2 New Types Booked Impulsively: To Chicago and Back

Given that I didn’t have much opportunity to fly on them as a kid, one of my hobbies has become trying new mainline aircraft. Growing up in Maine, I did not have the luxury of flying mainline flights very often, as the only (year-round) mainline flights out of that airport are an American Airlines Airbus A319-100 to Charlotte, a Delta Air Lines McDonnell-Douglas MD-88 to ATL, and a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-700 to BWI. In fact, before 2014, the only trip that I can verify was taken on a mainline a/c was Boston Logan to London Heathrow on a British Airways Boeing 777-200, back in 2004.

However, after moving to Boston in 2014 and with Logan as my new primary airport, I have enjoyed being able to board mainline flights to pretty much wherever I want to go. In the past two years, I’d checked off a variety of new types: Boeing 747-400 (British Airways), Airbus A319 (American Airlines + Spirit Airlines), Boeing 717-200 (Delta Air Lines), Airbus A321-200 (American Airlines), Airbus A330-200 (American Airlines), and Boeing 787-800 (Norwegian Air Shuttle). And while I was scheduled to fly on an Airbus A320-200 in two weeks’ time to complete my A320 family experiences, most of all I wanted to try the 737 – whether -700, -800, or -900.

Since I had nothing planned for yesterday (May 21), I found myself on Friday – as I often do – taking a look at Google Flights and playing around with the ranges to see what good round-trip deals out there for the next day, without any intention of purchasing a ticket. However, when I saw that I could snag two one ways to and from Chicago O’Hare for $64 (AA) and $104 (UA), I was quite tempted. Indeed, I sat there for a few minutes, contemplating whether or not I should impulsively go for this – especially given that both tickets would be purchased just 1 day out – deal. Eventually, I hit the button to buy the AA ticket, first, before booking my United reservation, and then upgrading from Economy to Economy + so that I could get a window. It was a bit more, but I figured that it’d be worth it.

Between the arrival of my AA flight at 19:30 and the departure of the UA flight at 21:20, my initial worry was that I wouldn’t have enough time to de-board, get outside the airport for a few minutes, and re-enter in a timely manner. While I had no intention of making a “trip” of it – indeed, this was more of a “mileage run” nature than a “vacation” – something about my OCD meant that in order for this to count I had to step on some grass outside of the airport. Regardless, I figured that I would just go with whatever happened.

BOS – ORD

Around 16 hours after booking my reservation, I got in an Uber to travel to Logan. The security lines were relatively long, but nothing compared to the horror stories that I’d heard, as it probably took around 20-30 mins to get through. Regardless, I was through with time to spare, and ended up watching a few notable arrivals and departures, including an inbound Delta Boeing 767-400 from Amsterdam and a departing Hainan Airlines Boeing 787-800 to Shanghai. Soon enough, boarding time came around, and we were seated – myself in 19F – and on our way uneventfully a short time later.

Takeoff

While it was 6:00pm on a Saturday, there was virtually no line for takeoff, and we taxied onto Runway 22R for departure. Shortly after rotation, we entered a long, protracted series of left-hand turns until we were established on the HYLND4 departure. On the way up, I could see the tip of Cape Cod, which was pretty cool, although we soon disappeared into the clouds.

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Taxiing out to Runway 22R for departure.

The flight itself was the perfect length – just over 2 hours – so not too short, not too long. We flew alongside a few other aircraft, and I could see the contrails from a jetBlue A320 routing JFK-DEN and a United 737-800 routing BOS-LAX. Before long, however, we were on the approach for Runway 9L, and found ourselves flying parallel to a Lufthansa Boeing 747-800 approaching Runway 10C. The German bird beat us to the ground by some distance, but it was cool to be able to see it descending, land, and then slow down.

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Spoilers up on Runway 9L.

