A Rare Trip on United, This Time to Phoenix (Trip Report)

Trip Reports, United

Ever year, a small group of America West revenue management alums get together in March in Phoenix. The goal? To continue a long tradition of attending at least one spring training game every year. It’s harder these days since some are in Dallas with American and others have moved on, but the tradition continues. And for the first time in a long time, I was able to go.

Naturally since this was an event for a predecessor of today’s American, I opted to fly… United. I really did, primarily because a) the flight times were better for me to make the 1pm game, b) it was cheaper than everyone else at $108.60 and c) United never seems to be a good option for me, so this would be nice to try something different. At first, I figured this was a Basic Economy fare, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to try that product. After all, both flights were on Embraer 175s so I’d get a window or aisle no matter what. Changeability didn’t matter since the change fee would have been higher than the regular economy fare anyway. And I had no carry-on since it was just a day trip. But alas, United wasn’t selling Basic Economy in this market. That fare was a really cheap regular coach fare.

A day before, I grabbed my phone and checked in. I actually find the United app to be one of the better ones. The next morning, I left home two hours before departure and sat in traffic. For a quick trip like this, I decided it was worth the $30 to just park in the terminal garage. I was inside in seconds.

I haven’t flown from LAX on United since 2015, so this was my first time seeing all the changes to the ticketing lobby. Once I came upstairs from the arrival level, I saw the massive new security checkpoint in front of me that they made by blowing up part of the ticket counter and offices. In the distance, I could see the old bridge from the parking garage where people used to have to line up for security.

Passengers now flow straight through to the concourse. Talk about a vastly improved experience.

The TSA agents were in a great mood, welcoming and joking with everyone. On the other side, I wandered around to see all the improvements I had only briefly seen after coming off a United flight from Kona last summer. It’s certainly nicer, but once I got to the diamond-shaped end of the terminal where I’d be departing, I couldn’t help but think about the physical constraints that just can’t be solved easily. There was a 777 to Honolulu next to us and the gate area was pretty full.

United was trying out its new boarding process, so there were ropes and stanchions snaking everywhere. I was glad to find a place to sit until boarding began.

The last time I flew from here was at the gate next door on that 787 to Denver. It was pure chaos. Things were different this time with the new boarding process seeming to work quite well.

They have two lines for people to gather. First they just allow groups 1 and 2 to line up. Then after they clear those out, they keep alternating telling people to line up from subsequent groups. It went smoothly, but then again, with only 76 seats this was a pretty small airplane. I’d love to have seen how it went with the 777 next door.

March 5, 2018
United Express 5411 Lv Los Angeles 827a Arr Phoenix 1059a (Operated by SkyWest)
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 76B, Runway 25L, Depart 4m Late
Phoenix (PHX): Gate 7, Runway 7R, Arrive 8m Early
N152SY, Embraer EMB-175, Continental Globe colors, ~95%
Seat 12A, Coach
Flight Time 54m

Onboard, the cabin looked nice and on-brand for United.

I took my seat and realized once again, I had found a seat with oddly-placed windows. The Embraer windows are so big that you can’t really go wrong, however. I just had to look back a bit. Oh, and I was treated to this view.

A few years ago I remember sitting on a United flight where I could watch entertainment at the gate, so I tried that again. It didn’t work. A flight attendant announced entertainment would be available once we left the gate. My dream of trying to watch Dunkirk split between two flights seemed to vanish. I’m not sure if this is a new policy or if it varies by aircraft.

We played the game where the brakes get kicked early but you don’t start actually moving until a few minutes after departure. It was then a 20+ minute taxi to the runway. I tried entertainment again and it still didn’t work, just saying my browser was unsupported. I assumed it just hadn’t been turned on yet. We were finally airborne and heading over the ocean before throwing a lasso around Palos Verdes and making our way east on a spectacularly-beautiful day.

Once in the air, I tried to log on again, but again it told me that my device was unsupported. That’s when I realized that was actually the problem. I don’t have an old phone. My Pixel has the latest Android Oreo operating system, and that, inexplicably, is not supported by the entertainment system. I assume this is United’s fault, since I think I’ve used it on other airlines with Gogo (though I can’t be sure) and it’s pretty ridiculous. Once we were above 10,000 feet, I figured I’d try to use internet since T-Mobile gives you a free hour with Gogo. But I couldn’t find any reference to the T-Mobile deal and with only a little over 30 minutes left until landing at that point, I gave up.

