This series was a quick trip to Houston. The Bay Area (SFO/OAK/SJC) to Houston (IAH/HOU) has very limited options non-stop. There is a little bit of OAK/SJC-HOU traffic on WN, but the biggest market share is owned by UA operating 9x daily service on SFO-IAH between these 2 hubs. UA does also operate 1x daily service SJC-IAH, but the timing of this flight was not compatible with my schedule so was not considered. When booking my ticket, I needed to make sure I would earn at least 2,500 miles to retain my *G status. I booked the outbound flight on the "early" red-eye in order to get into Houston before the morning rush hour. The return was booked on the last flight of the day to avoid Houston rush hour on the way to the airport. This would also maximize my time in Houston and minimize my time away from home. The routing was booked in Y on the out-bound and F on the return. The Y/F fare difference for the return was only $199 at the time of purchase, so it was deemed acceptable for the longer west-bound flight that would be during a meal-time and would ensure the requisite mileage earning. The routing is thus:
This report will be the return to San Francisco on the workhorse B739s of the UA fleet.
The flight was very empty during booking so I picked 4F to avoid the last row (does not recline). Since this is UA, the cabin will of course be full departing once all the upgrades are handed out. If you notice, they use a cabin shot of the B737 MAX cabin, which is definitely not the hard product that is on these ancient B739s. Also, UA tries to get you to pay an additional $60 for United Club access, which is about $50 more than it is worth.
Five days before the flight, meal selection can be done online. There was a choice of 5 entrees or the option to decline the meal since you will eat in the United Club^^ (comical on many levels). I made my selection, which will be revealed later.
As I mentioned in the last report, IAH has been undergoing major construction so Terminal E can only be accessed through Terminal C. UA operates out of Terminals B, C, and E. Terminal B is mainly United Express, Terminal C is mainline UA usually filled with a sea of B737s, and Terminal E is the "international" mainline UA terminal, but also receives most of the intra-hub flights since these are usually wide-bodies rotating from LAX/SFO/DEN/ORD/EWR. Terminal A is the domestic terminal for everybody else and Terminal D is the international terminal for everybody else.
I was dropped off at Terminal C at 19:50. Heading inside, the Premier Access area is to the right and the hundreds of kiosks and check-in counters for everyone else are to the left. As a major UA hub, there is no shortage of check-in options.
I pass straight through not checking any bags to security, which again is empty.
I am airside a couple minutes later and will head towards South C, which is connected to Terminal E.
A brief look at the FIDS showing the remaining flights of the day.
Terminal C is old and dark and definitely needs a refresh. It has not changed a bit in the last 20 years.
My flight is leaving from E2, which is the first arm leaving the C gates. I stop by the gate to see out plane arrive from CUN since it is just a brief detour from the route to the lounge in Terminal E.
Our ex-CO B739, a 14-year veteran, will be in the new livery. Our gate is not very spotter friendly so this is the best shot I am going to get of our plane.
With less than an hour to kill before boarding, I walk back through Terminal E towards the United Club for a short break. Terminal E has all of the nicer restaurant options and is much more bright and airy (not as evident in these photos since it is nighttime).
The United Club is not hard to miss, just walk towards the shiny blue doors.
I scan my boarding pass and am welcomed by name by the staff before being directed upstairs.
The lounge was very quiet, not surprising since there are almost no flights after 8pm and the lounge closes at 9pm. It has not changed one bit in the last 6 years. There are plenty of seating options with plenty of charging ports.
The buffet is pretty much what you would expect, one hot dish of Thai noodle salad, some sandwiches, and other miscellaneous cold items.
There is also a bar in the back along with the drink station.
I took a light snack and took a seat.
At 20:50, I packed up and headed back to the gate. The FIDS in the lounge. The airport is a ghost town after 10pm, with BR51 to TPE being the only remaining night time TPAC departure since CA is no longer serving PEK.
United Airlines, UA 2239
Equipment: Boeing 737-900ER [N37422, delivered May 2008]
Departure: 21:40 (ATD: 22:05)
Arrival: 23:59 (ATA: 23:53)
Flight Time: 3:48
At the gate, an announcement was made that the flight would be delayed due to crew availability. They had just arrived from LAX in Terminal C and needed to walk over to our gate. The crew finally boarded the plane at 21:05.
Ten minutes later, boarding commenced with pre-boards (disabilities, children, Global Services (2), and 1Ks (~15)). Then it was time for the rest of Group 1 so I joined the back of the queue. Into the jet bridge we go…
Traffic jam, so I'll take the mandatory 1L photos.
In the galley, we were welcomed aboard with a sanitizing wipe. UA's service is very inconsistent, this wasn't offered on the previous flight.
The cabin was already full, but my Global Services seatmate did allow me to get this shot of my seat. Welcome to the timeless UA F cabin, a hard product that is older than this plane. While the A320s and B737 MAX get the newer cabins, most of the B737 NG fleet retains the legacy UA F hard product with huge, saggy black recliners. Despite their age, they are quite comfortable and probably more comfortable than the newer hard product.
The pitch is fine at 38", but it is hard to get out from the window seat without asking your seatmate to get up.
The sanitizing wipe distributed at boarding.
The vintage IFE. These are lower resolution and smaller than what Y gets. I turned it off as soon as the safety video was done.
This is definitely not a young B737 with its boxy windows and vintage overhead bins with a loose piece of plastic hanging down.
