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UA430: Tampa to Houston
I checked in for this flight online 24 hours before departure. There is no charge with United to select your seat at the time of booking and I had already pre-selected 1B in the Business First cabin.
I had stayed overnight at the Marriott Hotel at Tampa and so had a short walk down to the check-in area. As I approached the priority check-in area, a staff member approached me and offered to take my bags to the desk for them to be tagged through to my final destination New Orleans. It was a very smooth process and I was complete within a few seconds.
I then went back up the departure area, and made my way to Airside A which United shares with Frontier, Jet Blue and Spirit. I had my boarding pass and ID checked at the entrance to the Departure Area and I then waited a minute or so for the shuttle train. On exiting the train, you are greeted by the security area. As I was travelling First Class with United, I was directed to the Priority Lane and was through within a couple of minutes.
There are no Lounge facilities at all at Airside A, so I went to a restaurant for a light breakfast. Tampa Airport has free WiFi throughout so I used the time to catch up on my emails.
I made my way to the gate and 40 minutes before the scheduled departure time, boarding commenced for First Class passengers. There are 4 rows in the First Class cabin in a 2-2 configuration on the A320. I think everyone else had roller case as their hand luggage, so it was fortunate that I only had a rucksack to stow and managed to squeeze it in as I would not have been able to keep in it with me as was in a front row seat.
Once all 16 First Class passengers were seated, Heidi offered a pre-departure drink. I really do like this touch on all of United’s domestic flights as well as international. You can avail yourself of anything from the bar as I did on my next flight, but as this was quite early I opted for a coffee.
Again, it was a completely full flight but the crew did a fantastic job throughout the flight and it always felt very relaxing.
As stated earlier, I had pre-selected seat 1B. United has fixed cradle seats in First Class with a cocktail table at the side. I do prefer being at the front as nobody can invade my space by reclining, though there is the disadvantage of having to stow all luggage in the overhead. The tray tables for the front seats are in the arm of the seat.
The seats all have leg room of 38 inches. Small screens showed some comedy programmes and a documentary, as well as there being 7 audio channels. In addition, Channel 9 had the dialogue from the cockpit and air traffic control. Being a bit of a geek, I have to admit to being fascinated by this!
We pushed back on time, and the Captain informed us that we had a smooth flight ahead of us and expected to land some 20 minutes early into Houston. We then next heard from him 30 minutes later when he turned the seat belt sign off. This did seem quite long, though as the world discovered later as this was the day of the Oklahoma Tornado, you could understand their decision to err on the side of caution. That said, it was a very smooth flight and the seat belt sign remained off until we were on approach to Houston.
Heidi commenced the service by offering a hot towel, and she then came around and asked each passenger what they wanted for breakfast. In truth, the choices were a bit vague and I would suggest that United do have the offering detailed on a card. The first choice was described as ‘a bit like a McMuffin’ and in truth that is exactly how it looked! This was accompanied by a bowl of fruit and a choice of hot pastries. The second option was described as a fruit offering, and bearing in mind that the ‘McMuffin’ had a bowl of fruit with it, I was intrigued what I would receive.
As it turned out, I received the same fruit bowl, along with two packets of Cheerios, a bowl of yoghurt, a banana and the same hot pastry offering. I was very pleased with my choice and it was quite tasty. Drinks were offered throughout, and underlined how attentive Heidi was throughout the flight.
I did visit the lavatory during the flight and bearing in mind the report from a previous correspondent on a United flight, I was pleased to report that the facilities were spotless.
Twenty minutes before landing, the Captain advised that we had made excellent progress and should be landing 25 minutes ahead of schedule. As I had only an hour between my flights at Houston, and had to change Terminals, I was pleased of the extra time.
We parked at Terminal C and despite being very early, the ground crew were ready for us and we quickly disembarked.
UA5197: Houston to New Orleans
Following my exit from the previous flight at Terminal C, I followed the signs for Terminal B. This meant going up an escalator as I was using the mono-rail. Trains run every 90 seconds, so I was very quickly in Terminal B, and decided as I had more time than I had expected to visit the United Club Lounge.
After I showed the lady at the desk my iPhone Passbook Boarding Pass, she asked if I was eventually flying internationally today. I replied that no I was travelling to New Orleans, but I have a First Class ticket. She told me that domestic First Class ticket holders do not qualify for access to the United Lounges unless there is an international segment. This is the first I had heard of this, but one to be aware of for the future. As I have Priority Pass, I used that and was able to gain access.
Once inside the Lounge, I understood why United have the restrictions in place. It was packed, but as it very much resembles a Gentlemen’s Club, with several rooms, it did not feel too bad, though as the only windows overlooked a wall, it did feel a bit claustrophobic. The WiFi is free and did not need a password, but it kept stopping and at one point the lady behind the bar reset the system. It came back on but was very slow.
The food offerings were basic, with just cereal and biscuits to accompany tea or coffee. All other drinks including water, orange juice, coke, as well as alcoholic beverages had to be obtained from the bar. House red and white wine, 2/3 brands of beer and popular spirits are all free. Anything ‘premium’ is chargeable, though I did not see anyone parting with their cash! No announcements were made in the Lounge though the screen indicated that my flight to New Orleans was on time.
I left the Lounge about 30 minutes before the scheduled departure and went down to a small circular lounge with 5 gates. It was busy and it was clearly the area for the United Express flights. It did not help with the space that a number of people were on standby and waiting eagerly by the gate.
The flight began boarding shortly afterwards, and knowing that the space on this plane would be even more limited, I made sure I was first to board when the First Class passengers were called. I was seated in 1A in a 1-2 configuration. There are just 2 rows of First Class on this Canadair CRJ-700, with 8 rows of Economy Plus and 7 rows of Economy. Kelly offered a pre-departure drink, and as it was now after 11am, I decided to have a glass of the white wine, which was a very nice Sauvignon Blanc.
We pushed back on time, and took off almost immediately. It was so nice not to be queuing for an age like at Heathrow, though it helps when there are 5 runways available!
Ten minutes later, Kelly offered another drink from the bar accompanied by a bag of savouries. She later topped up my wine again, which was not bad as the flight was less than an hour! The plane had one toilet at the back of the plane, so I thought I should check it out as part of this reporting role, and was pleased to confirm that it was spotless. The main issue was trying to walk to the back of the plane and back again as these regional jets are not made for someone who is 6’4″ tall!
When we landed at New Orleans, we had a very short taxi to the gate and then disembarked by an air-bridge into the terminal building. I made my way to baggage reclaim, and after a few minutes both of my bags appeared, though one had been opened by the TSA as there was something suspicious showing. I don’t know what it was that alerted them but have to buy a new lock for the case.
I then exited the terminal and as there was no queue was very quickly in a taxi on the way to my hotel in New Orleans. I was very impressed with the whole process, especially I was in a taxi within 20 minutes of landing and with luggage too. Well done United!