We hit our cruise altitude somewhere over the Coachella Valley for a few minutes and the flight attendants came through with drinks and stroopwafels. I didn’t want one, but I asked if I could have an extra to bring the kids. The flight attendant said “if it’s for your kids, take 3,” which was really nice.

The seatbelt sign stayed off briefly before we crossed the Colorado River and began our descent. As a Diamondbacks fan, I took a minute to wave to Chase Field before we landed.

Getting off in Terminal 2 is like a time warp. This ancient terminal services Alaska and United with some little guys, and it’s destined to be leveled as soon as the expansion of Terminal 3 opens.

This place is old-school with low ceilings and narrow hallways except at the end where there is an enormous empty space.

I walked out to the curb where I met my friend who took us out to see the White Sox play at the A’s.

After a great but short day, it was time to go… but wait. The A’s had been down 9-0, and they started to mount a comeback. We couldn’t just leave while that was happening, could we? Sure enough, the A’s tied it up in the bottom of the ninth, and since it was spring training, they decided to call the game there. We headed to the car with 1 hour and 15 minutes before departure time. With any luck, the drive would take 20 minutes. I was cutting it close.

Things moved well until we got to the airport. Traffic completely stopped and began to slowly crawl past Terminals 4 and 3. I started to sweat, not knowing if Terminal 2 even had Pre Check available.

We finally made it to the curb at about 5:10pm with my flight leaving at 5:45. I walked in and found a wide open security line with Pre Check. That’s when I took a breath knowing I’d be fine. I strolled up to the gate around 5:20pm and boarding was just about to begin. I walked onboard soon after.

March 5, 2018
United Express 5436 Lv Phoenix 545p Arr Los Angeles 624p
Phoenix (PHX): Gate 7, Runway 25R, Depart 1m Late
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 72B, Runway 25L, Arrive 7m Early
N153SY, Embraer EMB-175, Continental Globe colors, ~95% Full
Seat 12A, Coach
Flight Time 59m

I took the same seat I had on the way out on this mostly full flight. Once again, the pilots kicked the brakes a couple minutes before departure only for us to sit there and not begin pushing back until after it was time to go. (Hmm, maybe I should think twice before using the D0 statistic.) We taxied by the attractive new north south side of Terminal 3.

Until recently, this was a concourse pushing north/south. Now it’ll be east/west with a whole lot of ramp space. Soon we were in the air as the sun continued to set.

The dude next to me was big, but it didn’t seem cramped. I was only annoyed when he inexplicably broke out his phone and decided to watch a movie… without any headphones. That was, well, confusing to say the least.

Meanwhile, I looked out the window as we gradually climbed. Long before we reached the Arizona border, I could see the glint from the setting sun off the Salton Sea well into California. Drinks were passed, and then it was time to descend.

We landed early and… you guessed it. It was penalty box time. We sat on the ground for about 15 minutes before we made our way back to the terminal, still earlier than scheduled. I went straight to my car and headed home.

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24 comments on “A Rare Trip on United, This Time to Phoenix (Trip Report)

  1. I don’t know about United, but for Hawaiian the block time doesn’t count when the brakes are released, but the plane has to actually be moving at something like 3 mph before the computer says the plane is off the block.

  2. I saw the T-Mobile offer on Delta 2065, 737-900 from PDX-ATL on Monday. I’m AT&T though….just watched the excellent seatback tv entertainment. Really like Delta’s suite of
    entertainment offerings.

  3. Just did LHR-ORD-LHR on two very old UA 763’s, and the AV didn’t work on either flight. The video-not on demand system was just old and knackered, but the BYOD using the in-flight wifi wouldn’t work at all on my colleague’s Android phone, and froze so many times on my iPhone as to be unwatchable. Complained on-line afterwards, got $125 in vouchers in response – guess the real solution is for them to replace these archaic bits of metal.

    1. As it happens United is refurbishing those very old 763s. They’re getting the Polaris seating in the pointy and and the economy cabin is being totally redone with new overhead bins, mood lighting, and real on demand AVOD. There are only 7 of the old cabin 763s left flying, and one more is due into the shop for mod very soon. The sub fleet should be completed by the fall.

