I love looking for flights in a market like LA to Denver. There are so many airlines flying the route that the options seem endless. Even though I was heading out there for a wedding, I was able to schedule some time with Frontier’s leadership while in town. So naturally I looked to fly Frontier first. But when I looked at fares, I realized that United was about $100, the same price as Frontier before charging for bags and carry-ons. Normally I’d still have gone with Frontier, but that cheap United flight was on a 787-9. This was going to be awesome, I thought. Unfortunately, I was wrong.
I just assumed that this 787-9 was the airplane that was used for the LA to Melbourne flight. After all, that one comes in during the morning hours and hangs around all day. This would have been a way to try to use the airplane more. But as I got closer to departure, I realized I was wrong. And I still don’t understand what United is doing with this.
This airplane was less than two weeks old when I flew it. This was its ninth revenue flight, and every single one of those flights was LA to Denver and back. That was the only thing it was doing each day, and it didn’t even operate on Tuesday or Wednesday. So my Thursday flight? That was the first time it had flown since Monday.
I took public transit up to the airport and got into the terminal area around 1130a. I haven’t flown United from LAX in a long time, but I remember you used to be able to access security from Terminal 6. They’ve changed things. Now, it’s cordoned off, but one of the line-minders let me cut through. I felt like a salmon swimming upstream. Next time, I’ll go straight to Terminal 7.
Renovations appear to have begun, and that’s good. This place looks tired. Once I got through security, I saw a lot of boarded up walls toward the entrance to the concourse. So I kept pressing through to find a place to eat.
I chose “breakfast lunch and dinner” in the Food Connection area in the rotunda. I remember when they served cafeteria-style food at this place, but now it’s a bunch of trendier spots. The problem is that once you order, you have to wait for food to be ready. There’s not much room to do that, so it is tough to navigate even when it’s not that crowded. I had a great jerk chicken sandwich though, and then wandered over to my gate, 77.
Up until this point, all was going swimmingly, but when I got to the gate at 1217p, I saw there was another 787 there going to Houston as flight 1509. This one was scheduled for 1145a but now showed a 1215p departure time. We were already passed that time and people were still waiting to board.
Next to us was flight 198 to Shanghai, another 787. This one showed on-time, but it made for a very crowded gate area. Our gate agents barked that this was the Houston flight, not the Denver flight, and they asked people to get out of line if they were going to Denver. We were next.
Time kept ticking and boarding was slow. Meanwhile, the gate next to us announced that they were late getting the airplane towed from the hangar, so Shanghai was going to be late, probably about 15 minutes or so. Shortly after that, I got an alert from our internal Cranky Concierge tool saying we were delayed a full hour. The United app didn’t reflect that for awhile, but either way, it seemed crazy. Surely they could turn us more quickly than that?
On the app, United did have a little alert saying I could change my flight because of the delay. I didn’t want to give up the 787, but I was curious to see my options. They weren’t good. I could take flight 1169 which was supposed to go at 1110a but was on a long mechanical delay (it ended up being nearly 4 hours late and left after 3p) or I could go later that night. No thanks.
As Houston boarding finished up, the gate agents again told the Denver people to get out of the way, but I don’t remember them ever announcing our delay, let alone apologize for it. The Houston flight finally pushed back at 1247p. Our airplane took another 15 minutes to saddle up to the gate. Meanwhile, the Shanghai airplane had finally shown up but it hadn’t been catered, so they kept waiting.
We finally started boarding at 113p (or at least, that’s when I tweeted we had started, it could have been a couple minutes earlier). The different boarding groups had merged together and there was a fair bit of confusion. But mercifully, I was finally onboard.
October 8, 2015
United 1405 Lv Los Angeles 1p Arr Denver 419p
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 77, Runway 25R, Depart 1h11m Late
Denver (DEN): Gate B32, Runway 34R, Arrive 1h26m Late
N27959, Boeing 787-9, Continental Globe colors, ~95% Full
Seat 32L, Coach
Flight Time 2h1m
This airplane looked brand new… because it was. I walked past Business and then through Economy Plus before finding my seat. The seats were all clean and attractive. I put my bag up in the bin (no problem finding space) and grabbed my seat on the window. There, I was treated to the view of the wing. I love that wing.
People seemed to board pretty quickly, but then we sat. There were a bunch of announcements made, but we never seemed to be getting anywhere. Finally, I remembered that the IFE works on the ground for United. I flipped on a movie. After a while, I realized that I was pretty far into it and we still hadn’t moved.
I saw out the window that the Shanghai flight had finally pushed back at 153p, a good 48 minutes late. I hoped we were next.
By 2p, they were on the airplane calling people by name, presumably to give out upgrades. There were at least 3 announcements about this and it just wasted our time. We were late, yet nobody seemed to be in a hurry and that was more aggravating than anything.
Finally, after an hour of boarding, we left. Yes, an hour. Things did get better from here, starting with this sweet video of the wing (along with all kinds of great airplanes at the Bradley Terminal) on takeoff. Yes, the window was slightly tinted. Check out how the trailing edge of the wing adjusts as it detects changes in airflow. I assume this is part of Boeing’s turbulence reduction system.
I kept watching my movie and looking out the window. I had a great view of the massive Ivanpah solar facility. Then it was just beautiful southwestern scenery as we cruised above the high, thin clouds at 41,000 feet.
I found the seat width to be perfectly fine for me, and the legroom was good. The only complaint is that the cushion was stiff on my hamstrings, but I believe that is supposed to improve once the cushions have been worn in a bit more. The IFE system was excellent and it was easy to toggle back and forth between movies and maps.
My movie finished up with an hour still left in the flight since we had sat on the ground so long, so I flipped on an episode of Veep. Then the announcements started. When there’s a built-in IFE system, announcements are much more disturbing because they stop your video. So you would hope that they would be used sparingly. That wasn’t the case on this flight.
There were no fewer than 4 different announcements about connecting gates. Two of the announcements were identical; they just felt like repeating the information. Apparently United provides connecting gate info using airport codes, but the airline doesn’t require flight attendants to actually know them. This was how one announcement went.
Hmm, this airport code is CVG. I believe that’s Cincinnati at gate xx. The airport code on this one is HDN, I think it’s Herndon at gate xx. And the airport code on this one is SAF, I don’t know what airport that is, but you’re at gate xx.
One of the pilots came on to tell us we were finally descending (we actually had a headwind on this eastbound flight and our flight time was much longer than usual). First he apologized for the delay. Unbelievably, that was the only time that I heard anyone apologize for being late. So thank you, pilots, for that. Then he said there was a bit of confusion and we’d either be at gate B32 or B47, he didn’t know. (It was B32, which was what had been posted previously.) Lastly he said it was going to get bumpy so he asked the flight attendants to clean up early.
At this point, a flight attendant made the announcement saying they were coming through the cabin, and then not a couple minutes later made the exact same announcement. You could see people getting annoyed as they tried to finish their movies; this guy would not stop talking.
We came through a cloud layer that did have some bumps in it, but once below it was a smooth ride the rest of the way in. The flight attendant again came on the PA and asked people to let connecting passengers come up front first. He said they’d be using two jet bridges so that would help get people moving.
By the time I got off the airplane, it was close to 6p, and I was late for my dinner. The 787? Awesome. The IFE? Great. The seat? Ok. But the way United handled this whole thing? Pretty poor.