Back in late January, I had to do a weekend turn to Miami. Because I am currently shooting towards Star Alliance Gold (9,000 miles away) in advance of my travels this summer, I decided to book on United Economy. (Un)Fortunately, my mother was traveling with me, so I had to stick to the nonstop United between Newark – Miami – Newark.
We arrived at the airport T minus one hour before departure, and sporting only carryon luggage (a must for domestic travel in the US today), made it to the security line at T minus 55 minutes. We had Premier Access thanks to my Star Silver Status but of course the folks at the TSA decided to let a flood of regular passengers (including several that had arrived at security after us) in before those who had premier access. Regardless, we made it through security in 15 minutes, which is reasonable for Newark Airport; that too with a slight TSA hold up in between.
We passed through security and into Terminal C at Newark. In terms of the architecture and feel of the terminal, the best I can say is that it has decent food options (good centralized food court plus several more lining the concourse). Otherwise, not the most aesthetically appealing of terminals.
My mom bought some food at the food court; I stuck to a bottle of water. We were boarding at Gate C86 which is at the far end of the terminal, so I rushed my mom to the gate, and we showed up around 5 minutes before boarding was called. Boarding was quasi efficient, though United hasn’t put enough seating at the gates near the end of each pier in Terminal C so there was a bit of a mosh pit waiting around the gate. At least the various groups were honored by the gate agents, thus preserving the value of early boarding. This hasn’t always been the case on my previous United flights.
Flight #1 – 27th January 2013
United 782 — Newark – Miami
D: 1230 A: 1527
Aircraft: Boeing 757-200
Economy Class Seat: 29A
United has pretty much completed its roll out of Economy Plus seating onto former Continental aircraft, which features great legroom.
My seat was 29A, which in typical US carrier fashion had limited legroom and narrow seats. It also looked a bit old but was comfortable enough for a 3 hour flight.
At least I was in a window seat, which meant I got to observe the United hub in full swing midday. Very few IFEC offerings for economy class can beat the joy of watching airport operations through the window.
Take off was another one of those lovely waits at Newark; 20 minutes for the 8 aircraft in line. About 45 minutes after takeoff, the flight attendants started the drink service. I’ve noticed recently on most of my United flights, that the flight attendants are not as sharp as they used to be when I was flying Continental, or even versus United 6 months ago. The soft product in terms of flight attendants smiling, being courteous, and just that general warmth which is exuded by the flight attendants on most Asian airlines has always been hit or miss at United. But at least the flight attendants were always efficient in their service. This time around; not so much. It took them close to 30 minutes to get drink service done, and they came by just once to collect trash, that too skipping by my row at first before I flagged her down. For drinks, I had a Diet Coke with ice, and the flight attendant gave me the can without me asking. I didn’t try any of United’s snack boxes or a-la-carte snacks, but speaking from experience they are delicious with snacks to satisfy a wide variety of palates.
Regardless, I spent most of the flight getting some work done on my IPAD (offline because no WiFi was offered), as the 757 only had the old overhead CRT monitors. Moreover, United has fallen into the bad habit of pushing more and more so called “Indpendent films;” which I find incredibly boring, I’m normally fine with overhead films, but not if they aren’t entertaining. I did kill 30 minutes reading United’s Hemispheres Magazine, which is excellent.
|The irony of reading United’s earnings
call transcript while Flying United
The flight actually landed 15 minutes ahead of schedule (a nice change from United’s heavily publicized reliability issues in 2012), and taxi was uneventful. The approach into Miami International on a clear day is gorgeous and I love taxing in Miami because you get to see colorful and unique aircraft from the bevy of Latin American airlines that serve the airport.
Deplaning was about as timely as can be on a 184 seat narrowbody and we were off to the warmth and sunshine of Miami, a welcome change from the subzero temperatures experienced in Princeton. After a productive 3 days in Miami, it was time to head back to freezing New Jersey.
We traveled from our hotel to the airport via the Metrorail, which is quite efficient, though it serves a very limited area with just two lines. Miami’s rental car and intermodal transit center is off property which is fine, but my one beef is that after you are transported to the airport (with some incredible overviews of the airport ramp in between) and dropped off, it is a pretty long walk to the various concourses; the optimal design for the train would have added 2 more stops, one at the international concourse, and one in the middle of American’s terminal.
Security in Miami was poorly run; United hasn’t provided premium customers and frequent flyers with their own security lane, so the wait took almost 40 minutes. Afterwards, we walked into Concourse G, which features low ceilings and cramped conditions a-la La Guardia (although there is enough seating for most narrowbody aircraft). After picking up some rock hard breadsticks from the Pizza Hut (food options were decent), we settled down at the gate where I fired up my IPAD and discovered that Miami International has done away with free WiFi. Boarding began, and it was efficient and orderly yet again, with my Premier Access honored.
Flight #2 – 29th January, 2013
United 1439 – Miami – Newark
D: 1831 A: 2145
Aircraft: Boeing 737-800
Economy Class Seat: 31A
When I had reviewed the booking before the trip, I was happy to discover that the return flight would be on one of United’s 737s with DirectTV, which is my favorite shorthaul inflight product (both on United and Delta). The price, at $7.99 for a 3 hour flight was a bit steep, but I gladly paid it for the chance to watch live TV in the air (I am a huge TV buff).
The 737 seat had similar legroom and width to that on the 757, but I found it fine. I am 5’10, 190 pounds and even so domestic economy class seats in the US are fine for me. However, I used to be 250 pounds, and the seat width for me back then was much more troublesome.
Flight attendants on this flight were quite surly and in a bad mood. They did give me the whole can of Diet Coke again though which was nice, and were efficient in getting the drink service done and making two “trash runs.”
I spent the first 1:45 watching The Campaign before switching over to the US-Canada soccer friendly for the remainder of the flight (huge plus to not miss important sporting events while in flight. By the time we landed at Newark 10 minutes ahead of schedule, it was dark outside, so I got some great night views of all the United jets overnighting at Newark. Deplaning was not as efficient as the outbound, but we got off the flight in reasonable time and went out into the frigid New Jersey night.
Overall it was a reasonably pleasant flight, though US airlines in shorthaul economy are nothing special. The second flight was much better than the first, primarily because of the DirectTV. The full scoring for the flights is shown below; the method of scoring and weighting will be detailed in a later post.