UA1588, TPA-IAD, 05/16, 0600-0817
My morning started at 3:30AM, which was way too early for me. Considering it was a six hour time change to Hawaii it was really 9:30PM there, and dinner was still 23 hours away. I showered, got ready, and hopped online for a second and spoke to a couple of friends on the west coast, which is the first sign that I’m up way too early.
The ride to the airport, flight to IAD, and everything else up until that point was very standard. Sadly Channel 9 wasn’t on, but I always enjoy BPM on Ted. The short two hour TPA-IAD hop is one I can almost do in my sleep, a flight where I don’t really need a watch to know where we are. You could take me onto that flight blindfolded and I could tell you when we are about to begin our descent. As usual I was surrounded my FA’s in row 11, but fortunately had an empty middle. My audio jack was only working through one ear (tried multiple headsets), but I didn’t complain.
My connection in IAD was only 40 minutes, so I proceeded immediately to the gate. My FlyerTalk friend that I was flying with called me and told me our flight was oversold. This shocked me since the flight looked wide open the night before, and in this case I really had somewhere to be. As much as I love bumps, they always seem to come when I least want them! I remember the last time I got a bump was on the way to a dinner, but the $400 took priority in that case, and in the end I was quite happy.
We tried to negotiate with the gate agent, but sadly nothing was available that would get us to SFO in time for the SFO-HNL flight, regardless of where we would connect. It seemed like everything was basically zeroed out all day, and the only option the agent had was a middle seat in regular coach (not even Economy Plus), on the nonstop IAD-SFO. Since we were planning on meeting up with a flight attendant friend at ORD and also meeting up with another FlyerTalker there, we turned it down.
For me, nothing is worse than turning down a bump. I get a bad headache, my stomach starts to hurt, and I get suicidal for a few seconds. OK, maybe not that bad, but you get the point– it sucks! As a mileage runner I live for bumps, and nothing is worse than having to turn one down!
UA0141, IAD-ORD, 05/16, 0848-0953
This was a pretty bland flight. Sadly no meal service, but that was expected. Channel 9 wasn’t on and service was spotty at best. Our audio systems both weren’t working, so at least we scored Skykits, although we had to ask for them. We got into ORD a few minutes early after what seemed like a half hour taxi.
We met up with an FA friend that was heading to Beijing. Since her bags were in the domicile everyone assumed she was a gate agent, apparently, and she got asked several questions as we were walking through the concourse, mostly by people that didn’t speak any English and simply pointed to their boarding passes to ask for directions.
We headed to the RCC, which was totally packed. The RCC has to be one of the most mismanaged parts of United, at least the customer service desk. There was one agent at the service desk, right before the Asian departures, and there was a pretty long line. The line outside at the regular customer service desk was shorter.
We were making gift bags for the crews of our SFO-HNL flight since there were so many of us aboard, something we always do on flights with many FlyerTalkers. The RCC had a bunch of little Ghirardelli chocolate and Twix bars, and we kept taking them in large amounts so that we could start putting away some stuff for the crew. There was an older couple sitting right in front of the “buffet,” and every time one of us walked by to take a bunch of packaged goodies, they gave us the most odd stare ever. Little did they know it was for a good cause!;) Actually, most of the time I had a hard time not laughing out loud, since their reaction was just so peculiar.
We headed to the gate for our flight to SFO, which was packed, a consistent theme throughout the weekend. As they began first class boarding someone from seating area one tried to board and the GA promptly turned him away. One of the people I was traveling with thanked her for it, and she said something along the lines of “I always do this, I’m the red carpet Gestapo. I used to work BusinessOne flights.” A chuckle was had by all (except for the guy that was sent back).
