I'm just about halfway through high school right now, which means that college visits are becoming more frequent. As you might already know, this past President's Day Weekend I visited the University of Chicago and Northwestern University, both located in the Chicago, Illinois area. In total, I spent just three days in Chicago, but the experience was well worth it. I got to experience many famous attractions, as well as tour two colleges that are some of my favorites in the country.
Before The Flight
My dad and I woke up at 4 AM to catch the 7:45 AM flight out of Newark, located about 60 minutes away from where I live. Unfortunately, there was a huge snowstorm the previous night, and I had to shovel out the driveway. We eventually left a couple of minutes later than I would've liked, but that was no issue since at 5AM the George Washington Bridge and New Jersey Turnpike were pretty much clear of traffic.
We parked at a lot several miles from the airport, and subsequently took a shuttle to Terminal C, arriving just 90 minutes before our flight. To be honest, I was expecting the terminal to not be crowded at all, especially since Presidents' Weekend is not as big of a holiday as Christmas break here in the U.S. Unfortunately, the check-in area was just as crowded as the last time I visited Newark.
Exterior of Newark Liberty International Airport's Terminal C.
The chaotic check-in area.
Finding an open kiosk, however, was not that big of an issue. Within fifteen minutes of entering the terminal, we had obtained our boarding documents and were on our way to the security check. At the entrance of the elevator leading to the top floor of the terminal, I noticed that two women in security uniform were checking boarding passes to make sure only people who had "TSA PRECHECK" stamped on their boarding pass could enter the PreCheck area. Those who didn't but tried to cut the line were screamed at.
The PreCheck line wasn't that bad. In total, it took about five minutes to get through the entire ordeal. However, myself (as well as a couple of passengers near me) attempted to duck into the next line, and were promptly barked at by a team of five security guards. Oops.
Concourses C2 and C3 with the NYC skyline in the background.
Our flight would be departing from Concourse C3, on the western end of Terminal C. Our gate would be C121, the first gate on the right upon entering the concourse. This gate's advantage was that it was located near several restaurants, and had large floor-to-ceiling windows for optimal views of the tarmac. Boarding started right as we reached the gate. My dad was in the second boarding group, so he went ahead while I experimented with the iPads at a charging station near my gate.
Our bird (N799UA) sits at gate C121 after arriving from São Paulo, Brazil.
February 18, 2018
United Airlines flight # 977
EWR (Newark-Liberty International) - ORD (Chicago-O'Hare International)
Boeing 777-222/ER (N799UA)
Economy, seat 35K
Flight time 02:07
I boarded as part of Group 3. To my surprise, much of the economy class cabin was empty when I boarded, including the entire rear section where I was seated. I should mention that, using the exit doors and galleys as references, the Boeing 777 is split into 3 main sections: in front of the wing, over the wing, and behind the wing. Everything in front of the wing is dedicated to the premium cabin, while all the overwing seats are economy plus seats with 34" of pitch. The entire rear section (except for the first row) are regular economy seats with 31" of pitch. For some strange reason, United configured these aircraft with more economy plus seats than regular economy - 113 versus 108, to be exact. Economy Plus was not reasonably priced at all for this short, 2-hour flight... A window seat was going for $79 at its lowest.
My seat, 35K, was in the 3rd row of regular economy. This seat yielded a fairly good view, while not being too far back. We were parked right next to N2341U, one of United's Polaris-equipped 777-300ERs, which just made the trek from Tel Aviv, Israel.
Since this was an internationally configured aircraft, seat pitch was excellent, at 31 inches. United's 777-200ERs are (for now) equipped with a 3-3-3 seating configuration in economy, with 18" of seat width per seat. However, at the time of this writing, one 777-200ER (N786UA) is in Hong Kong for a Polaris retrofit, which will see it gaining at extra seat per row in economy. Because of this, each economy seat will lose about 0.6" of width. All in all, this IPTE economy seat was so much more comfortable than the 737s and A320s that dominate the NYC-ORD route. Furthermore, despite the fact that this was a repositioning flight for the 777, not a single seat went out empty this morning.
Each seat included a personal Panasonic eX2 AVOD system, which is slightly larger than an iPhone 6+. This definitely makes it one of the smaller ones available, but at least it had a 16:9 aspect ratio, as well as an extensive entertainment selection of hundreds of movies and TV shows. More on the entertainment selection later.
The Captain came onboard to make his welcome announcement, and stated that we would be departing about 15 minutes behind schedule due to a headset in the cockpit that was not working. Because of that, the flight attendants screened the safety video at the gate, and we actually ended up pushing back 10 minutes behind schedule. One engine was then started up, and we began the long taxi towards the other end of the airport towards runways 4L/22R and 4R/22L. Along the way, we passed many interesting aircraft, such as an El Al 787-9 and a Lufthansa 747-8 in the "Siegerflieger Fanhansa" livery.
Taxiing past Terminal C.
The Lufthansa "Siegerflieger Fanhansa" 747-8 is parked on a remote stand awaiting return to Frankfurt.
