To say I don’t fly United often is an understatement. The last time I set foot on a United-operated airplane was more than two years ago when I flew back from Kona to LA. Before that, it was more than four years ago. Even if you include regionals, it’s still been more than a year and a half since I did a short hop to Phoenix. Needless to say, I was excited to have the chance to get on United again for a trio of flights and see how things were going.
I had to be in Fairfax, Virginia for something with friends followed by a couple meetings in Washington. I would then go on to Chicago for United’s media day and then fly home. Today, I’m just talking about the flight to DC which I paid for.
Dulles was way more convenient for where I was going, so it came down to flying United or Alaska. United was a bit cheaper at $243.30 (or, actually, the equivalent number of Ultimate Rewards points), plus it was on an internationally-configured 757, so I figured I’d enjoy my seatback screen.
I checked in on the app and found a window seat closer to the front had come available, so I snagged it. The next morning, I grabbed a Lyft about 2 hours before departure to take me up to LAX. Traffic was surprisingly light in the terminal area, so I had plenty of time to kill.
Security was mostly empty, and on the other side, I wandered down to my gate at the end of the concourse. The lighting in Terminal 7 is exceedingly bright for some reason, most noticeably during morning hours.
By the time I got to my gate, it was still a little more than an hour before departure, but people were lined up for boarding in groups 1 and 2. I couldn’t understand why.
Boarding worked pretty well with the fancy people boarding in groups 1 and 2, and then United calling up the additional groups after to file into the group 2 line. There were a bunch of those fancy people on this flight — I think I saw 57 people on the upgrade list. I was in group 3 with the non-fancy folks, so I got in line when called.
October 18, 2019
United 1080 Lv Los Angeles (LAX) 735a Arr Washington/Dulles (IAD) 330p
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 75B, Runway 25R, Depart 13m Early
Washington/Dulles (IAD): Gate C23, Runway 1C, Arrive 29m Early
N34137, Boeing 757-224, United Globe colors, ~99% Full
Seat 25F, Coach
Flight Time 4h19m
This airplane looked like it could use a refresh. The lights are that old dull yellowish-white color that has started to disappear thanks to mood-lighting. The seats looked clean, but they were an older vintage.
Bin space had already become scarce, but I was able to find a place to squeeze my bag in.
I took my seat and found that it was desperately in need of some love. My right armrest was completely loose and wobbly.
The seatback screen worked, however, so I pulled out my headphones and flipped on a movie. I decided to watch “Stuber” since that seemed like a perfect airplane comedy. I had to hold my headphones in place to get sound in both ears. I should note, Stuber can only be seen in seatback screens. It’s too new to be released on the streaming system just yet. Score one for in-seat video.
We pushed back surprisingly early and had a quick taxi to the runway. As we started moving, they started playing the safety video. It abruptly stopped, the screens went black, and then code appeared. A couple minutes later the flight attendants told us that they had to reboot the system, and they would do the safety demonstration manually.
I can see why they had to do that. It took a really long time for the system to reboot. We were in the air and turning around back toward Washington before it came back to life. When it did, it didn’t remember anything so I had to manually find where I was in the movie. That took a few minutes on this older system, but then I was back on track.
The seatbelt sign came off and the flight attendants came through with drinks and snacks. I snagged a Stroopwafel and had some hot tea which was pretty awful. The flight attendants, however, were friendly and attentive throughout the flight.
As we got toward the Rockies, the bumps picked up and the pilots told the flight attendants to sit down due to turbulence. It never got too bad, and a few minutes later, they were up and about again over the Plains.
It was about this time that I realized my seat had an auto-recline “feature.” It ever-so-slowly kept reclining backwards. I sat up, pushed the button and it snapped back up to attention. But now that I was aware, I would have to do that every few minutes to stay upright. My apologies to the woman behind me.
When my movie ended, I decided to flip on my computer. The power outlet didn’t work at all, but fortunately I had enough juice to go for awhile. I turned on another movie, “Yesterday,” on the screen, and then began to work. As if on cue, the person in front of me slammed his seat back into a full recline, nearly crushing my computer in the process. Thanks, buddy.
I know United’s wifi isn’t fast, so I decided to only pay $11.99 for one hour of service just in case it wasn’t feeling spry. It wasn’t.
Connectivity was good enough for me to do email and tweet… usually, but that was pretty much it. I suppose that’s better than what I expected, but then again, that’s a pretty lousy expectation.
The flight attendants came through multiple times during the flight with a water service and then a second beverage service. I stuck with water for the rest of the flight.
About 45 minutes out of Washington, my movie was done, my internet had expired, and I decided to flip on some audio. The streaming-to-your-own-device service has no music at all, so I went through the seatback screen. United has several channels you can pick — none of which was Channel 9 — but there is no listing of the music you can expect nor can you skip through the playlists. I just sat there and stared out the window on a clear day.
It got bouncy below 5,000 feet as the remains of the recent storm cleared out. We landed toward the north very early and taxied to our gate, C23.
The C/D gates at Dulles are still… Dulles. You can slap a coat of paint on the place, but that thing is still a “temporary” midfield concourse.
Instead of walking to the train, I went into D and took the mobile lounge. It’s way better spotting above ground. At the terminal, I wandered out to the curb where I had to take a rental car bus for the very long drive to the hinterlands where they keep the cars. More than an hour after landing, I was finally on my way.
Overall, the experience was good… if you exclude the airplane itself. The app worked great, boarding was fine, communication was adequate, flight was on-time, and the flight attendants did a great job. But that 757 has seen better days. United has begun retrofitting the 757s with new coach seats and screens, so at least the airline knows that it needs help.
When I was at media day later that week, someone who worked on the flight attendant device was showing it to me as part of the technology showcase. I told her about my flight in to Dulles and said I thought it was odd I never saw my flight attendants use that to report the broken items I had told them about. She said they may have just done it in the galley, but she wanted to confirm it had been reported. She was also surprised nobody had offered me compensation. Apparently United is doling it out for anyone who deals with broken items.
She asked for my card, and the next day I had a call from someone asking for full details and offering me a $150 credit. That sounded more than generous to me, and I wondered if it was just because I had been flagged as media. But a friend of mine who is a flight attendant for the airline put that fear to rest, saying “I’d have offered you more considering what was broken.”