UA0145, ORD-SFO, 05/16, 1227-1500
Service on this flight was very good. The biggest weakness was the food, which was a choice between a seafood plate and a sandwich. Usually when the FA takes my meal order I’ll just say “whichever makes your life easier,” which they always appreciate, but in this case I chose the sandwich since I don’t particularly fancy seafood. Suffice it to say, it was pretty bad. I usually like the hot sandwiches on UA, but cold sandwiches just don’t work well. The bread was extremely dry, so it was almost like trying to eat cardboard. It reminded me of coach meals from the 90’s. The soup was pretty decent, but my bowl was probably 1/5 full, and gone after two full spoons.
Prior to landing cookies and milk were served, which of course I accepted. I even added a Ghirardelli square to make it milk chocolate, but that actually didn’t work out too well. Ted joined me for the snack, as you can see below.
During approach we started talking to one of the FA’s who was involved in the new international premium cabin project. He was showing me pictures of their 747 evacuation tests, and I noticed another FA friend of mine in them, who he also knew. Small world! He told us some stories about the problems with the 747 evacuation, which was interesting to hear.
Upon landing we headed to the Red Carpet Club, where we met up with about 20 FlyerTalkers. Those that were booked on UA75, the earlier SFO-HNL flight, were still in SFO due to a pretty bad mechanical. As it turned out they were stranded at SFO that night because, while they ultimately found a new plane and taxied to the runway, the pilots found out the fuel had been miscalculated and then went illegal when they got back to the gate.
Anyway, the RCC was extremely busy, so fitting 20 people in there as a group proved to be a challenge. The looks on the faces of the people around us were priceless, as they were trying to figure out why the heck 20 of us were meeting in the RCC and so darn excited. Some even asked what exactly we were doing, and we explained that we were all members of FlyerTalk.com. A few FT’ers even helped out a guy who hadn’t heard of double EQM’s on United, and was very thankful to be told about it.
We started setting up the crew gift bags, which included Starbucks gift cards, Godiva chocolate, and of course plenty of RCC snacks such as Ghirardelli squares, Twix, Oreos, raisins, etc. Everyone signed the cards which had individual notes for each crew member. For the FA’s it was something like “Thanks for keeping the skies friendly and for the great service.” For the captain it was something like “Thanks for keeping the blue skies friendly and for the safe ride” (a Captain Flanagan quote), and for the first officer it was something like “Thanks for the safe ride and don’t let the captain boss you around too much. After all, you’re doing all the work.”
We also did our pre-flight briefing. For our large group flights we’ve gotten into a habit of mimicking the safety videos/demonstrations, and without exception it has made the crews virtually die of laughter in the past. We took about 20 styrofoam cups and about 20 stirrers, which came into good use during the safety demo, as I’ll write about shortly.
Shortly before leaving the RCC we spotted someone with the following sticker on his laptop:
Totally classic! Being the TSA disparagers that most of us are, we had found our hero. It takes some serious guts to put that on your laptop, especially if you’re running late one day and trying to get through security. He explained that he had worked with Drew Carey and that it was really his project, and gave us a few extras. I’m proudly keeping mine.
UA0077, SFO-HNL, 05/16, 1649-1915
Upon boarding the crew immediately recognized us and said “Oh, you’re those people from the website we were emailed about.” I immediately laughed and knew it would be a fun flight. They said they had received a weird email from an FA which wasn’t very detailed, so they were very curious about what FlyerTalk was. I quickly found out who had sent the email, an FA friend I haven’t talked to in a while.
We settled into our seats, which were mostly in rows 4-6. We had almost half of the first class cabin to ourselves. Pre-departure beverages were offered with a smile shortly after boarding, and I took water.
We gave the purser, a guy named Barry, the gift bags for the entire cabin crew, and he was very thankful. We asked if we could see the pilots, and within a few seconds they cleared us to enter. The flight deck was packed, with two pilots working and two pilots commuting (out of uniform). We gave the pilots our gifts, talked to them for a few minutes, and eventually the inevitable question was raised: “Say Captain, all of us are really aviation enthusiasts and always enjoy listening to Channel 9. Is there any chance you’ll be turning it on today?” He hesitated for a moment and then said “Em, sure, if it works I’ll be turning it on.” Sounds like he’s usually a non-Channel 9 captain, but ultimately it was turned on, which made us happy.
