Monday, September 19, 2016

A Trip Report: United Airlines, Domestic (Aug/Sep 2016)

A Trip Report: United Airlines, Domestic (Aug/Sep 2016)
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It has been a while since I have flown a ‘mainline’ U.S. carrier and the reason is that in previous years both their service and products not good.  The carriers had not upgraded their products, and their customer service was not service at all.  The carriers realized they needed to focus on their products, and so in recent years the big 3 – United, Delta, and American Airlines – have been focusing on providing better service by upgrading their on-board products and their service.  Delta has been focusing on Delta +, American has been adding new planes and new service, and United released Polaris.  Given these upgrades, I decided to try out United upgraded economy product from New Orleans to Houston. 

In previous cases, I have booked my international ticket from Houston and have booked a separate domestic ticket – and usually I have booked Southwest for my flights from Houston to New Orleans.  I usually choose Southwest over United for a couple of reasons – more economical fares, better consistency in terms of service and product available, and two free bags of checked luggage.  This time I decided to fly on United for a couple of reasons.  The first reason is stated above – they had been advertising a new product and enhanced service so I wanted to try that one.  The second reason is that I was connecting to an international flight and it is always better to have all the flights on one ticket – for baggage and flight connectivity.  The third reason is that Southwest flies in and out of Hobby Airport, while United and international flights go out of Intercontinental and to get from one airport to the other costs about $30-45 one way and takes about an 30-45minutes (without traffic) so it takes a lot of planning and luck to ensure you make your connecting flight. 

United has many flights throughout the day from New Orleans to Houston.  Some of the flights are operated by Airbus or Boeing jets, while others are operated by regional jets.  My first flight was in the afternoon and was scheduled to depart New Orleans at 12:35p and arrive into Houston at 1:48pm. This flight was operated by a Boeing 737-800.  United does not charge for seat allocation, so you can choose your own seat; however, they do charge to upgrade to Economy Plus which allows you earlier boarding and more legroom.  I had chosen an aisle seat in Main Economy.  Boarding started a bit later than usual, but the taxi time in New Orleans is very short so the plane took off generally on time.

The layout of the 737-800 is 3-3 and the seat pitch is average.  The flight times is 45 minutes, and for that flight time both the seat comfort and seat pitch were fine.  This plane had come from Chicago to New Orleans, which is a 2hr 20 min flight, and I am not sure the seat pitch and comfortable would have been good for that long flight time.  The seat is a basic seat as there are no USB ports nor PTV’s available.  In the seat back pocket is the airline magazine, the safety card, and a brochure on how to access the wifi and the free entertainment.   United does provide limited free entertainment through the United app, and again for the short domestic flights the limited choices of TV programs are fine.  You can purchase additional options, including movies, at a cost.  Once we reached cruising altitude, the attendants came by to offer drinks and pretzels.  By the time the attendants had concluded their drink service, it was time to collect the trash as we were descending into Houston. 

For my return, I had booked a late afternoon flight which departed Houston at 5pm and was operated by an Airbus 319.  I had cleared customs and immigration and so went to the United counter to see if I could get on an earlier flight; that is one of the plus points of having so many frequencies during the day is that you have a lot of options and can sometimes get on an earlier flight (depending on availability).  I was able to get on an earlier flight that departed Houston at 3:50pm and scheduled to arrive New Orleans at 5:03pm.  This flight was operated by an Embraer RJ-175, and when I had previously been on Regional Jets they were usually small, cramped, and a bit uncomfortable.  When we boarded this flight, the aircraft looked new, the seats were comfortable, and the legroom was pretty decent.  The attendant had announced that this was a new aircraft and was part of United’s ‘fleet renewal’ in which they were updating and modernizing their fleet; this included new regional jets which were roomier and more modern than previous versions. 

The service on this flight was similar to the outbound flight – wifi was available (for a fee) or free entertainment was available through the United app; drinks and pretzels were available after take-off; and overall it was a nice, short flight.  Overall, I was impressed with the new United.  They have invested a lot in their product and it shows, from the updated planes to the updated on-board service.  Given this, I would not hesitate to take United either short-haul or medium-haul domestic.   

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