Monday, April 03, 2006

United Airlines: BOS-->DEN-->BOS

I just returned to Boston last night from a week-long getaway to the Colorado Rockies. I was there for an HIV vaccine conference (compliments of the boss) in Keystone, CO, which is a small ski resort town about 90 minutes west of Denver. This also happened to be my first time flying United Airlines, which flies multiple direct flights between Boston Logan International Airport and Denver International Airport.

Both of our flights were on time and arrived at the destination early. There isn't much to say about the flight going to Denver, except that it was incredibly smooth. We were near the rear of a 757, which isn't my idea of a comfortable plane in the first place - narrow (6 seats abreast) incredibly long, which certainly gives one the feeling of being inside a tube. However, given that caveat, the flight was pretty good, with nice service (two Jack Daniels and Cokes). They have limited XM Satellite Radio at every seat, which is a huge disappointment after experiencing Airtran's full XM service offering. I tuned into channel 9 during our taxi and takeoff because we were told that air traffic control communications were being broadcasted at that channel. That turned out to be pretty lame, since all I heard were a few mumbles in the typical Boston accent and our engines beginning to roar as soon as the ATC operator stated our flight number and "clear for takeoff". I guess the only value to that feature would be if something had gone wrong, such as a runway incursion, which happens to be a common occurence at Logan Field...quite an accomplishment for our wonderful airport.

Being a 4-hour flight, we were shown a movie - Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire...I passed on that opportunity and instead read Douglass Shand-Tucci's The Crimson Letter: Harvard, Homosexuality, and the Shaping of American Culture (an interesting read, to say the least...basically a 350-page gossip column of gay Boston/Cambridge from 1850 onwards).

So we landed at Denver International Airport 4 hours later, and were welcomed to a huge, modern terminal set in the middle of a relatively flat, desolate plain (desert? I couldn't decide what to call it...we did see a few tumbleweeds). This is where the fun began. Like Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Denver features a system of moving the public by means of an underground subway. The subway is almost identical to that used at ATL, but this one is "cuter", for lack of better words. A little xylophone ditty plays over the loudspeaker as the subway train arrives, and a fake choo-choo track plays as the train enters the station. This certainly makes the kids squeal. Once on the train, the ditties continue, this time some weird calliope-sounding music that harkens back to the wild west. Weird (and yes, I laughed out loud and eargerly anticipated the next stop just to laugh at the music, which changed at each station...I have a simple mind).

Denver's terminal is beautiful...not even 15 years old, the Jeppesen Terminal features a tentlike roof and beautiful imposing edifice in the middle of nowhere (the airport is a ways outside of the city). I was especially impressed by the cleanliness of the place...certainly something that Boston should strive more to follow. But, then again, how can one expect Boston, the city of pigeons (the "flying rats") and sewage-infested rivers, to be clean?

I could go on and on about the beautiful scenery and quaint mining towns along the I-70 corridor as it ascends the Rockies and crosses the Continental Divide through the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnels before descending briefly into the Keystone area. However, I will spare you (and myself from the typing) and refer anyone to my other blog for pictures and happenings throughout the week.

Yesterday did not go as smoothly as our trip out to Colorado. We were stuck in horrendous traffic while descending the mountains into Denver and barely made it to the airport. However, we got there in time with 10 minutes to spare, and all was OK. The subway ride to concourse B was just as fun as before (I really got a kick out of that'd have to hear it to understand). Denver Airport is all about public art installations, one of which is a series of metal propellers lining the subway tunnel wall on the outbound tube. So, western calliope music, fluorescent blue tunnel lighting, and 5,280 (= one mile, for "mile-high city") little spinning propellers made for a somewhat surreal experience.

We were once again on a 757 going back, but my friend Bree and I noticed that our tickets were of a different color than everyone else's. It didn't take too long to realize that we were seated in United's Economy Plus section, which has 5 extra inches (36" versus the standard 31" seat pitch) of legroom for more comfort. Apparently all of United's 757s (except for their "premium service" 757 planes used for JFK-SFO and JFK-LAX routes) have these "Economy Plus" seats from rows 8-15 (check out Seat Guru). I must say, I do like United's seats (even the ones with tight legroom) due to their adjustable head support flaps on the headrests. The only drawback to our seats in row 13 (yes, unlike Airtran, which doesn't have a row 13 because of the "unlucky 13" syndrome, United does have a row 13) was that they had no window...another reason to check out Seat Guru before booking seats.

