Finally heading home! Unfortunately, this will be my last flight in quite some time due to my schedule.
Newark Liberty International Airport
I got to Newark at around 6:15am. On the one hand I was rather worried that the shutdown was going to affect TSA Pre, on the other hand, I figured a flight this early would mean that the airport would be fairly empty at this hour (I'm not very familiar with New York's airports). Luckily the TSA Pre line was unaffected. However, there were quite a lot of passengers all over.
Despite a relatively long TSA Pre line, I got through very quickly and was at my gate by around 6:30am with a 6:50am scheduled boarding time.
My RPU (the last of my old man's expiring RPUs), managed to clear right as I left security. Yes! Even though I don't really care that much for domestic flights, it's always nicer to fly up front. I had also gotten ill while I was in NYC so it would have been a very uncomfortable flight in the back. Boarding started on time despite a late arriving aircraft. However, as I boarded, the gate agent made me check my bag to Austin. I was rather surprised as this hasn't been an issue on domestic flights when I've had more crammed into the luggage. Oh well. When I boarded, I understood why the gate agent was a bit stricter about carryons, the overhead bins are smaller on this older plane. That said, I think my bag could have fit still.
Originally this flight was supposed to be on a Boeing 737 MAX 9, but the equipment swapped at the last minute to an older 737-900.
What was surprising about boarding this time was how absolutely freezing it was! Everyone in first class was shivering and trying to bundle up as much as they can. I've never had this happen to me before, but I guess the heating wasn't on for whatever reason. The Global Services gentleman next to me told me he almost wished he were in the back of the economy cabin right now - at least it would be warmer.
The seats were an older type of Domestic First seats and in many ways, better. It was certainly better cushioned than United's newer seats. I was surprised to find a (very) thin blanket waiting for me at the seat. I didn't expect it - maybe a certain hour threshold triggers having blankets at every seat?
There are lights and FA controls, as well as individual air nozzles above the seat.
Plenty of legroom for a domestic flight:
The central armrest is a bit smaller than the newer seats, but there were no problems fitting both of our drinks on the platform.
Surprise! There's actually an IFE in the seatback. You can't really see this in the dark, but there is a little reader to the right of the screen that you can swipe your credit card through. United just announced (9 days after this flight) there was free live TV provided by DIRECTV on their 737s with IFEs, I'm not sure how many planes still have IFEs, but it is a nice addition when you have it. I spent most of the flight watching Law & Order SVU reruns.
There's even a very basic flight map.
I asked for hot tea because it was so cold. I was given a cup of hot water and United's standard blue plastic cup to put the tea bag in afterwards. One odd thing: my seatmate and I found napkins on our armest and assumed that the flight had not been properly cleaned. When we told the FA about it, he told us that he had placed the napkins there. I didn't see pre-placed napkins on any other seats so I thought this was rather odd - odd enough to take note of it as least.
I also asked for a pair of headphones. They're very cheap ones, so I would stick to your own headphones if it fits in the jack.
Boarding was completed on time and we pushed back early at 7:19am. First class was full, of course, but there were 35 empty seats in economy according to the United App. We took off at 7:30am.
The flight attendant came by to finish taking orders. I had the option of some sort of a hot pastry or a cold "protein medley." As the FA began describing the protein medley, I cannot remember the last time I heard something so un-appetizing, it was some mixture of cold turkey and a hard-boiled egg. When I glanced down on his order sheet, not a single person had ordered the protein medley. I'm glad they packed enough of the pastries for all of us.
The tray table folds out . You'll notice that in contrast to the newer seats, there is no area for you to hook your tablet into.
As I mentioned, I ordered the hot pastry. It was fairly decent. I just appreciated a warm meal. You never know with breakfast… As for the rest of it: the biscuits were a bit cold, the yogurt average, and the fruit were as bland as can be.
A cup of hot tea to go along with it:
Halfway through the meal (~1 hour in), there was very strong turbulence. FAs were ordered to their seats.
After the seat belt signs were turned off again, I got up to check the lavatory. The bathroom was usable…but the sink was broken…at least United put in hand sanitizer (rather than just the normal soap).
The rest of the flight went by uneventfully. The FAs came by several times to ask if I wanted refills. The live TV made the flight go by much faster. The captain announced our descent at around 10:43am Central Time.
Flight map as we neared Austin.
We landed at 10:08am and arrived at the gate a few minutes later. Despite a priority tag, my bag was about the 40th one out of the carousel, approximately 12-13 minutes after we arrived at the gate. Given how long it has been since I've checked a bag, I have no clue whether this is fast, slow, or par for the course.
Newark - EWR
Austin - AUS
Cabin & Seat: Even though I don't mind the newer United Domestic First seats without IFEs (since I always bring a tablet anyways), these older seats with IFEs are definitely better. Not only are they better cushioned, the live TV offers a lot more entertainment than the tablet streaming options.
Service: The service was... average. The FAs did their job, but seemed fairly unethusiastic about it. There isn't much more to add.
Meal & Catering: The pastry was alright, but the "protein medley" sounded awful. Of course, breakfast is rarely a strong point of any airline meal.
Bottom Line: United and Southwest are the only two airlines that operate a nonstop between EWR and AUS (I think), so there really isn't much competition if you want to fly through Newark rather than JFK. Since I got to use a RPU that would have otherwise expired, definitely worth my money.
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