The flight I was looking forward to most on this trip. Sure, United's 777-200ER are nothing great, but a 777 on a domestic route cannot be beaten. Any widebody for that matter. This was to be my shortest 777 flight thus far.
With the excitement up there, as high as ever, I was looking forward to a lot of things. The first of which being a departure from Gate B16 - the gate right by the one Lufthansa's B747-8i departs from, the daily LH431 run to Frankfurt. As I have mentioned before B17 offers pretty bad views of the plane itself, but B16 has a pretty good view (as shown in the picture above, I suppose!). The second being my first Star Alliance logo jet, N218UA! The pre-merger United birdie carried the Star Alliance colors right from day 1, I believe. And the third, well, a 777 on a domestic flight!
THE DAY OF
We got in to the terminal. Concourse E. Chicago O’Hare - not a place we’d have the most memorable times in the past unfortunately. The snow picked up and I couldn’t see too far in to the distance. There was still about 3 hours till departure, but with the go around delaying UA896 from Hong Kong and departure lines backing up due to de-icing I was a little concerned. A familiar cloud of doom & gloom showed up.
Great piece of history - did not see this around!
Walking around, killing time…
Took our time to find a Garett’s Popcorn - something I wanted to try out several times while at Chicago, but it was finally happening. This would be our lunch.
Concourse B - B for busy as ever?
Walking through the maze of people, the Indian connection was made as some tour agency package seller guy intercepted me and asked me where I was from - I unfortunately had no time for this, spotting was the name of the game! We found a place by Gates B18/B19. These gates were the complete other end of Concourse B - beyond the B16/B17 where the wide bodies were parked at. The snow slowed down for now as we munched on popcorn, with a few ERJ-175s for company.
The previous United flight, the one we could’ve made, was delayed by 25 minutes, the reason being ‘ATC delays at destination’. Hmm, the storm moving out of the tristate area? Anyway, we finished our lunch…and headed for a quick walk.
MAKE UP YOUR MIND, WEATHER?
Seven minutes is all it took for Chicago to go back LIFR conditions. The snow returned - and while it didn’t stick on the ground it made sure that the wings & fuselage had to be decided. Damnation! Delays happened as the ground crew didn’t seem to be prepared for this intermittent snow fall. I didn’t see FlightRadar much to seal our fate - but I took heart from the fact that planes were taking off of 9R with great fury - one could barely see the positioning lights as a few 737s, ERJs and 320s took to the sky, just fine. I could only hope.
A little past 2pm we decided to wander around in towards Concourse C - while I was in the hope of finding some big planes. On the way to Concourse C - B is not as full now:
Flight we could've taken, but it is further delayed….
It was weird in the underground crossing with some rave-lights which felt very out of place for some reason. And a haunting tone to go with it - something of a light show?
At concourse C I noticed planes were pushed back on time largely, but it was about 40-45 minutes before they were able to start engines and taxi out - due to de-icing delays. This led to planes waiting for gates too: a multiplier effect which would have significant impacts. Gate B16 was still empty, so I was hoping for an on time departure. I did however find some wide bodies - the B777s and B767s of United: I do not believe United has any 787s in Chicago, while rival American’s wide body operations are widely 787 operations.
On time departure, but a de-icing delay…
Waiting for a gate to open, but the position of de-icing prevented this from happening. Quite a looker is the B757-300!
777-200ER bound for Asia…
Hello there 767!
Concourse C looks alright…
THE CHILD IN ME IS HAPPY!
The highlight from all this spotting: the B757’s Captain and First Officer waved at me as they were finishing up paperwork for their haul to the west coast: it felt like I was five again as my girlfriend stood at the back, smiling! With my day being brightened despite the weather’s best (worst?) efforts, we headed back to gate B16.
1hr06min to departure, gate B16 was empty. The parking bay that is: the gate area itself was bustling with passengers! This 777 was going to go completely full. Love it when people's food need to place on the chairs…
This storm hadn’t stopped. It was intermittent, if anything. Planes on the ground had engines running, but their progress would be sporadic. The green fluid showing where the chemicals were sprayed on for the most part….
I did not notice that this was N14904 up until when I was putting forward this report together….boy was she late!
