Back From the Big Island on United (Trip Report)

Trip Reports, United

And now for the conclusion to this Hawaiian adventure. After my low and slow flights over from Moloka’i, I spent a week on the Big Island. Other than the usual beach and pool action, we visited Volcanoes National Park. Yes, lava…

And I have a cousin who is a telescope operator at one of the telescopes on top of Mauna Kea. Getting a tour of the facility at 14,000 feet was easily the highlight of the week.

Two weeks after I left home, it was finally time to go back. My parents, brother, and his family had taken an early flight via Honolulu, so that left us to close up the house. We checked in but couldn’t print anything, so after dropping the rental car off, we went to the United counter. There’s no bag drop, so we just waited in line until a kiosk opened so we could check our bags and get our boarding passes.

There seemed to be some confusion as multiple agents were asking each other for help, but finally someone came to us and tagged our bags. We headed to the security checkpoint, and fortunately we had Pre Check, because the regular line was loooong.

We were through in no time, and I quickly realized how under-sized the Kona airport is. It’s really just a series of huts that seems overcrowded the second you walk in.

I could only see a sign for gate 5 where Island Air operated, but we needed gate 2. After looking around, I realized that the gate numbers weren’t displayed, because everyone except for gate 5 had to go through the agricultural inspection that’s required to leave the islands.

That opened an hour before our flight, and everyone mobbed the entrance. We waited a bit, and by the time we were through, boarding still hadn’t begun. We took a seat even though most people had staked a place out in line. Once boarding began, we took our place in the line for group 3 and waited our turn.

After giving our boarding passes, I was able to take in the awe-inspiring view in front of me. I love the 757, even this goofy long one that was taking us home. Look at this beauty.

After climbing the stairs in the heat and sun, we were greeted by a very cool and dark cabin.

August 9, 2017
United 1205 Lv Kona 1236p Arr Los Angeles 906p
Kona (KOA): Gate 2, Runway 17, Depart 5m Early
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 73, Runway 25L, Arrive 5m Early
N57857, Boeing 757-324, United Globe colors, ~85% Full
Seat 18B, Coach
Flight Time 4h44m

We were seated only a few rows back since on this airplane, Economy Plus doesn’t take up the entire area in front of the overwing exits. We had our usual set-up of window/middle and window/middle behind.

As boarding finished up and the crew was ready to leave, the person in the aisle next to my wife stopped a flight attendant and said “is this a 747?” She said no, and then he kept her in a back-and-forth asking about a 757, 767, 747, and trying to understand which was biggest. She finally said, as politely as she could, she just didn’t know how to answer him and moved on. This wasn’t the only odd interaction. At one point he took his free headphones, but didn’t untie the tie holding the cord together. So he just leaned down with his head very close to the plug. He also decided to jump up on final approach and go to the bathroom. It was hard to tell if he was drunk, inexperienced, or senile.

We pushed back and made our way to the runway for a south departure. Seconds after getting into the air, we went into a steep right bank to come out over the ocean. We sliced across the top of the Big Island and I waved goodbye to Maui in the distance as we headed out to sea for the Pacific crossing back home.

The air smoothed out nicely at altitude, and the seatbelt sign stayed off the entire time. With my kids happily watching their iPads, my wife and I put our heads together to try to figure out the inflight entertainment situation.

This aircraft was equipped with the LiveTV service that is completely and totally useless over the water. United had sent me an email before travel telling me I’d have both wifi and streaming entertainment but that was not true. (Update: United tells me that there was an aircraft swap after that email was sent, so we were supposed to have it.)

The aircraft had wifi, but that particular system doesn’t work over the water either. Only some United aircraft have the Panasonic service that works over water and this wasn’t one of them. Oh, and wireless streaming of videos stored onboard? No, not on this LiveTV-equipped airplane.

The only apparent entertainment was a handful of movies that ran on loops throughout the flight. It said it would cost $7.99 to pay for that during the flight and you get a $2 discount if you buy 3 or more screens. My wife decided to do that, but it wouldn’t work. So she asked a passing flight attendant what the deal was. The flight attendant said that they had flipped the switch to make the movies complimentary so there was no need to pay, but she’d just have to wait until the movies started playing in their loop again.

When my wife asked about streaming video, the flight attendant shook her head and said something to the effect of, “I think that’s only on United airplanes, but this is a Continental airplane.” It’s incredible that 7 long years after the merger, employees still have to explain things that way.

Finally clear on the entertainment situation, I settled in to watch Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. That was a good airplane movie. I thought about ordering food, but the flight attendants said the only food they had was a cheeseburger. That didn’t sound appetizing at the time, so I skipped it. I had some ginger ale and took the snack mix pack and that was it.

Once the movie was over, I realized that my controls didn’t work and I’d be doomed to watch the same movie once it began looping again. So I convinced my son to switch with me so I could watch another movie since he was just glued to the iPad. I saw the end of Snatched, then waited 20 minutes, and then saw the beginning.

About half an hour out of LA, LiveTV came available and I was able to flip on the Diamondbacks vs Dodgers game as we passed near the coast with dusk settling in.

