Flying United to Chicago for Media Day (Trip Report)

Trip Reports, United

After a few days in Washington, it was time to move on to Chicago for United’s Global Media Day. Even though I flew into Dulles for the weekend event, I had moved into the District for a couple days of meetings and seeing old friends. That meant National was the best option for my flight out.

[Disclosure: United provided the flights to and from Chicago]

I went to check in on my app and saw that United had moved me up into Economy Plus, something I assume they did for all attendees. More importantly, I was relieved to see I was still on the right side just in case we had a north departure with a great view.

I took Metro to the airport and that took no time. National is quite the construction zone as they work to consolidate the B/C security checkpoints into one place. I had time to kill, so I wandered down to the old Main Terminal (now A). I was sad to see this:

There’s nothing quite like sitting in that hall, watching airplanes out the picture window and soaking up the history. So I kept walking and saw that the rest of the terminal looks pretty much the same. After a long walk back, I was able to go through security in about 2 minutes. Then I hung a right to reach the United gates.

United sits in those weird side gates that connect Terminal B/C to the old Main terminal. I took a seat in the gate area and waited to board. As I sat, I just enjoyed watching the airplanes go by.

Our airplane didn’t seem too full, and boarding was orderly. Once onboard, I found bin space and took my seat.

October 23, 2019
United 609 Lv Washington/National 945a Arr Chicago/O’Hare 1054a
Washington/National (DCA): Gate 11, Runway 1, Depart 4m Early
Chicago/O’Hare (ORD): Gate B14, Runway 27L, Arrive 18m Early
N27213, Boeing 737-824, United Globe colors, ~60% Full
Seat 10F, Economy Plus
Flight Time 1h36m

This airplane still had the DirectTV screens on it. It feels like quite the crapshoot when you fly a United 737-800 these days. The seats were a little firm, but they weren’t uncomfortable. And there was more legroom than I’d ever need.

We pushed back a little early and made our way down to the end of the runway. We were indeed taking off to the north, so I had a fantastic view of Washington as we climbed out.

I spent much of the flight watching the MLB Network recap of the night before since Game 1 of the World Series was such a great one. I flipped between that and “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” which was showing on.. maybe FX? I don’t recall.

The flight attendants came through with drinks and snacks. With the middle seat open, I was able to put everything on the tray table for that seat. I also flipped to the moving map on that screen, because, well, who doesn’t love a map?

It was a nice day to fly as we cut through the middle of Ohio. I could see Columbus just to our right as we headed northwest. I had to use the restroom, and that’s when I realized that space-saving lavs appear to have made their way to this airplane to the point that they actually have to angle the toilet.

By the time we were in Indiana, the pilots had turned on the seatbelt sign for the expected choppy descent. We went out over Lake Michigan and just before we reached Chicago, clouds rolled in. Fortunately, they were above us. Unfortunately, we were landing on the north runways so I had no view of the city from my side.

We did touch down on runway 27L which meant we had a very short taxi back to the terminal. I saw someone landing on runway 27R and realized they’d probably have 10 minutes more taxi time, at least.

In the terminal, United has gone with a Bears theme, even redoing all the gate numbers in B. They should put a tear drop as part of the logo since, well, the Bears. I made my way through the crowd and headed into the city.

I opted to stay an extra night to see a friend who lives out in the southwest suburbs. So it was one early morning when I left his house in a Lyft to get up to O’Hare. Despite the Lyft driver missing a couple exits off the highway, I still made it about an hour and a half before departure. That was by design since United had told everyone at media day they could go check out the Polaris Lounge when they flew out. I hadn’t seen the one in Chicago before, so I figured it worthwhile to get up early.

O’Hare was nuts at that early hour with wait times in the regular TSA line at 20 minutes. (I do like that they show it.) Precheck was only 5 minutes, however, so I was through quickly. On the other side, I went down through the magical mystery tunnel and headed over to the Polaris Lounge at gate C18.

As you’d expect at this early hour, the place was deserted. Apparently it opens this early because inbound arrivals from Sao Paulo need to have access. It’s a really nice space with plenty of private areas. The bartender was friendly, and he was very interested in making me a drink. I declined, but we still chatted for awhile.

I really only spent about 15 minutes there before heading back to my gate. On the way, I grabbed a little Garrett Mix, as one does when at O’Hare. I arrived to see our airplane ready to go on a drab day.

They were boarding groups 1 and 2 which was perfect timing. I was in group 3, and there appeared to be only 3 of us in the entire group when we were called.