Our touchdown was relatively smooth, with the thrust reversers kicking in with quite some force. We exited 9L and taxied to Terminal 3, where we were made to wait as an American 777-200 was pushed back and started up its engines for its journey to London Heathrow. Regardless, we were soon at K13, at which point I was able to get off relatively quickly. I found my way to Terminal 1, which is where I’d be boarding the United flight. First, however, I had to step outside for whatever OCD reason I found necessary, just long enough to hang out for a bit.

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N955AN parked at the gate in the sunset.

ORD – BOS

After getting back inside and entering the security line at around 7:55 (boarding was in 35 minutes), I could see that the line was “moderate” in length. And while I knew that I, realistically, had enough time even if I was to get through security after the boarding had started that I’d be fine, I was still keen to get there as soon as possible. As it was, I exited security at 8:28 and began the mad dash to C11.

When I arrived at C11, I saw a massive line of people standing in front of the shut door, so I asked the passengers at the back of the line whether they had started boarding. I was told that the original aircraft had a mechanical issue, and that, as a result, they were going to run two smaller aircraft. ‘Great,’ I thought, ‘I pay this money to get on a 757 only to end up on something smaller. Well, at least I got on a 737.’

Plot Twist

After checking with the gate agent, who told me that my seat assignment (20F) had not changed, I asked presumptively “so we’re still on a 757, right?” He said, “no, it’ll probably be something smaller.” Well, I walked over to the window near the jetway, and saw a 757-200 parked by the window – he was wrong!

Well, sort of, anyway. It turns out that the majority of passengers would travel on a 752, while the remainders who couldn’t be accommodated would be put on a CRJ700 a half-hour later, which was solely operated to accommodate said passengers.

While I had guessed that I’d be one of the first passengers to get booted onto the next flight since I’d booked so late, perhaps I was kept on the original flight since I had bought an Economy + ticket, not to mention that I was in an exit row. Regardless, I was happy that I’d still be getting on a 757, and to be honest I prefer the -200 to the -300, so it all worked out.

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Getting ready to board N29129.
Back Story

Now for the story of the delay. Apparently, the 757-300 that we were supposed to be on took off from DEN for ORD, but had to return to DEN due to a mechanical issue. And while we were supposed to be given another 753 at ORD, that plane instead went to another flight, leaving us in limbo. The captain said that the airline had considered making us wait for another 753, but instead put most of us on a 752 to get us to Boston as close to our original ETA as possible.

Takeoff

While I’ve flown American, Delta, and jetBlue many times before, this was my first time flying United. From what I observed, the captain – who was very thorough in his explanation of the events – and cabin crew did a great job, especially considering the merry-go-round that we’d all been on. Before I knew it, we were rolling on Runway 9L. The rotation itself was relatively straightforward, but right after we left the ground the captain pulled us into a steep climb, and I believe I felt a slight g-force. Regardless, it was a great, powerful takeoff over Chicago, which was well-lit, as was Lake Michigan by last night’s full moon.

Given that this was a night flight, most people were sleeping within minutes. However, in addition to geeking out at the plane, I was keen to look out the window at the incredible full moon. Since I was the only one awake in my row, the friendly flight attendant gave me an extra snack mix with my Coke, so I was quite content.

Soon enough, we began our descent into Boston, and arrived on Runway 33L shortly after 12:30am (+1). Our taxi to the gate was extremely straightforward, as was getting off the plane, and I was sure to thank the FAs when leaving.

Conclusion

My last two trips – the previous one being on a Norwegian 787-800 going BOS-OSL for less than $300 round trip – have been motivated largely by low prices, as well as the desire to try certain aircraft that I’ve not yet flown. And while I have no great desire, or indeed the means, to fly F or J, I get a great thrill out of finding a great deal. Maybe it was my upbringing – which didn’t involve much travel and, when we I did travel, the nature of the closest airport mainly meant I flew on regional aircraft – that makes me appreciate even the “straightforward” economy flights on “normal” mainline aircraft, even when I’m just flying out and coming back. Ultimately, however, I’m the one paying for these adventures, and I will say that I am more than getting what I want out of them.