Annoying Delays and Other Fun on United Express to Monterey (Trip Report)

Trip Reports, United

I try to do a “Dad Adventure” with each of my kids every year. The last one I wrote up here was two years ago when I let them pick from the then-brand new Avelo’s route map. (We ended up in Ogden and Eureka.) This year, my daughter really wanted to go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and my son wanted to go to Catalina Island. Today, we’ll talk Monterey.

We couldn’t start planning this Monterey trip until just a week before travel thanks to some sports scheduling uncertainty. With that kind of time, I figured there was no way Monterey would be doable, but then… magic! There was low level award availability from LAX up to Monterey on United. Even better, there was a transfer bonus from Amex to Air Canada Aeroplan, so I was able to spend just 10,000 points plus about $40 per person for the roundtrip. That was a great deal. [Note from points and miles bloggers: Insert highly-lucrative credit card sign-up links here]

I wasn’t quite sure how to prepare for travel the day after July 4th. Would it be busy or not? I decided that road traffic would probably be lighter on the semi-holiday week but the airport would be a complete mess. So, we left home a little before 2 hours prior to departure and found ourselves at South Bay Airport Parking within half an hour. It then took us more than half an hour to get from there to United’s Terminal 7. The horseshoe was stopped in multiple places. I’m convinced that being a shuttle driver at LAX is the worst job in the world.

We had a little under an hour until departure when we arrived, but I wasn’t particularly worried. The TSA Precheck line was short, but it was messy. There were two lines for two machines, but they closed one and just left the other line to fend for themselves. There were no agents guiding people, and tensions got heated as people fought for a spot to put their bags.

After doing my best impression of Robert Stack walking through the Trans American terminal — I kid, I kid — we made our way through and walked to the very last gate in Terminal 8. I don’t know that I’d ever been that far down before, but it has a great panoramic view of the airfield. There’s no seating to speak of, but we didn’t really care.

The agent said boarding would begin shortly at one point, but he then came on and announced there was a problem with a flight attendant jumpseat on the airplane so they’d have to hold off on boarding.

Boarding eventually began just 15 minutes before scheduled departure.

United 5310 (operated by SkyWest)
July 5, 2023

From Los Angeles
➤ Scheduled Departure: 820a
➤ Actual Departure: 902a
➤ From Gate: 86B
➤ Wheels Up: 919a
➤ From Runway: 24L

To Monterey
➤ Wheels Down: 1006a
➤ On Runway: 28L
➤ Scheduled Arrival: 943a
➤ Actual Arrival: 1008a
➤ At Gate: 5

➤ Type: Mitsubishi CRJ-701ER
➤ Delivered: January 22, 2010
➤ Registered: N796SK, msn 10300
➤ Livery: 2019 Blue Globe Colors

➤ Cabin: Coach in Seat 20C
➤ Load: ~90% Full
➤ Flight Time: 47m

There was no trouble getting people in their seats and ready to go on time. The airplane was clean inside, though the windows were dirty. We sat there for awhile, and that’s when I noticed a mechanic up front. Apparently they hadn’t actually finished up all the jumpseat work, but at that point it looked like we were waiting on paperwork. After a few more minutes, the mechanic was gone and they prepared to shut the door.

They actually did shut the door and… we sat there. What now? We had no idea. After another 10 minutes or so, one of the pilots came on saying we were waiting for wind information in Monterey. Apparently the “automated system” (as he announced it) wasn’t working so they had to call dispatch to call the tower to get the info. We’d be on our way shortly. Except we weren’t. Eventually the info did arrive, presumably by carrier pigeon, and we pushed back just over 40 minutes late.

You’d think that being at gate 86B would have its benefits. After all, you can’t get any closer to the threshold of the south runways, so it’s a short taxi… if you’re using the south runways. We, however, had to go to the north side, so we taxied all the way to the west, past the midfield satellite concourse before heading to the north side and taxiing all the way back to the east. It took more than 15 minutes. Fortunately there wasn’t a long line for takeoff and we were airborne quickly.

There was no service on this flight, though the flight attendants did come through and collect trash a couple times.

I’d never flown to Monterey before, and wow is it a beautiful approach. We shot northwest up the Salinas Valley (which parallels to the west of the much larger and better known San Joaquin Valley). It looked like we were well below the coastal range mountain tops, though I was on the right (er, wrong) side to see that view well.

Eventually, the mountains ended and we flew over rolling hills before finally touching down under a low, breaking overcast.

It took us no time to get off the airplane and into the small and bustling terminal. I particularly enjoyed the old-school tower which is perched up on a hill.

While my daughter and I were visiting the aquarium, Cannery Row, Fisherman’s Wharf, and an unsettling number of crepe restaurants, the airplane that brought us in was heading back to LA, up to Redding and back, and finally up to Fresno for the evening while we had a good meal on the municipal pier.

The next morning, while we were at yet another crepe place, the airplane flew down from Fresno to LA and then headed up to Monterey to pick us up once again. It’s always fun when you get the same plane in both directions.

We got to the airport an hour before departure and quickly realized that was a mistake. It was empty. The only thing keeping us from having too much time to sit at our gate was an over-zealous TSA agent.