No aircraft were in front of us in the takeoff queue, so we rolled onto runway 4L, and took off heading north. Because the short 700-mile flight did not require all of the 777's takeoff performance, the flight crew applied a reduced power takeoff. The acceleration was barely noticeable.
Newark departures heading north offer some amazing views of Manhattan if you are seated on the right side of the aircraft. You can also get the same view sitting on the left side of the aircraft if on a 22L/R approach. Unfortunately, the sun was shining directly towards the window, so the pictures are not of very good quality. After takeoff, we banked west, and continued climbing to our cruising altitude over Pennsylvania.
The seatbelt sign did not turn off until we had reached our cruising altitude of 30,000 feet; however, the flight attendants approved the use of electronic devices once we crossed through 10,000 feet. I subsequently fired up my Stratux and tracked the progress of our flight based on a route I previously plotted.
Since this was a short flight, I decided to watch a 45-min documentary about the finale of NASA's mission to Saturn, Cassini. This was just one of about 20 documentaries in United's database. Aside from that, they also featured a large selection of about 200 movies, and 100 additional TV shows. Several dozen games were also featured, including "In-Flight Bowling Tournament," Trivia, and my personal favorite, Bejeweled 2. United doesn't have a dedicated music section with the ability to create your own playlists like Delta, but instead, the music selection is composed of music videos from VEVO.
We were flying over western Pennsylvania when the refreshment service commenced. There were lots of low-level clouds covering the terrain, which made it hard to identify where we were. I was served the signature Stroopwafel snack, as well as a full can of apple juice.
Weather conditions improved slightly as we flew north of Detroit, Michigan. At this time, I also attempted to listen to Channel 9 (a live feed of broadcasts from the flight deck), but this apparently was not turned on during the flight.
Midwestern towns covered in snow look amazing when viewed several miles above.
I then paid a visit to the lavatory in the rear of the aircraft, which was kept very clean, despite the fact that the aircraft was 20 years old at the time of the flight. When I returned from the lavatory, I spent some time chatting with the off-duty flight attendants in the back of the galley. One particular FA, Toshiya, seemed to be extremely passionate about her work; she was willing to share many of her details regarding her work experience at United with me. We discussed many aspects about the corporate environment, as well as United Airlines in general, until final descent was initiated. Unlike most other unpassionate UA crews that I've encountered, Toshiya, as well as many of the other FAs working the economy cabin, were willing to go above and beyond for their customers. This was probably the first time that I received such a treatment on United.
As we continued our descent over Lake Michigan, the clouds parted away to reveal a frozen lake - with chunks of ice floating here and there. Soon, the Chicago metropolitan area came into view, though I was seated on the wrong side of the aircraft to get a picture of downtown Chi-town. We made a smooth touchdown on runway 28C at 9:23, 7 minutes past schedule.
Flying over the freezing waters of Lake Michigan.
Approaching the city limits of Chicago... too bad I was on the wrong side of the aircraft to see the loop (downtown Chicago)!
Flying above a suburban neighborhood on the downwind approach for runway 28C.
A smooth landing on runway 28C concluded the flight.
We taxied quite a bit to get to gate C16, at United's terminal 1. That means that we had to taxi past all of the American Airlines gates, making the airport operation seem like AA's DFW hub.
Taxiing past an American Airlines 737-800 (N339PL).
We parked at gate C16, adjacent to an ANA 777-300ER heading to Tokyo (JA733A)
View of the economy cabin during disembarking.
United's tight 8-abreast business class. This will be removed in favor of the much improved Polaris seats.
United's Global First Class, which will be removed in favor of Polaris as well.
A view out of one of the business class windows.
We parked right next to an ANA 777-300ER (JA733A), and I headed to the cockpit to speak with Captain Karl and First Officer Sid. Both were highly experienced on UA metal, with the First Officer starting out at United during its 727 days. They were more than happy to give me a tour of the cockpit, and they were happy to discuss with me operational differences between the sUA 777s and sCO 777s. Due to their respective contracts, they spend most of their time flying the sUA 777s, although I do believe Sid mentioned that he once flew the former Continental 777s, with a 4,000 lb higher MTOW. In addition to the cabin crew, the flight crew was also one of the most professional and passionate ones that I have met while flying United.
After we disembarked, it was necessary to walk through the underground walkway to concourse B, where we then retrieved the carry ons we checked at the gate. I should mention that this process took about 30 minutes - despite the low volume of travelers at ORD that day.
Terminal 1's Concourse C in the morning.
The famous underground walkway connecting Terminal 1's two concourses.
This is by far the most enjoyable flight that I have had on United. Both the cabin crew and flight crew were extremley passionate about their jobs, a rarity given United's current state. Furthermore, the internationally-configured 777-200 was more than enough for this short 2-hour flight. There isn't much to say besides that - if you need to ever fly between New York and Chicago, I strongly recommend taking this flight. Furthermore, I encourage you to seek out widebody opportunities on domestic routes whenever you can, as the comfort level (with the exception of United's domestic 3-4-3 configured 777-200As) is greatly increased compared to the average 737 or A320.