Trip Report: Busy Week in Chicago

Surprisingly, it has been a year since I was last in Chicago (excluding layovers, of course). This past week was the Eye for Travel conference in the city, so I took the opportunity to go a little early, observe the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur with friends, and then schedule a few meetings as well.

The trip went really well overall, but the process leading up to the trip wasn’t so smooth. Using PriceGrabber, of course, I found a $224.60 roundtrip fare on United a little less than a month out. I’m working on requalfying for US Airways Silver Preferred status for next year, so I wanted to use my US Airways # on this flight to earn miles.

I called United directly to get an Economy Plus seat and spoke with “Mike Jones” who had a suspiciously Indian accent. When the Indian call center reps pretend to use American names, it really bothers me. There’s something about starting a conversation off with a lie that makes me suspicious of everything else they tell me. I can’t understand why United does it this way.

Anyway, “Mike” told me that US Airways elites no longer get Economy Plus (see ). Instead of trying to fight him, I told him I was elite on both United and US Airways, so I asked him to use my United number to get the seats but then use my US Airways number for earning miles on the flight. He did it, and I left feeling uneasy about which number was actually going to get the miles.

I called back a few days before the flight and, speaking with another guy named “Mike Jones” (I’m not kidding), asked which number was in my reservation. I was told that both of them were. How is that possible? So after putting me on hold a couple times, he removed my United number and everything was good.


October 1, 2006
United #104 Lv Los Angeles (LAX) 755a Arr Chicago/O’Hare (ORD) 152p
: Gate 73, Runway 25R, Dept 5m Early
: Gate C23, Runway 22R, Arr 13m Early
Aircraft: N520UA, Boeing 757-200, Old gray colors, ~75% Full
Flight Time:
Seat: 25F, Coach

I went to check in online for my flight and found that my seat assignments had been erased. Somehow, I get the feeling “Mike Jones” had done this a couple days earlier. I was livid, but my third call to India was full of apologies and a promise that he had put my request in for an Economy Plus seat and they would happily accommodate me at the airport. Yeah right, another lie.

Since I was checking in early, I was able to get a window on the way out. I decided to cut it close on Sunday so I could get a little more sleep in the morning. I got to the airport at about 705a for my 755a flight. There was no security line, but with my toiletry kit being replaced by two ziploc bags (one liquid, one not) along with shoes and a laptop, it took quite awhile for me to run everything through the machine.

I went to the gate and politely asked the agent for a seat in Economy Plus. He said he couldn’t do anything, but he was at least really nice about it. We boarded soon after.

After we boarded, the pilot came on the PA and thanked us all for flying with him. He also recognized the active-duty Naval passengers who were flying with us that day. The flight itself was relatively uneventful with just some bumps over the Rockies. The movie “Cars” was on and that was a great way to pass the time, especially since Channel 9 was off and the captain wouldn’t turn it on. (For those who don’t know, Channel 9 is where you can listen to cockpit conversations with Air Traffic Control only on United.)

It was a beautifully sunny day in Chicago, and we approached from the southwest. I was glad to be on the right side, because it meant a view of Midway and the loop before seeing O’Hare pass just to our right. Just as we passed, I saw what looked like a Korean 747 Cargo bird come off runway 32R right beneath us. It was an amazing site – I only wish I had my camera on.

We looped around and landed on 22R. A short taxi later, we were at the C gates, and I was on my way.


October 6, 2006
United #103 Lv Chicago/O’Hare (ORD) 800a Arr Los Angeles (LAX) 1026a
: Gate C21, Runway 32L, Dept 2m Early
: Gate 77, Runway 25R, Arr 21m Early
Aircraft: N642UA, Boeing 767-300 (Intl), New white/blue colors, ~90% Full
Flight Time:
Seat: 24A, Economy Plus

After a good week with some really strange weather ranging from nice warm days to severe thunderstorms, and finally cold temps, it was time to come home. A friend from United had been watching the return flight for a seat to open, and he was able to snag 24A for me on the Intl 767-300, so I was happy.

I had chosen the 8a flight because it was a 3 cabin 767-300. These planes are primarily used for international flights, but they do operate a few domestic flights as well. If you’re in coach, it means you get a (very small, as you can see) personal screen with movies running. If you’re up front, it means you get the nice international business or first class seats. Only some of the 767-300s and most of the 777s are configured this way, and unfortunately, United makes it very difficult to find out which type you’re on. The only way I could find out was by calling a friend at United. They could make it easier by using different aircraft codes in the system (such as 767 vs. 763). Many airlines do this to show a differentiated product.

Anyway, I checked in online and again traded time at the airport for sleep. I woke up at 6a, hopped in a cab at 630a and walked in the door at 710a for my 8a flight. I may not get Economy Plus anymore, but at least I can still go in the priority security line. There was still about a 10 minute line, but I sailed through without problems.

Anyway, believing I was in regular coach again, I asked for a Economy Plus window and of course was denied. After boarding, I was surprised to see I was in Economy Plus. Honestly, I never would have known except for the sticker and antimacassar (headrest cover) that told me so. Row 24 is a weird one where the side sections are Economy Plus and the middle is not. Really odd.

It was again beautiful weather in Chicago and Channel 9 was on, so I was happy. The flight was good, but the flight attendants were salty and spent most of the flight reading the paper in the galley, looking annoyed when you got in their way to use the bathroom.

I watched Nacho Libre, but spent most of the time watching the map and listening to Channel 9. It was rough from Kansas west to California, so just about everyone was asking to try a new altitude along the way. Nobody was really successful, and one controller noted that everything from 28,000 feet on up was at least a light chop. This shot was taken at one of the few breaks in the clouds over the Rockies.

Coming into LAX was odd because there were low puffy clouds unlike the usual marine layer. We landed at 1005a, I hopped in a taxi and ended up at work by 1045a.

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