I will never understand why security at these small airports seems to take everything far too seriously. First, my belt set off the metal detector, something it didn’t do at LAX the day before (or anywhere else I’ve traveled in recent memory). Then, they flagged my bag because of a suspiciously large can of liquid. It turns out, as the agent told me, “that shaving cream can looked bigger” on that image on the screen. Ok.

Through security, you turn left to go to gates 1, 2, and 3 or right to get to 4 and 5. We were down at 5, the same place we arrived the day before.

At the gate, I asked the agent if we could move to the left side since I figured it’d be a better view. She said it wouldn’t be a problem but she had to do something else first. We took a seat, and sure enough, the new seats showed up in the app soon after.

Boarding began roughly on-time, but it was a very pokey and non-rushed affair. Though the agent scanned our boarding passes, she told us to keep them out because they would be scanned again just before getting on the airplane. I’m not sure why, but maybe they’ve had a problem with ground boarding people on the wrong airplane?

United 5658 (operated by SkyWest)
July 6, 2023

From Monterey
➤ Scheduled Departure: 1028a
➤ Actual Departure: 1028a
➤ From Gate: 5
➤ Wheels Up: 1101a
➤ From Runway: 28L

To Los Angeles
➤ Wheels Down: 1152a
➤ On Runway: 24R
➤ Scheduled Arrival: 1155a
➤ Actual Arrival: 1201p
➤ At Gate: 85

➤ Type: Mitsubishi CRJ-701ER
➤ Delivered: January 22, 2010
➤ Registered: N796SK, msn 10300
➤ Livery: 2019 Blue Globe Colors

➤ Cabin: Coach in Seat 14B
➤ Load: ~85% Full
➤ Flight Time: 51m

Onboard our old friend from the day before, we took our seats further forward and on the left side. We were ready to go, and then the delay was announced. This time, the pilots told us there was flow control into LA, and despite our 10:28am scheduled departure time, we didn’t have a wheels-up time until just after 11. We were told we’d taxi out and sit there, hoping for an earlier time. It wasn’t to be.

At 11:01am, we took off and rapidly climbed into the low marine layer. I’m not sure if this is for noise abatement or terrain, but shortly after departing, we took a right and headed north toward the middle of the bay before looping back around to head southeast a couple minutes later.

It was again a short flight, but this time the flight attendant came through with water for anyone who wanted it. We didn’t, but we did enjoy the view out the left side as we came down the coast.

It was a normal approach from the north where we headed east to downtown LA and then looped around to land back west. We lined up abeam a KLM 777 which was a nice twist on the usual arrival.

It’s a shame we couldn’t have switched places with KLM, because we passed each other way at the west end of the field when we each had to go to the other side of the airport to park.

We pulled into the gate just a few minutes late despite the lengthy sit in Monterey. Clearly they plan for these annoying flow control delays. After waiting for awhile, we finally got the bus back to the parking location, and then we were on our way home.

For such a short hop, these delays and long schedule block times are rather annoying, but let’s put this into persective. I have not to had to fly to or through New York this summer, so… I’ll just stop complaining.

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28 comments on “Annoying Delays and Other Fun on United Express to Monterey (Trip Report)

  1. That’s the thing with these short flights. They end up being almost the same amount of time out would take to drive. So assuming you’re paying for them, you’re paying a bunch of money to hurry up and wait.

    We were visiting friends in Visalia and live in Roseville. We flew Sacramento – SFO – Fresno gmc it was totally silly but it saved the 4.5 hour drive on 99 which sucks.

    I don’t know if either option sounds good.

  2. Off topic, but…

    I assumed it was a distribution center, but couldn’t resist the temptation to look up the building on that second-to-last picture.

    Yes, that is what it looked like (though with a store, not a warehouse); a Target building with the company logo on the roof, made out of what appear to be solar panels. I’m not really a Target shopper (nothing against the company, just no stores convenient to me), but someone deserves a lot of credit for realizing that that particular store is on the approach path to LAX and for choosing to turn the solar panel installation into a giant rooftop billboard. Very cool, though perhaps not as cool as the famous “Welcome to Cleveland” sign at MKE.

    1. I maybe wrong, but I think this may be a common practice for Target store. I recall seeing many over the years when landing at various airports. Those were all just the regular Target red logo. Have not seen one like this made of solar panel, which is very cool.

    2. I’ve seen this at a number of Target stores. There is a logo on the roof of the one at Camp Creek Parkway about 4 miles out to the west of the north runways at ATL. Same with the one on Mannheim Rd by ORD, which would be on short final for I believe both 27R and 22R. And of course fittingly the Target that borders the MSP airport has such. I know there are more, but that’s what I can think of off top of my head.

  3. Landing/departing from a runway on the opposite site of your gate at LAX appears to happen often to me. I often wonder how much fuel are wasted on those extra taxi time. When that does not happen on landing, there is a 80% chance you have to wait on tarmac for your gate to become available. I am sure this is just my biased view and there are good reasons we need to fly from the other side, but the conspiracy theorist in me think they do that on purpose so you don’t notice how bad the gate congestion issue is.

