able to see that I was on a First Class ticket and confirmed whether or not I was on the standby list. Instead, she gave me attitude (which doesn’t come through in the text) and made me feel like I was trying to game the system when that wasn’t the case. Of course I was agitated and frustrated, and just because there’s bad weather somewhere else in… Read more »
Bruce
Guest
Brett. Great report on the UA ‘Flying Museum’ 747. I think you hit all the right nails on the head and were very fair. But I had to laff at your comment about 747s on domestic routes. As someone noted earlier, in the ’70s the ONLY a/c used on many domestic routes were the 747s, DC-10s and L-1011s of AA, UA and TWA. I also remember from personal experience riding an AA 747 JFK-DFW and a DL 747 (they had them for a short time) SFO-DFW. Or an AA D10 PSP-ORD. It makes you scratch your head. Why not now?… Read more »
David SF eastbay
Member

And lets not forget NW using DC10’s roundtrip EWR-DTW-ORD-BIL-GTF-GEG-SEA. At least EWR-DTW-ORD are big business travel markets so a DC10 doesn’t seem out of place, but Billings, Great Falls, and Spokane!

Bruce
Guest

Who can explain how NW ran its fleet. Back in the day of the ab fab Stratocruiser, NW operated it on bizarre mix of long-haul (SEA-TYO nonstop!) and milk run routes–DCA-DTW-MKE-MPS. The Strat with its downstairs lounge and higher operating costs was meant strictly for high-yield int’l routes and even then it faced challenges operating profitably for PA and other carriers. The economics of DCA-DTW must have been hideous. Perhaps the same scheduler back in ’54 was finally kicked out in the ’70s for putting D10s (the -30 overwater version no less) on EWR-SEA with 5 intermediate stops. Yikes.

Bittenonce
Member
Bret, You had to wait in line, even with a first class ticket. The plane was cold so you had to cover up with blankets. The movies were looping and not “on demand”. Your personal video screen was dirty. You were served a good breakfast, but were not given a choice. I am taking nothing personally and call it like I see it too. Still, I re-read your article this time a bit more carefully. You do offer I think some slightly hidden praise for these old birds. I appreciate that as I like and marvel at the 747 myself.… Read more »
bob
Guest

Cranky: I hope you do a story of what is coming to the airlines soon, good or bad planes, this will have a bigger affect soon on the purchase of new planes
and large debt that airlines carry.
http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2010/12/29/companies-exempt-from-derivatives-rules-may-still-get-hit/?src=busln

Stacy Richardson
Guest

“United 842 Lv Chicago/O’Hare 810a Arr Los Angeles 1045a”

The departure time of 8:10 am Central and the arrival time of 10:45 am Pacific makes the flight four-and-a-half hours, which can’t be right. The elapsed time listed in your report is 3:30, so I deduce that either the departure or arrival time isn’t correct.

Pegasus
Guest
So, on the Flying Museum flight, you were seated in business, correct? Not economy? If you redeemed 25,000 miles one way, then you were supposed to be seated in Business on a 3-cabin plane (35,000 for 3-cabin first), or First on a 2-cabin plane. Sometimes the system glitches during a 2->3 cabin aircraft change like this one and puts you in First. However, here, if the system put you in business, the agent (while maybe less good at explaining than she should have been) was actually correct in keeping you in business rather than first. It does *not* sound like… Read more »
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[…] probably not fair to use this picture from my 747 flight a couple weeks ago because even that old interior is outdated compared to what United has done on all its other 747s. […]

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