  4. I was just on a short trip from ORD to DCA on United and noticed that any reference to the T-Mobile deal has disappeared.

    I’m not sure if it’s because United now brands their access “United WiFi” (which is trademarked for some reason that’s beyond me), using Gogo on some flights and satellite on others.

    Also, as a PSA: If you add “One Plus” to your T-Mobile account (which is $10 a month), you get unlimited Gogo for your entire flight (instead of just a one-hour window). There’s other benefits (hotspot use, faster international data, name ID on calls), and it’s almost the same price as buying 1 hour from Gogo.

  5. Brett: You make the most routine logistics and details of a trip extraordinary. Your readers know this sensitivity to minutiae is part what makes flying fun. I am waiting for the day when I will contact you to route me around the world Brett. I have the miles accumulated; besides the air reservations, are you able to reserve hotels at the same time? CJTaylor

  6. Great report! Oh, we have all this wonderful service and yet things just seem to be a constant frustration. Maybe it’d be better if we just lived by: “Expect nothing and you’ll never be disappointed!”

  7. Crazy as it sounds; I’m going to miss T2.
    It’s a throwback to the old school airport terminals of my childhood. It’s amenities are minimal….before airports became malls with planes.
    Wasn’t that empty space at the head of T2 where Hughes operated years ago?

    1. Hughes Airwest did operate out of terminal 2 and Republic after that. That big empty space was not there back then though. I spent my time in terminal 2 flying TWA. I was in PHX last weekend and saw the UA jets on the old TWA gates on the west side of the terminal. Terminal 3 looks huge. It looks like a first class international terminal both landside and airside. Big change from when HP started there.

    2. The space at the end of T2 (as it exists today) was built out to accommodate USAir’s short lived focus city at Phoenix after their acquisition of PSA. The space originally accommodated about 6 gates – 8 gates. The number of gates has been reduced to the 2 current gates operated by Alaska.

      The head used to be occupied by Hugest AirWest and I believe Frontier, but the layout of the terminal was vastly different at the time. At this time, the head of the terminal was only 1 level and boarding was done at ground level.

  8. I really will miss Terminal 2 because it really can be a convenient terminal to get a flight. Even with a crowd, it’s rarely horrible.Yes, it can be cramped and it’s the oldest one at the airport being built in 1962, but I do like the one level we’re all on.

    I know things have to change and I’m not against it, but sometimes I wish we could keep a thing or two like that so we can show other how it was.

  9. Interesting, I’ve had problems with the United IFE on my Samsung Galaxy S8, running both Android Nougat (October 2017) and Oreo (February 2018). Together with the Pixel line, these are the best selling Android phones out there, and I think it’s inexcusable that United IFE doesn’t work with these.

  10. Not using headphones is inconsiderate.
    On my SWA flight today the f/a’s announcement after take off instructed passengers to use headphones when listening to music, movies, television. . .

    1. It’s policy, and common sense, to use headphones. Totally inconsiderate not to. But then again that’s the society in which we live.

  11. Ah, T2 in PHX. Dad worked there for Western and Mom at National Car Rental. I remember when Gate 1 got the first Jetway.

    Damn, I’m old…

  12. I’ve had about 100 hours in the air the past couple of months and I think I’ve now watched Dunkirk 3 times. :) It’s actually hard to follow the more nuanced plot (with an airplane-sized screen and mediocre sound) the first time you watch it. It’s actually best if you can get the version with “descriptive narration” (where the narrator tells you everything that’s going on — including who’s who).

  13. Agree with your assessments of the United app (best among U.S. carriers, as far as I’m concerned; at least United has that going for them, despite their many shortcomings) and T2 in PHX. That’s where I have ended up my last couple trips to Phoenix. The coolest part about the ancient, hard-to-get-to T2 is the sweet retro airplane carpet. Thanks for another interesting trip report. Go Royals!

  14. I used to like T2 back when I lived in PHX. They had an old-style video arcade that was fun to kill time in, although I think it went out of business a long time ago. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to check it out this year when I go to Sedona for a mini vacation before it’s gone.

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