    1. It’s been a while since I last heard this in an ATC conversation or in a comment from an airline pilot, but last I heard, WN’s pilots are famous (notorious?) for requesting runways that are closer to their gates and for asking for more efficient taxi routes. I believe WN’s pilots also have a reputation for moving quite quickly on the taxiways.

      1. There was a time in the past that seemed like WN pilots appeared to taxi at double the speed of others. I always admired that and felt like they were doing that to give their customers a sense of being aware that time is important.

        1. For David, yes they do. Back in the 90s, I was working Ground Control at SAT with a WN taxiing behind an AA. Took the WN on the diagonal to back taxi down the runway for take-off, which is taxiing opposite direction and doing a 180 at the end. He did that and was on takeoff roll before the AA had gotten to the end of the runway, so no delay for either one and WN got out first. To this day, I have never figured why AA taxis so slowly.

    2. Pretty standard at LAX going north from the south complex to take the senic route to the north complex. At stated below it prevents traffic heading north from crossing over the active north complex from the south side. It is to the point that I am surprised when a north bound flight I am on uses the south complex. Also why most inbound north flights use the north complex for landing. It simplifies the traffic flow.

  4. The italicized comments by our esteemed author is why I read and comment to this blog religiously and not any other aviation blogs. Thanks Brett for, as the kids say, keeping it real!

    The reference to Robert Stack in the Trans American terminal is just the cherry on top of this sundae.

  5. Taking off to the west out of Monterrey you use the MRY 5 Departure Procedure which is the right turn you talk about, helps gain altitude before clearing the terrain to the south.

  6. I flew MCE-LAX on a Pilatus PC-12 and I think the taxi +bus ride to the terminal was longer than the flight. But it was awesome.

  7. During the prior millennium it was possible to fly an American Eagle Saab 340 between SFO and LAX with a stop in Monterey. Same aircraft, same crew, but two flight numbers. Everyone got off the plane and anyone going to LAX would have about enough time to visit the bathroom before boarding was called.

    Not the fastest way between the two cities but low-and-slow along the California coast had a lot of sightseeing opportunities when the weather cooperated.

  8. I fly out of DFW which has the same issues with multiple parallel runways. Many times I’ve wound up landing on 17L, on the far east side of the airport, then taxied to either terminal B or D on the other side. Takes 20 minutes.

    This has nothing to do with gate congestion. It’s just an ATC thing – unless it’s very slow (overnight) they assign runways based on origin/destination. In Dallas, if you are coming from the east you are going to get one of the east side runways, regardless of the gate location.

    ATC does not want planes crossing back and forth across the traffic pattern. The only time they do is if there are no other planes around, like very late at night.

    LAX, Denver, and Atlanta work the same way.

    1. AA has been working with the FAA to decrease the occurrence of this at DFW. Whereas a year ago it was nearly 100% the case that your runway lined up with which side of the country you were coming from, I’ve noticed recently that they’re crossing traffic much more to allow you to land near your gate.

  9. > I’m not sure why, but maybe they’ve had a problem with ground boarding people
    > on the wrong airplane

    Probably. Horizon/Skywest have started doing the same at SEA where they have different gates leading to a shared long ramp down to the regional jet area and then individual doors to the regional aircraft. They used to rely on people reading the signage at each door to find the right plane, but apparently that is too hard, so now they have a staff member stationed at each door scanning/looking at the boarding pass again.

    As a frequent Horizon flyer, in years past I have more than once seen the headcount prior to departure discover a “stowaway” who took the wrong door onto the wrong plane. And once I arrived on the last flight at (insert tiny airport) only to be asked by the person next to me “so when does this plane continue on to Fresno”? Answer: never – Fresno was the plane next to us at SEA.

    1. dee – We stayed at the big Marriott in town. It had a great travel agent rate. The hotel itself was fine and centrally located, but there are far fancier options!

  10. When I was a Flight Attendant flying out of LAX… when coming in late afternoon I’d often ask the pilots which runway we were assigned & if the north one, I’d ask if they could get the south side – that 20-30 minutes of taxi time could mean sitting on 405 south for 2 hours or not!

  11. When I visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium several years ago, I was already on vacation in San Francisco, from my home in Los Angeles.

    I took the BART subway train from San Francisco to San Francisco International Airport. I took an airport shuttle between SFO airport and Monterey.

    I was the only passenger on the shuttle going southbound in the morning. The shuttle was full returning to SFO airport in the evening.

    That evening. Los Angeles International Airport was closed because of some sort of electronic issue. I’m glad that I wasn’t scheduled to fly that evening.

  12. When I lived in Monterey, I’d leave my apartment an hour before departure for flights out of MRY.

    I could also hear the Saab’s engines going into beta mode after landing at night from my apartment.

    1. tharanga – Well, the first one was mid-afternoon in Cannery Row and we just split a very boring one with cheese. We went to a second one after dinner for a dessert crepe, but they closed right before we got there, so I escaped that one. Then we went to a third one for breakfast where I had strawberry and cream cheese.

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