For the past week, I had been touring several colleges in the Bay Area, as well as taking in the sights of San Francisco itself. This was my first time in California, and I must say, I like it here A LOT better than the East Coast...the atmosphere is just so vibrant and bursting with culture, unlike New York City, which bursts with...the hustle and bustle of people heading to work each day. Here are just several of the places my father and I visited while in the Bay Area:
Fisherman's Wharf - Pier 39
Sea Lions at Pier 39
Golden Gate Bridge
A hilly San Francisco neighborhood
Some views while driving down US Route 1, towards Half Moon Bay
Half Moon Bay and the Pacific Ocean
Muir Woods National Monument
University of San Francisco
Soon enough, it was time to head back to the freezing east coast and prepare for school, which starts two days after New Years' day. As luck would have it, my mom booked our return flight on New Years' Day itself... I guess airlines were offering low fares due to the fact that not many people would be traveling on New Years' Day. In late 2015/early 2016, most of United's transcontinental flights were operated by Boeing 757 aircraft, in two versions. The ex-Continental version (41 aircraft) feature B/E Aerospace Diamond lie-flat business class seats (in a 2-2 configuration), while the economy section features the old continental design, with cloth-padded seats, and a Panasonic eX2 entertainment system. The pre-merger United version (11 aircraft) feature the same seat in business class, but the cabin is larger than the one on the ex-Continental birds. This version also features mood lighting, as well as United's signature international economy seat, equipped with an HD Panasonic Eco9i entertainment system. I had flown into San Francisco from Newark- EWR (which, unfortunately, is almost 1.5 hours from where I live), on a similar 757-200 the week before, and was fairly satisfied, so I wasn't expecting anything different for this trip.
My original flight was supposed to be on one of the pre-merger United aircraft, with more premium seats up front. That, however, changed a few days before our flight home, because the aircraft was switched to the ex-Continental version, with a much smaller business cabin. For some reason, we lost our Economy Plus seats after this aircraft change, probably due to the fact that some of the folks in business class were moved to the Economy Plus section instead. Nonetheless, we had already paid $104 per person for the extra legroom seats, and my father requested a refund with United. Our request was declined, because according to the airline itself, "Economy Plus purchases are non-refundable." I, of course, wasn't too bothered by this, as I just wanted to get home in time for school. In the end, however, $208 went down the drain because of United's stupid way of sucking revenue from consumers by not allowing refunds for advance seat purchases.
Before The Flight
We woke up at 6:00 AM, fairly early for our 10 AM flight. That's because we wanted to check out the United Club at San Francisco, as my dad had two complimentary United Club passes from his United MileagePlus Explorer Credit Card. After leaving our hotel in Cupertino, we drove the 45 minutes to San Francisco International Airport on Interstate-280 as the sun gradually rose.
The first thing we did after arriving at SFO was to return our car at the rental car drop-off station. Then, we headed upstairs to the AirTrain station, where a blue line train took us to the stop for Terminal 3. Terminal 3, comprised of concourses E and F, is used for United Airlines' domestic flights. United is by far the largest tenant at SFO, which is one of its major hubs.
Check-in was a breeze, as we used the self-service kiosks to print out boarding passes and a luggage tag for our large suitcase, which we dropped off with an agent. Unfortunately, we didn't have TSA PreCheck this time, and for some reason the regular security line, was very, very long, even on this off-peak travel day. I guess the security checkpoint in Terminal 3 is just not capable of handling all of the flights (United does have many daily departures from SFO).
N81449 (Boeing 737-924/ER)
We headed to the United Club near the rotunda in concourse F, as that was where our flight would be departing later that morning. From what I've heard, United Clubs are seriously lacking in amenities, and the newly-announced Polaris lounges (available to business class passengers traveling on international flights) seem much better than the clubs. Unfortunately, as of November 2017 only one location is open, at Chicago O'Hare International Airport (ORD). I spent some time spotting around Terminal 3 before entering the United Club with my father.
N768UA (Boeing 777-222A domestic)
Here's a walkway that leads to Terminal F. It's usually used as a small museum, containing various exhibits. The day I visited, the walkway was hosting an exhibit about the history of NFL teams.
Before boarding, my dad and I decided to visit the United Club in order to get some breakfast. Upon entering, I noticed that the decor was maritime-themed, certainly a throwback to the last century. The lounge was fairly spacious, and we were able to find seats quite easily, probably due to the low volume of travelers. We took a seat near the buffet, and because I didn't eat breakfast, I took some fruit, oatmeal, and pastries. I should mention that these are the only offerings there, so if you don't like continental breakfasts, I suggest going to one of the many restaurants within the terminal. Other than that, I thought the lounge was very comfortable, and offered a good view of aircraft landing on runways 19L and 19R, as well as takeoffs on 10L and 10R.
N127SY (Embraer 175LR)
Long live the Queen! She completed her final flight for United on November 7, 2017 from San Fransisco to Honolulu. This one I believe is coming in from Beijing as UA889.
We left the lounge shortly after 9:30 AM (our flight was scheduled to depart at 10:00 AM), and left for the gates at concourse F. Just a side note, I really enjoy the large windows in Terminal 3 - it really makes taking pictures much easier.
Three CRJ200s, N768UA (Boeing 777-222A domestic), and JA778A (Boeing 777-381/ER) from Tokyo.
This Boeing 747-400 (N119UA) completed her last flight on October 9, 2017. She was only 18 years old.