As on the flight out to Denver, we were offered snack boxes on the return trip (a feature of all flights over 3.5 hours). Instead of alcohol, I decided to partake in a snack box, of which there were four choices: jumpstart, minimeal, quickpick, and rightbite. I chose the quickpick, which was a collection of junk food - baked cheese snacks, beef jerky, chips and salsa, a chocolate chip cookie, trail mix, etc. I don't know whether it was worth the $5 (on Jetblue the snack packs were far better and were free), but I guess it satisfied me at the time. It's a shame that this is what in-flight service has come to; gone are the days of being offered a meal on a flight, even as short as a trip down the East Coast.

Service? Bitchy! At one point I politely asked a flight attendant for the time. She told me it was ten past seven. Now, I had just spent a week in Mountain time, and we had just jumped an hour the night before for adjusting our clocks, so, naturally, I felt the need to ask for a clarification. "Eastern time?" Her reply, "You just asked me for the time, right? I just told you. Anything else you need?" There's another incentive for flying budget airlines - they tend to have nicer flight crews. What do these people on Northwest, United, and Delta have up their ass, anyway?

Overall, my flying experience through Denver was pretty good, and I wouldn't say that I was disappointed with United as a whole. The planes were nice and they operated according to schedule (our returning flight turned out the be just shy of three hours due to a tailwind). There was some pretty bad turbulence when crossing the plains/midwest (apparently those areas were hit by severe storms yesterday afternoon/night), but that doesn't bother me unless it knocks a cup of soda in my lap (which almost happened yesterday) or knocks my head into the window (something I have never experience, but Ben has met that pleasure once).

All went haywire once we landed at Logan last night just a few minutes after 10PM. The plane was stuck on the tarmac because Logan was experiencing a ground stop at the time (due to those storms out west?) and all gates were occupied. Once we were inside the terminal, we found out that there were too many flights coming and going that there were not enough baggage handlers and baggage carts to meet the took another 1/2 hour to claim our luggage. Then there was the extremely long taxi line at Terminal C...another manifestation of typical Logan Sunday night traffic. So, we decided to take the T...but more trouble came along our way. The buses got backed up at the MBTA station and it took a good solid 20 minutes or so for one to pick us up. In the end, I did not walk into my apartment until midnight on the dot. That was a really sucky way to end the day.


Blogger Ben said...

Thanks for the detailed account. How did you end up in Economy Plus? 757's can indeed feel cramped on long-range flights, even in first class. I had the bulkhead in first class on a flight last week and I doubt it had much more legroom than your seat in row 13.

8:10 PM  
Blogger Evan said...

We just happened to have booked seats on Economy Plus. They did not discriminate between those seats and the regular coach class when allowing us to pick out seats. Nice deal, huh?

I believe Boeing made a good move by discontinuing its 757 program in 2005. It was clearly designed as a plane for moving as many people at once for lowest cost. I feel that there wasn't much consideration for comfort in the plane's design.

9:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey all,

I recently flew United/Ted's redeye from LAS-IAD. When I got to the check-in kiosk, I was offered Economy Plus for $44. Knowing that it was a redeye, and also fueled by the free beers I had been consuming at the Venetian sportsbook on that Sunday, I ppromptly swiped my Visa. Oh man, was it worth it -- 5 inches was a lot of extra legroom. Not to mention, by the grace of God the middle seat next to my aisle was probably the only empty seat on this 757.

Evan, you mentioned the channel 9 option on the XM. I used this for much of the flight (while I don't really fall asleep for any length of time on a plane, I'll doze off on a redeye), and got to listen to the ATC for the areas we were flying through. For example, I knew that we would hit turbulence from roughly Kansas City to Indianapolis, and you could listen to other flights calling in to divert around this weather. Only interesting to travel nerds like ourselves, but I certaninly enjoyed it.


7:01 AM  
Blogger Phlip said...

What do these people on Northwest, United, and Delta have up their ass, anyway?

Probably compacted fear that their employers will go outta business.

5:33 PM  

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