It wasn’t long until I saw this big black tail in the distance. Covered in a layer of ice was N218UA was it was pulled over by a tug from T5: it was 55 minutes before departure, and it was aligned with Gate B16 just fine at 1506 hours central, but with 54 minutes to departure. Several pictures here, I couldn't resist for the one time O'Hare had a decent view from the windows…
As the beastly Boeing was prepared, in the distance a beautiful Boeing had been pulled over - D-ABYM, the B747-8i that would head to Frankfurt. I spy with my little eye…The Queen Of The Skies?!
Boarding pass, as received in Fargo
People lined up in anticipation of boarding, but I knew there was a delay on the cards. And so was proven: the jet bridge wouldn’t move. What is it with ORD and jet bridges not moving?! An announcement was made for this, in addition to constant reminders telling us to put baggage away at the gate if at all possible. And these announcements were not enough, apparently.
Passengers were from all over: Europe, USA, India, Mexico, this was a true hub to hub connector flight on a wide body. Boarding was finally called, quite late, two minutes to departure time. It looked like a long line had formed, but thanks to the small signs everyone was quite confused - we in group 3 were able to sail through in to the jet bridge that had a swarm of people. My girlfriend asked if I had gotten a decent picture of the Lufty 747 - the answer being a disappointed no.
Predictably with any wide body domestic flight (where everyone’s getting around the baggage fees…), the aisles filled up with folks stuffing the overhead bin(s). Far away from their original seats. This only slowed down boarding, if anything. I once again noticed a lot of Indian people on this flight… were they connecting to the United out of Newark departing at 2010 and 2100? Sure were able to make it, but what about the delay we were in… hmmm…
Back facing J seats
Heading to our seats, 39A/B, but of course there was someone else sitting in 39A. I requested them to move, thankfully it worked out to be just fine. This is the view I had of the Lufthansa B747-8i, the last good chance I had…..
Cabin during boarding
The cabin filled up towards what would be an eventually almost full flight - 2 middle seats towards the back being the only empty ones. I looked around my seat, and unsurprisingly it was the exact same as I had seen in 2016 on the horrible flight from Munich to Chicago. It wasn’t going to take much to better than flight, but after all domestic and international are very different. Given that it was an international plane for a quick domestic flight, IFE was substantial. No headphones, and no channel 9 as I was once again disappointed to find out this was disabled from up front. Unfortunate…
From what I could see through the window, planes were making their way towards 09R for departures, but deicing looked like it slowed things down a little. Announcements were made about 25 minutes after departure time, with the usual bags away, laptops away, etc etc, quickly followed by an announcement from the flight deck stating that after deicing it would be a short taxi to the runway (so…09R). It would be a quick 1hr33min flight enroute, but the weather had moved more towards the north.
DEPARTURE - DEICING DELAYS…
Guess I can’t give them too much flak, for boarding to doors closed took 39 minutes, not too bad for a wide body flight but we did pushback 37 minutes late, 1637 hours, in to position to be de-iced. The safety video played in the meantime.
Captain Mark let us know de-icing take shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes (recorded in the video TR here) which was interesting because I’m pretty sure it takes more than 5 minutes to de-ice a ERJ-145, so I’m not sure how the efficient folk at ORD were going to pull this off…
Five minutes turned in to 20 minutes as we were now officially an hour late, the ice slowly went off the fuselage and giving something of a window view (finally), but the cabin got pretty warm. And this was started to bother some passengers, to the extent that it was getting a little heated.
My girlfriend woke up - asking me how long do we have to be stuffed in a plane on the ground before we make the news….well, it wasn’t that long (yet) but United sure made it quite uncomfortable onboard. The technical reasoning being the auxiliary power unit had to be turned off for during deicing? Not sure of what it was, but that was the reasoning.
We waited for a bit more as there was slow but sure progress of de-icing by the two trucks, and there were other planes taxiing past. Then came another announcement: a slab of ice was being quite difficult - it wouldn’t get off, despite their best efforts. Maintenance had to be called. More delays! But more than being on time because that was out of the question, the flight attendants were more concerned with the heat in the cabin, and rightfully so seeing as some passengers were probably ready for some yelling. SpiceJet 488 v2.0? Nah, they’d be thrown in prison if that happened…
…anyway, luckily that was the end of any more delays, as the air-conditions were turned on, BEFORE the PW4090 engines were started up. Nice, 2nd attempt in catching a 777 in Chicago after an ERJ-145 flight from Fargo, and it looked like we were ready to go this time. Some passengers even clapped as they heard the obvious rumbles of the PW4090s fire up. We were 1hr28min behind schedule at this point.