We came in to the south, over Long Beach, and then landed nice and early. But that’s when LAX happened. The airplane on our gate had arrived just before us. They had to deplane and then get towed off the gate before we could park. The pilot estimated it would be 40 minutes.

I’m glad I had the baseball game, but I was worried about the kids. Fortunately my son was captivated by the airplanes we kept passing as we did our moving penalty box run (going ’round and ’round in circles). He took the iPad and started taking pictures and video. He even insisted on taking the iPad to school the next day so he could show his friends. (He did, and the teachers kept asking where the photos of Hawai’i were.)

After just shy of 40 minutes, we made it to the gate. We were still 5 minutes earlier than schedule after all that. Other than the entertainment confusion, it was a nice flight with a friendly crew. But I was still happy to be off the airplane.

I haven’t been in United’s Terminal 7 since before the renovation work began, and it has been significantly improved. The light is a bit bright for someone coming off a long flight, but the terminal looks so much better. The gate screens are gigantic, and signage seems more prominent.

We started walking out and stopped at Boa Steakhouse to grab some food for the ride home. The burger was good but not even remotely worth the nearly $20 charge. Ridiculous.

We walked past the expansive new security area and headed down to get our bags. Then instead of trying to fight our way back up to the ridesharing pickup upstairs, we just collapsed into a cab and headed home.

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18 comments on “Back From the Big Island on United (Trip Report)

  1. The 757 is a beauty, nice photo. I also prefer the 200 series’ looks to the 300. Hope they live on for a long time, and that Boeing finally announces their successor, which is NOT another stretched 737!

    1. I’ve always loved the look of it too. Very aerodynamic looking and a ton of power. Not having a 757ng I think has been one of Boeing’s biggest mistakes.

      1. I’ll second the 757 love. Always a delight to get on a ’57 vs. another stretched variant of the 737 or A320.

        Surprising that UA is using equipment with a dated IFE system on a long over water flight. Even worse, why don’t they have a common IFE throughout their fleet after this many years???

        1. Love the 757. The best is flying it out of an airport with noise abatement with a light load and they have to get altitude quickly. You realize how well powered it is.

          As for the IFE, try getting stuck on one of the old 767s UA’s still flying transatlantic with the overhead screens. Definitely bring your iPad.

  2. ” Fortunately my son was captivated by the airplanes we kept passing as we did our moving penalty box run (going ’round and ’round in circles). He took the iPad and started taking pictures and video. He even insisted on taking the iPad to school the next day so he could show his friends. (He did, and the teachers kept asking where the photos of Hawai’i were.)”

    My favorite part of your post. I’m very lucky as well that my 6 year old son loves planes and to planespot with me.

  3. Looks like you had a plane swap from a 757-300 with PDE to one with DirecTV w/o streaming video. While all 757-300 are operated by sCO flight attendants, some of them do have streaming video available, contrary to what the FA said.

      1. Bill is saying that instead of the overpriced burger he had inside the terminal, he should have had the taxi take him through the LAX In-n-Out Burger drive through on his way home.

        1. Speaking of, there’s a nice post about Dorkfest, which takes place at that very restaurant, over on…BTW, CF is the brains (or should I say dork) behind Dorkfest! Looks like y’all had a good time, Brett!

  4. I flew AA PHX-LIH a few weeks ago on an old US 757, no seatback entertainment systems, just the ancient TV for everyone to watch, it was free, but who wants to watch The Smurfs Movie? No internal wifi for streaming movies either. Not the greatest product, but….not having to connect in LAX makes it all worthwhile

  5. Your trip reports are still my favorite part of the blog. I also love the 757s, though probably not for a flight much longer than your return from Hawaii. My son is also a budding airline dork like me, and I can totally relate to the story about your son taking pictures of only the airplanes to school. That’s awesome.

    1. I am also a 757 fan, have taken the Icelandair flight (all they have are 757’s) to Iceland (KEF) from Denver, and on to Europe, primarily Scandinavia.

      They have 25 757 – 200 series.

      Oops, they also have 4 (four) 767-300 series now.

      Flight time westbound from KEF to Denver is 7 hours and 38 minutes…
      Flight time from KEF to SEA and PDX is slightly longer…

      Peter in Boulder, CO.

  6. Doing a lot less business with T7 these days than formerly, but the one constant of T7 and T8 has been the only somewhat reasonably priced food that is reasonably restaurant quality is Wolfgang Puck… everything is overpriced, low quality, inedible, or a combination…

  7. I’m interested in your comment about seating configuration of window/middle and window/middle behind. We’re going to Hawaii next year with 3 1/2 yr old and 6 month old. Do you think that’s the best configuration with two kids? Wondering if anyone has other opinions. We’ll likely be on a A330 Hawaiian.

    1. Yes I do. Keep the kids on the window where they can’t get out but they have their own little place to play. If you prefer, you could do 3 and 1 across the aisle, but then it’s not as easy to split the parenting duties.

      Some airlines require the baby seat to be in the window, so you’ll need to check on that for the 6 month old if you’re considering a different configuration.

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