Before I knew it, President's Day Weekend wrapped up, and it was time to head back to New York. The morning that I left, I actually visited Northwestern University, which is located on an absolutely beautiful campus just north of the Chicago city limits. Due to this visit, we selected an afternoon flight for the return, which meant that we would have to head straight to ORD airport after touring Northwestern. Furthermore, several very... interesting incidents occurred at the end of the flight. Continue reading to find more about what that experience was like for me!
Before The Flight
After returning our rental car, we took a shuttle bus that navigated the maze-like airport grounds to Terminal 1, which is composed of two concourses (B and C) and the location where most mainline United flights depart out of. Upon entering the terminal, I encountered a long row of counters with kiosks built in to them. As we didn't have any checked luggage, we proceeded to the TSA PreCheck line after printing out our boarding passes.
ORD Terminal 1 Check-in.
The PreCheck line was slightly long, and we got through in about 10 minutes, still faster than the regular security line with wait times of up to 30 minutes. Despite that, we still ended up with an hour to spare airside before boarding. According to the FIDS, our flight would be departing from gate B16, meaning that there was no need to walk down the connector to the C concourse. As such, I ordered a Buffalo Chicken wrap from Chili's, which wasn't located far from the departure gate.
ORD Terminal 1, Concourse B.
Ten minutes before boarding, the gate agent announced that it was going to be a completely full flight, and at that time, passengers who needed pre-boarding were given the opportunity to board the aircraft. Pretty soon after that, passengers in Group 1 boarded, followed by the other groups. I was in Group 3, meaning that I would be among the first "regular economy" passengers to board. United's boarding system works such that passengers in window seats board before those in middle or aisle seats, presumably as to avoid people getting out of their seats multiple times for others to get in.
February 20, 2018
United Airlines flight #1611
Chicago-O'Hare (ORD) to Newark Liberty International (EWR)
Boeing 777-222/ER (N216UA)
Economy, seat 39K
Flight Time 01:24
After boarding the aircraft, I walked through the cramped business class and the economy plus cabins to reach my right-side window seat, 39K. These were the exact same IPTE 3-3-3 economy seats that I had on the previous flight, which will unfortunately be replaced very soon in favor of a narrower 3-4-3 configuration. The Panasonic eX2 screen was present and appeared to be in fully functioning order; furthermore, the seat pitch, at 31 inches, felt fairly spacious for my 5'10" frame, a far cry from the extremely tight 737 and A320 seats.
Former 8-abreast IPTE Business Class seats.
A rather spacious 3-3-3 configured economy class cabin.
ORD airport was experiencing heavy rain at this time. To the right of us was N57439, a former Continental 737-900ER. I took this time before we pushed back to experience some of the entertainment system, which was available for use right at the gate. As expected, the same content from the previous flight was featured, and the IFE continued to offer a large selection with hundreds of movies and TV shows to choose from, as well as a few dozen games.
View outside the window.
We managed to push back 10 minutes behind schedule. For some reason, no pre-departure announcement was made by the flight crew - in fact, I don't remember them ever talking to the passengers at all! Regardless, the safety video and a promotional video for United were screened after pushing back, when we were starting our engines.
Unfortunately, operational conditions in Chicago necessitated that we take off from the "28" end of the runways. As such, we had to experience a very long taxi of 20 minutes around the entire airport to reach Runway 28R.
Taxiing over a highway, to the other side of the airport.
Moving past the American Airlines gates.
Takeoff roll on runway 28R.
Light load = steep climb out
Banking east towards Newark.
Chicago's runways are fairly long, and a lot of aircraft usually enter through taxiways and takeoff from there, because they don't need the full length of the runway. Our lightly loaded 777 was no exception. We experienced a short 20-second takeoff roll before we began airborne. Immediately after that, we banked to the right, allowing me to capture some good views of ORD airport as we climbed. Unfortunately, there were a lot of thick low-level clouds on departure, so I wasn't able to see any scenery after that. I fired up my GPS device and began tracking the progress of my flight using the ForeFlight navigational app for pilots.
One last view of ORD before we disappeared into the clouds.
During this time, the crew also began the in-flight snack service. To pass the time, I watched some VEVO hip hop music videos, and had a go at the in-flight bowling game. Spoiler Alert: Due to how unresponsive the eX2 screen was to my touch (and the resulting delay), I scored exactly 0/300 on that game. The snack consisted of an apple juice and a sad-looking packet of pretzels, fairly standard as far as United's snack service goes.