A pretty uneventful taxi - expect for this one shot I got of the 777 trifecta: but at least we were taxiing!
Lined up with Runway 09R and took off with gusto - the deicing fluid making the wing a lot more green than normal! We were up in the sky with a total delay of 1hr35min, good thing we had no connections after this one, and it’d be a quick one if anything.
It was still nice and bright outside, which meant that I’d get some pretty alright sunset shots at least! Usual announcements happened as we cruised along at 35000 feet. With most all short flights I decided to stick with the map page, and the occasional check on the phone to see how far away we were from arrival. A quick update from the captain apologizing for the deicing delays, in addition to our updated arrival time (now about 1hr15min late). It would be a smooth flight along the way anyway….
Not much happening I decided to check out the slow IFE anyway. Kinda unfortunate that these planes do 15-16hr long flights with barely much going on. Good thing the -300ERs are a step forward with the IFE, and backward with the 3-4-3 configuration. There was a section featuring HERstory, celebrating international women’s month or something. The movie, music & TV selections were great, but the UI was quite bad… nothing having changed since 2016 it would seem…
Crisp day out!
Cabin in flight
We were served about 45 minutes in to the flight. With the two of us opting for the same drink the flight attendant found it convenient to give us the one can to share which I found to be an interesting proposition….There were no stroopwaffels at this time of day so it would have to pretzel twists only. 'Would you mind sharing the one can?' I mean I guess….
The tailwind meant that we were slowly chipping away at (h)our delay, but it was most likely going to be north of 60 minutes. The sunset colors made for a rather appropriate timing wherein it was starting to get to that ‘boring’ part between service trash collection & descent, aka nothing much going on. The sunset made it quite beautiful out there:
Everything's calm & uneventful
DESCENT & ARRIVAL
Just an hour in to the flight there were the descent preparations being made. Everyone buckled up, seat back up, tray tables stowed, etc etc etc - we descent nice and slowly towards Newark Liberty Intl. It got completely dark out and turbulence had made for a bumpy descent and my girlfriend held my hand. ‘Hmm, I think they’re descending quick because they need the lights to see where we are’, I said as I compared this mighty Boeing to the techniques I use in a Piper Archer. I received another one in my gut, and deservedly so.
Soon we had a heading towards the southwest. Lights got bigger, a line of darkness, followed by a line of lights: there was the Hudson, and Manhattan in the distance! Quite the fantastic approach, and finally giving me a view after the past 2 attempts were thwarted by storm clouds & overcast weather respectively.
We lined up with runway 22L and came down nice & stable - touching down a little rough at 2010 hours EDT, after flying for 1hr35min.
To save their face the purser requested ‘any of you with a connection of over an hour to step aside for those who may have a shorter connection’. Hmm, the Delhi flight still had some till depart but what about those to Mumbai? Or elsewhere? I hoped for their best because we know how well this may go…. A fun taxi to gate C75 - including some flashbacks from December/January thanks to British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, an Ethiopian B787, Lufthansa A340 among others.
Docked at gate C75 at 2017 hours, beside another United 777, but this was a domestic -200 which would head to…Dublin, Ireland. Go figure. We reached with a total delay of 1hr02min.
With nothing planned at night other than a quick dinner at Shakeshack, we decided to take our time getting off and get going in towards the city. In rather bizarre twist of events, the gentleman in front of us wished us a happy honeymoon…. oh dear that was awkward!
Got off, thanked the crew, and had to get a picture because why not! Thank you N218UA - it was a little odd in the beginning, but we are here! As mentioned above this would head to Sao Paul as UA149.
We took our time in finding our way towards the AirTrain - even if Newark felt old and run down I was quite impressed by the number of shops & stores around, some of the better that I have seen in an American airport if anything.
Took the AirTrain and waited a little for the PanNJ transit that would take us to New York Penn Station - a quick walk over to my cousin’s apartment from where we’d begin our spring break holiday!
Chicago - ORD
Newark - EWR
Not a whole to talk about here. I still don't get how they estimated 5 minutes to de-ice a 777, in addition to a warm cabin before we got going, but in the end we got to EWR just fine. Always nice to have a 3-3-3 configuration on the T7, but a pity this is going going away, but hopefully better IFE. Crew were so-so, but overall while a stressful day of flying it ended up being pretty alright.
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