There is under seat storage, but no other storage compartments like in the new cabins. Your only storage option is this very saggy seatback pocket stuffed with all of the usual suspects.
Video controls are on the center console along with the AC power outlet (no USB).
Basic recline function and tray table are in the right armrest.
Feeding the belly below.
Boarding finished at 21:35, only took ~20 minute so well done UA.
Once the front door was closed, water and sparkling wine were offered by a tray as PDB. I took the sparkling wine, which was served in a plastic flute. The FA then came back down the aisle to take meal/drink orders, the options were chicken or cheeseburger, but she confirmed that my preselected meal was on-board.
We stayed at the gate for a bit due to some late arriving transfer luggage.
We finally initiated pushback at ~21:50 and the safety video played as we did the long taxi to the west side of the airport. With the strong headwinds, the captain projected a flight of 3h48m (which was spot on) and said that due to the weather conditions they saw inbound from LAX, we would stay at 24,000 ft for most of the flight to avoid some turbulence.
Crossing past Terminal B with the limited United Express operations at this hour.
We reached Runway 15L, where we pulled in behind the B737 MAX to SJC. After they left, we had a rolling takeoff to the south past the cargo operations.
We did a hard bank to the right to begin our northwestern trek across Texas.
The WiFi was immediately enabled. BYOD streaming services and SMS messaging services are complimentary. WiFi is $8 for MileagePlus members and $10 for anyone who doesn't want to register for an account.
The streaming services are very substantial, but not that easy to navigate and search.
This time, the moving map was working.
UA does not do any aperitif or hot towel service, it is straight into the tray delivery. It does feel rushed, but it's likely adapted for the flight time since most people want to sleep. The very battle worn and dirty tray table. Good thing they give out those sanitizing wipes…
No linens are laid. My tray as received along with a beer and glass of water. Only Stella Artois or Michelob Ultra was loaded, which is disappointing since they usually have several options. First opinions are that the meal actually doesn't look that bad.
The starter was a caprese salad with three slices of mozzarella and some roasted tomatoes in olive oil. While presentation leaves a lot to be desired, it is much better than the typical UA industrial salad offering.
The Mediterranean Falafel entree, which was a good portion size. The meal was served piping hot and actually looked quite fresh. The falafel was surprisingly not soggy, although it wasn't crispy either. Overall, the flavors were good and it wasn't very salty other than cheese. I would order this again on a future flight, which is pretty good praise for UA catering.
The dessert was just this little two bite chocolate scone that was pre-placed on the bread plate with the dinner roll.
Trays were cleared as we were leaving Texas and the cabin was plunged into darkness.
I got up to use the bathroom before sleeping. The pilots were using the restroom in the forward galley so I headed back to the mini lavatory between the Y and F cabins. The bathroom was filthy with an overflowing trash can.
The cabin post meal as I get ready to rest my eyes.
But first, some quick aerials of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
I lounged for the rest of the flight until the cabin lights were abruptly turned on as we crossed into California. The entire flight, the crew was no where to be seen and did not check on any passengers that were awake. Passing Manteca and Stockton as we crossed towards South Bay.
We crossed in the Bay Area just south of Fremont offering good views up East Bay towards Oakland.
We banked north to align for our final into SFO over the Salt Ponds.
Crossing the Hayward-San Mateo Bridge.
We have an abrupt landing in SFO and slam on the brakes as we cross an OZ A359 heading back to ICN.
We had a very short taxi to our gate at Concourse E and were deplaning 5 minutes after touching down.
Our twin in old livery next door.
On the ready.
Stepping into the ghost town that is SFO at midnight, which reeked of bleach as overnight cleaning was on-going.
We were directed to the exit over by Concourse F, which is fine since that is where the pickup zone is. I was in a car just 15 minutes after touching down, one advantage of the late night arrival.
With that, I will conclude this short trip to Houston. Thank you for stopping by!
As I said on the out-bound flight, UA is a necessary evil for *A in the US and it is really a lottery in terms of what experience you get with the hodgepodge of hard products and highly variable crews. There is nothing very exciting about this product or the service, but at least it was an on-time performance and the catering was above average.
- With all of the construction it is very inconvenient to access Terminal E since you had to cross all the way from Terminal C (~15 minute walk). Terminal E is the nicest terminal with tall ceilings, natural light, and the better dining options.
- The UA Club is stuck in a time warp, but as a non-UA *G holder it is at least somewhere to sit and grab a drink prior to domestic flights. It was very empty at this hour, which made it much more palatable.
- The cabin on this B739 is like a time warp to the early 2000s. The interior looks beaten up and the seats have seen better days. The recliners are comfortable on a longer domestic leg so no major complaints, obviously a Polaris seat would be better, but none are used on this route.
- The cabin crew was SFO based and not very friendly/engaging. Service started good with PDBs, but they dinner service felt rushed and then they disappeared for the rest of the flight never offering refills or drinks. Clearly tired from doing the LAX-IAH-SFO triangle and just wanted to go sleep.
- UA's entertainment is a mixed bag on these B739s. The in-seat IFE is essentially useless (terrible lag and poor size/resolution). The WiFi prices on UA are reasonably priced and the streaming options are your only option with the bad seatback IFE. No USB outlets in these cabins.
- The catering is shockingly one of the best parts of this flight. BDP was offered, the choice of options was good, and the appetizer/main were both above average quality/taste. The dessert was poor. No coffee/tea service and no other drinks proposed the rest of the flight.
- The E Gates are nice and the arrival was a breeze at midnight.