October 26, 2019
United 204 Lv Chicago/O’Hare 825a Arr Los Angeles 1056a
Chicago/O’Hare (ORD): Gate B12, Runway 9R, Depart 4m Early
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 70A, Runway 25L, Arrive 21m Early
N440UA, Airbus A320-232, United Globe colors, ~90% Full
Seat 10A, Economy Plus
Flight Time 3h45m

Once again, United had given me Economy Plus on this flight, so I had no problem finding bin space and took my seat. The airplane didn’t fill up as much as I though it would, and I had an empty seat next to me. That is worth a lot more than the extra legroom to me.

We pushed back a couple minutes early and then it was just a short taxi over to runway 9R for departure. Once we were in the air, we had an expansive view of the airport as we turned around to head west.

There was a massive storm south of us (it was moving into Chicago that afternoon), and we did have a few bumps on climb out that kept the flight attendants seated. But it smoothed out somewhere over Iowa, and the flight attendants hopped up.

After a week of traveling, I had a lot of work to do, so I opted to pay the $15.99 for wifi on the full flight, and it was surprisingly quick.

The flight attendants came through with drinks and snacks. I asked if I could have two Biscoff for the kids (since I already snagged them stroopwafels earlier), and the flight attendant said she didn’t think she had enough but she’d come back later if she did. I doubted that would happen.

Sure enough, several minutes later, she came back and apologized that they had run out of Biscoff, but she brought me two stroopwafels for the kids. That was excellent service, and I really appreciated it.

The flight attendants busily came through with trays of water, coffee, and orange juice (four passes beyond the two cart services and countless trash collection runs, impressive). With wifi humming, time flew quickly. Soon we were over the Rockies on a beautiful day, and it was surprisingly smooth. I knew the next day would be markedly different when a snowstorm rolled through.

I just kept working and the rest of the flight passed in a flash. It’s really incredible what good wifi can do to a flight. We landed in a smoky haze before taxiing around the airport waiting for an alley to clear. Despite our early arrival, we had a gate available. I love gate 70A since you get such a nice view of the airplane once you get off.

I was impressed by United on this trip. Sure, a ton of stuff was broken on my first flight, but the service was outstanding on all legs. It certainly helps when every flight you take lands early, but still, it felt like a better United experience nearly all around.

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11 comments on “Flying United to Chicago for Media Day (Trip Report)

  1. Just FYI, the “flew into Dulles for the weekend event” link in the second or so sentence in the post is broken.

  2. Nice write-up, Cranky, and I’m not surprised. As a former AA employee it pains me to say this, but I prefer flying UA to AA for any flight over 1.5 hours. And the difference, believe it or not, is the F/A’s. Those crews are on their feet and in the cabin – delivering beverages, picking up trash, offering water, etc. Comparing that to AA, where they are sitting down, in the back, reading Us Magazine (or whatever), while you’ve got an empty drink cup on your tray table – it’s very frustrating.
    I’m glad you had a good trip.

  3. 10 minutes is an optimistic estimate of how long it can take to taxi back from 27R. It is, after all, located in Wisconsin.

    (OK, maybe not, but it feels like it).

    1. Used to be a five minute taxi from about anywhere. Landing on 28R, north of the hangars and you get a grand tour of the airport.

      ORD has become absurd, and I have been flying in and out of there since the 1970s. The taxiing and wait for gates is repulsive. I really miss the old configuration and the old place.

  4. Wifi will only work on the Airbus or 787 aircraft in their fleet. No other bird has stable connectivity.

  5. Glad you had a nice experience on my airline in my hometown! I work in the NOC at Willis and can assure you we are always thinking about how our operational decisions impact our customers.

  6. I flew BWI – ORD round trip on United two weeks ago and also had a very nice experience. Both flights were stand-by full. Thankfully, ORD wasn’t too bad.

  7. United definitely has stepped up their game recently. About 10 years ago, I had several miserable trips with United in a row and said screw it. About that time my employer started having me travel more and it just so happened AA went everywhere I needed to go and with company money, pricing differences weren’t an issue.
    However the last three years have been different. AA is usually 50% more for anywhere I go. And with the way they keep jacking with their mileage program, doesn’t make sense to chase that right now. LUV has been my best option, and LAX staff were the best when I had a problem.
    In September, I actually used United again; 25% less than AA and better flight times. Went through ORD and IAD to MUC, then back via IAH (during Imelda!!). No issues with any of the hubs or flights, really good service, and again, FA’s doing more than what we consider the bare minimum. Very happy with the overall product right now.

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