Eventually we began our pushback and the safety demo began. There was one FA on each side of the galley facing the passengers, on my side (the left side of the aircraft) was our aisle FA, and on the other side was the purser.
As the safety demo began we all pulled out the safety cards out of the seat pocket and placed them in front of our faces, which was a well coordinated effort. The FA on our side couldn’t help but crack up. As we continued our “demo,” the FA on our side almost died of laughter. The purser managed to keep a straight face, but at the same time didn’t seem against it. Some in coach also saw us, and found it to be pretty funny.
Our safety demo was pretty well rehearsed up until this point. As the video says “oxygen masks will fall down” we all place the sturofoam cups to our mouths. For “blowing into the tube” we all blew into the stirrers. When the video shows where the emergency exits are we all pointed. You get the point…
We had a long taxi and eventually took off from 28L. Here’s a video of the takeoff:
Shortly after takeoff beverage service began, along with hot nuts and menu distribution.
The menu read as follows:
Fresh seasonal greens
Trader Vic’s Javanese or ranch dressing.
Trader Vic’s Pan-seared filet mignon with applewood smoked bacon demi-glace. Red potato gratin and asparagus wrapped with carrot.
Trader Vic’s Pan-seared sake marinated halibut with ginger, red bell pepper, and green onion broth. Jasmine rice with chives and braised baby bok choy.
Your flight attendant will inform you of the selection
We invite you to begin your meal with a Trader Vic’s signature Mai Tai
As people began their first round of drinks, the appetizer, a breaded chicken skewer with some kind of fruit sauce, was served.
Shortly thereafter the salad was served. I chose the more exotic dressing, which had quite the strong taste.
I also went with the filet, which was ok.
The sundae was referred to by the purser as a “Chapter 11 sundae,” manily because UA really cut back on the toppings. I’m pretty sure most of the FlyerTalkers on the flight were rolling on the floor laughing when he said it. You had to be there, he had the perfect delivery of it.
The entire meal service and presentation was flawless. Truly a spectacular crew. After dinner we worked on the “Halfway to Hawaii” game. For those not familiar with the concept, it’s a game for all passengers whereby you try and guess at what time we’ll be halfway to Hawaii. The captain comes on the PA to give us some information so it’s a bit easier, including our KIAS (knots indicated air speed), tailwind, total distance, and well as takeoff time. There were several private pilots in our group and we were really working on calculating it to the second. Once we had an estimate we had everyone in our group guess in intervals of 10 seconds, on the 6’s. In the end this was just our Halfway to Hawaii forms:
In the end we lost, and instead a kid that must have been 12 years old won, only being off by four seconds. We were off by about a minute, if I recall correctly, and realized that this game is a total crapshoot. Fortunately I got lucky and won one of the “random” first place drawings, probably because I bugged the hell out of the purser to give us more information.
After dinner many of us chatted up the FA’s in the galley, and I’m pretty sure at one point we had close to a dozen FT’ers in there along with all of the FA’s, both deadheading and working. We had a LOT of fun and had a truly awesome crew and hilarious purser. The purser had so many jokes, none of which I can repeat here, but he could easily be an airline comedian, competing with the best of them.
Before we knew it we were already landing at HNL in what looked like a smoggy evening, probably due to the volcano “issues.” The water was very blue, and as soon as we touched down our whole group clapped and cheered, which confuses the heck out of other people.
Once again a FlyerTalker captured the landing:
As you can hear in the video, everyone laughed when the purser announced a 10 minute taxi to the gate. It seems like we landed on the far runway, which is quite a haul from the terminal.
We bid farewell to the crew after what was a great flight, and headed up to the RCC since we had gotten in a few minutes early and our rides weren’t quite there yet. About 20 of us approached an otherwise empty RCC at once, and the look on the agent’s face was once again priceless. It was if “her” club had just been taken over, and she really couldn’t believe it. We stayed there for a few minutes before heading into town.
To be continued…