United Economy snack service - acceptable for a 1 hour 20 minutes flight
We reached a very high cruising altitude of 40,000 feet as we flew north of Cleveland, Ohio. At this time, the contrails produced by the aircraft could be seen; it was the first time seeing them for me in flight and it was honestly just amazing to watch.
United's 777-200ER Economy cabin as seen from the rear
Initial descent began not long after I finished eating, since we were being pushed east by strong tailwinds. We took the normal route for EWR arrivals from the west, by initiating a gradual descent over Pennsylvania/Northern New Jersey and holding at various altitudes along the way. We were also treated to a decent sunset along the way. Two minutes after schedule, we performed a smooth landing on runway 22L. Since we left the runway at the southern end of the airport, we needed to taxi all the way to Terminal C located at the north end of the airport, which took roughly 15 minutes. After that, we parked into gate C121, the same gate I departed from two days earlier.
Initial descent over Wilcox, Pennsylvania.
View of Manhattan upon descent.
Downtown Newark viewed on final approach.
Decelerating on runway 22L.
Crossing runway 4L/22R.
Taxiing past some parked United aircraft being prepared for the evening Europe rush.
We parked next to N74007, a former Continental 777-200ER.
Engine view from Business class.
Another view of the business class seats, which will be replaced with Polaris very soon
View of the economy cabin during disembarking.
Now, for the interesting part. I would like to take some time to reveal an incident that occurred during disembarkation. As I was taking pictures of the business and first class cabins, a man wearing a leather jacket ordered me to stop taking photos (I later found out that he was the purser but I completely did not expect that given his casual attire). He then motioned to me to hand over my phone, where he proceeded to delete all photos taken of the cabins. Apparently, he forgot that a "recently deleted" folder exists on iPhones, so I was able to recover the photos after getting home easily. This was the first time that it had happened to me, and I find the rule quite pathetic. Airlines have got nothing to hide from passengers, and the right to film onboard (at least in the Continental United States) applies to all passengers. I don't believe any of my photos expose anything about United, so I have decided to post one of them below. Do you think this photo violates any of United's (or the FAA's) regulations?
?!?!?!?!? What is wrong with this photo? Google "Boeing 777 Cockpit" and it will return thousands of similar images - how come those weren't regulated?
Another noteworthy incident also occurred on my flight. An elderly Chinese couple with their baby granddaughter were seated behind me during the flight. Originally, they were separated by the aisle, but the lady in the aisle seat on the right side of the plane offered to move so that the couple, who didn't speak any English, could sit together. Since I was seated immediately in front of them, I served as their translator throughout the flight. During the flight itself, I observed many incidents in which the flight attendants treated those three passengers in different ways compared to other passengers who could speak English. One of them, during the safety presentation, actually went right into the old woman's face and berated her in English just because she mistakenly pressed the call button, which apparently interfered with "duties" during the safety presentation. Of course, the woman didn't understand a single world, and just seemed utterly confused. This theme of mistreatment occurred throughout the flight by some of the other flight attendants as well.
I've contacted United about the two separate incidents that occurred on my flight, and guess what? Whoever ran the customer service seemed very indifferent to my issues with them. While I do understand that some airlines do not allow you to take pictures sometimes, mistreating passengers based on their race and/or ability to speak English is just unacceptable. This is a severe form of racism that should not be present anywhere in America, especially considering the diverse country that we are. Moving forward, I will likely be transitioning more and more of my business to Delta, since I have not experienced a single "bad" flight out of the two dozen I've taken with them; flight attendants are more caring/professional, and have obviously undergone more training than their UA counterparts. Furthermore, my parents have stated that they would not be exclusive UA flyers going forward, especially after what happened onboard this flight.
The flight and cabin crews were definitely one of the low points on this flight. It might've been that I was extremely unlucky to be flying at the end of a typical workday - when many flight attendants have finished a long day at work and are exceptionally tired. However, the general trend that I've been finding with UA crews is that they are a lot less motivated and customer-friendly compared to their Delta and jetBlue counterparts. It's astonishing how United, one of the world's largest airlines, is not capable of providing even the basics that passengers expect from airlines, such as treatment with courtesy and respect. That being said, the other aspects of the flight were fine, and the use of an internationally configured 777 on a 1.5 hour flight - with a spacious 9-abreast economy seat arrangement (that will become 10-abreast over the next several years) was definitely pleasing. I'm not sure if I will continue flying United given this experience, but if it makes sense to fly them (as in the case when United is the only airline to not operate cramped regional jets on a specific route), I will most likely travel with them in these circumstances. In the meantime, keep an eye out for more domestic reviews with Delta, as well as several international carriers that I will be reviewing very soon!