Boarding had already begun by the time we got to the gate. I was pleased to see that our aircraft today would be N19141, the youngest Boeing 757-200 in United's fleet (the 757-300s were some of the last to come off the production line, and are thus much younger than the -200s), delivered to Continental Air Lines in 2000. Unlike United's pre-merger 757s, this one is fitted with the powerful Rolls-Royce RB211-535E4 engines, capable of delivering 43,100 pounds of thrust each (compared with the PW2037's 37,000 pounds, which is the other type of engine used on United's 757-200s). The higher thrust of these engines allow the aircraft to carry an ETOPS rating, which is why these aircraft are commonly used on flights to Europe from both EWR and IAD.
January 1, 2016
United Airlines flight # 994
SFO (San Francisco International) - EWR (Newark-Liberty International)
Boeing 757-224/WL (N19141)
Flight Time 04:37
I remember vaguely that we were in the second economy group to board, and thankfully, we waited for only 15 minutes after arriving at the gate. Here's a nose shot before boarding.
17-inch wide, ex-Continental cloth seats, with the slow Panasonic eX2 screens. Nonetheless, United's full entertainment library was available on this flight.
Our neighbor, a tiny CRJ-200 tin can (N959SW, operated by SkyWest for United Express).
The safety video was shown after we pushed back from the gate. Both RB211 engines were fired up with a smoky start, typical under cold conditions. We had to taxi all the way around the passenger terminals in order to get to our east-facing departure runway, 1R. Fortunately, there weren't many aircraft ahead of us, so we got to the threshold of the runway only a few minutes later.
We made a powerful takeoff with the engines firing at full thrust, and climbed like a rocket on our initial climbout. Fortunately for those seated on the left side, 1L and 1R departures allow for a great view of the city of San Francisco as the aircraft heads due east. The clear skies today nonetheless allowed the crew to operate using Visual Flight Rules (VFR). More importantly, it offered some amazing photo opportunities for me.
The mountainous terrain of Northern California quickly morphed into desert terrain.
I explored the entertainment system at this time, which contained over 100 movies, and a similar number of TV show episodes. However, I wasn't really interested in the movies for some reason, so I spent the majority of the flight playing Bejewled 2, a game similar to Candy Crush. For some reason, I've seen this game on almost all aircraft equipped with eX2.
The drink service was conducted over the Rocky Mountains. I requested an apple juice, and my father had a water with tea. It should be noted that one month after I took this flight, free snacks were brought back to United economy. A year later, United also brought back free meals in Economy Plus, albeit on transcontinental routes. I hope to see them do the same for the people in regular economy as well, just like what Delta and American have done. On the same note, United's flight attendants were friendly, but didn't interact with the passengers much. For most of the flight, they hung out in the back of the plane; however, they appeared quickly whenever someone pressed the call button.
Mostly clear skies up at 39,000 feet for today's flight. The view was absolutely gorgeous.
I played Bejewled 2 for a little while longer until the sun began to set. At this point, we were just 1.5 hours away from arriving. Unlike the westbound flight (almost 6 hours with lots of headwinds), the return flight would be a balmy 4.5 hours. I decided to sleep for a while since there was nothing to look out the window at. When I woke up, we had just started our descent into Newark, over Pennsylvania.
It was also a clear night in the greater New York City area, and we flew south just west of Manhattan, allowing for some great views of the night lights of NYC. Two minutes later, we touched down on runway 22L, right next to the cars on Interstate 95, located right next to the runway.
Unfortunately, a plane was at our gate, so we had to park at a remote area for 15 minutes. The entertainment system was turned off (Boo!), and an engine was also turned off so we could continue our taxi to the gate on a single engine. This is done by United to conserve fuel, as during peak travel times, one engine is shut off until right before taking off in order to reduce the fuel burn while the plane is idling.
We parked at Newark's Terminal C, next to N78008, a former Continental 777-200ER heading to Paris that evening. N19141 itself would head back to San Francisco as UA2006 after dropping us off.
I stepped into the terminal, relieved to finally be back home. After walking pass an endless row of shops and restaurants (customized with iPads at the tables), we reached the baggage claim, where our large suitcase popped out after a 10 minute wait. From there, we met my mom at the pick-up area, ready to begin the hour-long journey home, finally bringing an end to an exhilarating Bay Area weeklong trip.
Several elements of United's uncontrollable cost-cutting were observed during this flight. Notably, the only service United does for Economy passengers is a drink service. Nothing else. Granted, this was a year ago, and now, in 2017, food is free for Delta and American economy passengers, while it is also free for United Economy Plus passengers, but not for regular economy passengers. I'm also happy to see that all United Economy passengers are offered a free snack now (returned in February 2016), but unfortunately, I've chosen to move my business to Delta, where you'll find complimentary seatback entertainment on most mainline aircraft (United is actually taking delivery of new aircraft without seatback entertainment screens in order to save weight and allow passengers to stream content via their own devices), free snacks, meals on long domestic flights, and most importantly, a friendly service attitude from the flight attendants. United's FAs were fine, but they hid away in the back of the plane and did not interact much with passengers throughout the flight. Despite these shortcomings, however, United (and their Star Alliance partners) are my first choice when booking an international flight, as they have an extensive route network within Asia. Even though this was only two years ago, U.S. airlines have made huge improvements in improving the experience for economy passengers (although there have been some setbacks as well, like the adoption of 10-abreast seating on some 777s), which is always something great to see. Overall, United economy on a transcontinental flight isn't bad, but I definitely wouldn't go out of my way to fly it.