Thursday, April 27, 2006

United Airlines

I had a need to go to Chicago for a day trip last Tuesday. Day trips are a tiring event, needing to get up way too early in the morning and not getting home until very late. Even so, I didn't mind because I like commercial air travel. I have been a fan of commercial aviation ever since I first flew in them back in the early 70's. I was the only kid in school that could differentiate between a B-707 and a DC-8, between L1011 and DC-10 (and the later version, the MD-11) between the B747-200 series from a B747-400 series etc. Even now, I can tell apart an A320 from a B737 and the Embraer's regional jets from the Bombardier's Canadair jets.
As a kid, I've flown some very interesting flight plans. My most memorable one was flying SAS (Scandinavian Airline Systems) B707 from Tokyo to Anchorage to Copenhagen in 1974. That was an 18 hour flight (2 9 hour legs) on a single isle plane. My most frightening flight was on a Korean Air Lines flight in 1974, I was 8 years old and flying by myself from Seoul to Pusan. It was supposed to be a simple 45 minute flight but due to terrible thunderstorms that day, the plane bucked through some heavy chop and hit several air pockets. Now, for those that has not experienced airpockets in the air, it is pretty much a sudden free fall until the plane recaptures lift. So needless to say, this 8 year old was pretty freaked out.

On this particular trip, I had an opportunity to fly United Express' new Embraer ERJ 170 series. These are the new 70 seater planes with engines under the wings rather than on the tails. They actually look like a baby 737. The return flight featured an Airbus A320. I have been flying Continental's B737 series for the past 3 years and my perception on this flight was that it felt roomier and less claustrophobic.

The best part of flying United Airlines is their channel 9 audio service. It is a live feed into cockpit radio transmission with air control. I always liked this feature and missed it during the last 3 years of flying Continental. It allows you to feel engaged with your flight. When the controllers tells your pilots to "turn left to 090", then you feel the plane making the turn. As we were taxxing around O'Hare for our runway, you realize how busy and crazy that airport is. The O'Hare tower guy was in constant rapid fire mode trying to direct planes that were literally everywhere. After we took off, the conversations revolved around constant course and altitude changes to find the smoothest air as there was a huge line of weather front passing through the mid-section of the country. As we approached home, IAH was surrounded by storm clouds. Here's an excerpt with Houston control.

United 753, turn right to 090.
Houston, did you mean turn LEFT to 090?
United 753, I thought I said left. If not, turn LEFT to 090.
753, roger.
United 753, I can give you some lee way to pick through that thunderstorm.
How about 110?
No can do, there is a line of outbound flights using that heading.
Boy, it's getting awfully tight here....
753, I can put you on a holding pattern on the west side, your call.
We'll pick our way through...

The plane starts to bump around some but finally manages to thread it's way through the mess.

On the final approach, tower advises us, wind gusts from west up to 25 knots and there is a wind shear advisory....

Despite all that, the plane makes a very smooth landing. Awesome. On my way out, our captain is standing on the flightdeck doorway greeting passengers.

"Thanks for the ride!" I greeted the captain and left the plane. (Side note: Continental pilots don't do this. What's up with that?)



Dave Smart said...

Juanita's dad was a captain for Branniff airlines. He collected several "pre-Castro" cuban cigars while flying Cuban refugees transport planes, before retiring in 1963..

Sarah said...

I don't often fly United, but I did last fall for work and LOVE that channel on the radio! I listened as we went into Denver and heard ATC routing planes over Longs Peak, which I'd hiked the previous year. That was fun.