Original image courtesy of Chris Hunkeler via Flickr. This image has been modified under the CC BY-SA 2.0 license.
This is a short trip report detailing a weeklong summer trip to Houston, in order to visit the NASA facilities at Johnson Space Center. My dad's company booked the trip for us, as he would be working at his company's headquarters during the day. As you might know, Houston has two major airports: Hobby (HOU) and Bush-Intercontinental (IAH). Out of these, Hobby airport is closer to downtown Houston, but Bush-Intercontinental airport was much larger, and was cheaper to fly into. IAH is one of United Airlines' major hubs, and thus, we were booked on direct United flights to Houston out of LGA (LaGuardia).
Two days before our flight, United Airlines' online reservation system messed with our itinerary, and for some reason, we were bumped to flights departing a day later. This obviously wasn't an ideal situation, and a couple of calls to customer service later, my family was rebooked on our original flights. However, because of this fiasco, we lost all of our seats on our original flights. My dad and I were relegated to middle seats, the last two seats available for selection, instead of our original window seat/aisle seat combo. Furthermore, on our flight back to LaGuardia, we were stuck in the last row, where the seats didn't recline at all. Obviously, there wasn't really anything we could do to try to make the situation better, but I always find United's reservation system to act funny at times. This was definitely a very odd occurrence.
Before The Flight
Our flight was scheduled to depart LaGuardia airport around 10:00 AM. We arrived at the Central Terminal, also known as Terminal B, which serves most airlines at LGA, including United. After checking in a large suitcase, we went to the security check, which, unsurprisingly, took 25 minutes. Terminal B was also very primitive, comprised of a low structure with very little natural light, few shops, and small seating areas. No wonder why this airport is hated by New Yorkers alike.
At the end of the concourse, I watched some departures on LaGuardia's runway 31, while waiting for our aircraft to arrive. The day before, when I checked FlightRadar24, our aircraft was scheduled to be N76504, but was switched the next morning to N87513. Unfortunately, she parked at a blind gate, meaning I couldn't get any good pictures of the aircraft.
June 7, 2015
United Airlines flight # 1034
New York-Laguardia (LGA) - Houston-Bush Intercontinental (IAH)
Boeing 737-824/WL (N87513)
Economy, seat 27E
Flight Time 03:20
Boarding began about 10 minutes late, and I boarded in group 4, the second-to-last economy group. I proceeded to sit down in my middle seat, 27E, which is located just behind the wing and has decent legroom for economy class. I was pleased to see that this aircraft had the old Continental interior, with cloth seats and DirecTV. This aircraft has since been retrofitted with the new signature B/E Aerospace Pinnacle seats, but the DirecTV system has not been removed, due to a contract with Continental Airlines. In fact, aircraft delivered after the Continental merger come with Personal Device Entertainment, but United is still not allowed to remove DirecTV from the legacy Continental aircraft.
We managed to push back just a couple of minutes late, and the safety video was shown on the seatback entertainment screens. Soon after, both engines were started up, and we began taxiing to the end of runway 13, the active runway in use at that time. After waiting for a Delta Connection Embraer 175 and American 737-800 to depart, we lined up on the active runway.
After waiting for the previous aircraft to clear the airspace ahead of us, the crew spooled up the twin CFM56-7B26 engines to full TO/GA power, and we leapt down the runway, past the terminals and a long queue of aircraft waiting to take off. Immediately after rotating, we performed a right turn heading south in order to intercept the Canarsie VOR-DME as part of what's known as the "Coney Climb." This meant that people sitting on the right side of the aircraft had a great view of Manhattan as we flew south towards Brooklyn.
As we passed through 10,000 feet, the seatbelt sign was turned off, and the beverage service began. This was before United committed to serving complimentary snacks in economy, so I went with a Sprite for the 3-hour flight down to Houston.
United's DirecTV entertainment, available on some 737 and 757-300 aircraft, allow you to watch live TV onboard the plane. Unfortunately, this service costs $7.99 on the flight, or $4.99 if you pay it beforehand. As flights from LaGuardia to Houston generally average 3 hours and 30 minutes in length, I was fine with not having any entertainment. However, National Geographic was shown on the screens of those who didn't pay for the live TV.
After watching some National Geographic, I fell asleep as we cruised at 38,000 feet. When I woke up, we were beginning our descent, and the captain even stated that we were arriving about 45 minutes before our scheduled arrival time. 45 minutes?! That's excellent performance for a carrier that is known to have long delays!
Sure enough, the seatbelt sign came back on, and we began our descent, dodging some localized storms along the way. At 12:20 PM central time, we made a smooth touchdown on runway 27, next to a company 737 landing on runway 26L. Unfortunately, this runway was a bit far from United's Terminal C, where United's domestic operations are located. As a result, we taxied for over 15 minutes before arriving at our gate.
When I disembarked, I was slightly disappointed to know that our arrival gate was also a blind gate, meaning that I couldn't get any good pictures of our aircraft. Through the door of the jet bridge leading outside, I managed to get this picture of N77871, an ex-Continental Boeing 757-300.
Some of the other gates here offer excellent views. Here's N35204, a Boeing 737-800 identical to the one I just flew on.
We walked over to baggage claim, where our bags were delivered after a 10-minute wait. Within 30 minutes of exiting the aircraft, I was on my way to my hotel in an Uber.
This was a pretty average flight in United's domestic economy class. Despite the fiasco with United's reservation system, we managed to get on this flight, albeit at the loss of our original preferred seats. The old Continental cloth seats were very comfortable, but the new leather seats, which has since been retrofitted to almost all 737 aircraft in United's fleet, do not seem as comfortable; furthermore, they lack proper lumbar support. The DirectTV system was also not complimentary, and for flights under 4 hours long, it really isn't worth it to purchase the live TV package. I did sleep for most of the way there, though, which is surprising considering that I usually never sleep well on planes. All in all, United domestic economy is a solid way to get between two points within the country, though if you consider entertainment a priority, I would consider choosing Delta instead.