From the Triangle to the Trolleys | United Airlines Inaugural RDU to SFO service

After chatting with the welcoming committee at the gate, and exchanging some interesting ;-) stories about the TSA, I met up with a local FlyerTalk member at the Hyatt Place. Originally, we had planned to go out somewhere nearby, but with the late arrival, we went straight to the Hyatt Place for drinks.

The room was the same as you find at all Hyatt Place properties, so I'll just add a couple of photos.




Our conversation went on much longer than I had figured it would (they left at 1:45am), so I figured that I would stay up all night. I had gotten about three hours of sleep on the flight from San Francisco, so I was not exhausted, and I also planned to sleep on the flight back to San Francisco, so the decision was an easy one. It also made sense, as I worried that I might have trouble sleeping for three hours, and waking up on time for the inaugural. I would have been extremely disappointed if I had slept through the flight.

At 5:00am, I hopped on-board the hotel shuttle, and headed back to RDU. I figured that I would get to the airport early, figuring that I would want to participate in any ceremonies that they had at the gate.

With my SFO-RDU poster board in tow, as well as the large "Welcome" banner that I had acquired the previous night, I attempted to navigate security with the least amount of resistance (sorry for the pun :o) possible. The poster board was too big to fit through the bag x-ray, so the clerk guarding the metal detector called for a "hand inspection". This consisted of the clerk looking up and down the board, and running an explosives trace detection swab over the board. Naturally, the board did not test positive for explosives.

Once my backpack made it through the x-ray machine, I was able to opt-out of opting-out of the Nude-O-Scope, allowing me the opportunity to just use the tried and true metal detector. Sadly, the rest of the passengers in line with me were marching into the Nude-O-Scope, with the exception of one passenger who opted-out.

With my early arrival, and time I gained by not having to opt-out, I decided to pay a visit to the brand-new US Airways Club, a benefit that I receive with my United Club Red Carpet Club membership.

The club featured a great view of the terminal, which allowed me some intersting people spotting. (though there weren't too many people walking around the terminal at 5:15am...)

Unlike most airline clubs, this club featured a very quiet business center. Along with the fax machine and copier (which I believe are complimentary), there were plenty of power outlets available.

I was not very hungry, so I decided to skip the breakfast options available. Had there been some bagels and cream cheese on the counter, I likely would have made a small snack. I did drink some of the orange juice that was available, and then decided to head down to the gate.

The US Airways Club was located directly across from our gate (D3), which gave me the opportunity to watch the airport staff decorate the gate for our departure.

There was another forty minutes remaining until boarding began, so I decided to pay a visit to the airport police officers that I met the night before, as well as grab some of the snacks available at the gate.

Luckily, the flight was scheduled for an on-time departure! (unlike SFO-RDU ;-)

After wandering around the gate area for twenty minutes, several members from the local news organizations appeared at the gate to setup for their live TV feeds, or to grab photos of the setup and passengers traveling on the inaugural.

Only a few minutes after sitting down at the gate, a reporter from News Observer came over to me to ask some questions about the flight, and why I chose to fly it. When they learned that I had flown in the night before, and saw the poster board that I was carrying, the reported had his aide come over to take some photos of the board, and spent an additional five minutes interviewing me.

Also on board Wednesday was a Colorado man who is something of a semi-professional air traveler.

Daniel Palen publishes travel tips in the “Friendly Skies” blog at, and he says he logs 250,000 air miles a year. He flew from his Denver home to San Francisco on Tuesday to catch United’s first nonstop to RDU Tuesday afternoon.

“They had a little gate party and some cake,” Palen said. “And a poster we had everyone sign.”

He flew into RDU Tuesday evening, slept a few hours at an airport hotel, and was back in Terminal 2 at 6 a.m. Wednesday for the return trip.

“Just to earn the miles,” Palen said. United travelers get credit for 2,400 miles each way.

“It was the inaugural flight. The fares were decent. And I thought: Why not? It’s a pretty good flight, pretty convenient,” Palen said.

Read more here:

Just a few minutes later, Terry Yeargan, the chair of the Airport Authority board, started the press conference.

The conference also featured members of the local business community, who described how excited they were to have a non-stop to San Francisco.

Next up, Governor Bev Perdue delivered a nice speech about the economic benefits of the new non-stop, and shared the story of her trip to Silicon Valley eighteen months prior to today, to talk with Apple, Cisco, Facebook, Google, and other tech companies in the valley. She went on to say that the number one complaint she heard about doing business in the triangle was the lack of a non-stop flight, as flying from California to North Carolina took up a whole day, most of that time spent connecting in an airport.

During this time, one of her aids came over to me, to ask if the governor could show off my poster board on live TV. Naturally, I said yes ;-)

Just as the boarding call was made for our flight, the governor signed the top of the board, and proceeded to get her items ready for the boarding call.

United 194

Raleigh-Durham – San Francisco

Wednesday, August 15th
Scheduled Departure: 6:57AM
Actual Departure: 7:12AM
Scheduled Arrival: 9:10AM
Actual Arrival: 9:28AM
Duration: 5hrs 16mns
Aircraft: Boeing 737-800
Registry: N37253
Seat: 2A-First Class

As I boarded the flight, the RDU officials were handing out little "trinkets" to each passenger on the inaugural. Although small, the 1gb flash drive was more than we got in San Francisco.


Once on-board the aircraft, all of the seats in first class and economy featured a note to thank the passengers for traveling on the inaugural. Again, this was more than we got in San Francisco (nothing given out there).

While waiting for the rest of the passengers to board, I encountered one thing that I've noticed on flights with Continental crews that sounds unprofessional. During the boarding announcements, the flight attendant, who later said that they had been in the industry for several years, made her announcements in such a mono-tone voice. Additionally, she had to use the flight attendant manual to make her announcements, which made them sound so scripted, it was unbelievable. I actually cringed each time I heard her announcements, although my noise-canceling headphones did help with blocking out her voice.

As the boarding door was closed, the safety video began to play. During this time, the various members of the media raced onto the ramp to film and photograph our departure.

When I landed on Tuesday night, the fire crew I spoke with said that we would receive a water salute before departing. Being on-board the flight when it occurred was pretty exciting.

We were airborne about ten minutes later, at which point I began to drift in an out, due to my lack of sleep from the prior night. Luckily, I woke up just as the flight attendants were coming around to take the breakfast orders.

Today's choices were eggs with yoghurt, fresh fruit, and a freshly baked cinnamon role, or cereal with fruit and yoghurt. I opted for the eggs, hoping that it would be a fairly filling meal.

Seems like CO, err, UA has been quick to get rid of everything with the tulip on it. Too bad they can't do the same with all of the Continental items.

The meal quality was pretty good, although the presentation of the cinnamon roll was pretty bad. A friend of mine chose one word to describe it. "Classy"

For the next four hours, I decided to catch up on some sleep, and woke up as we were on our final descent into San Francisco. Unfortunately, we did not receive a water cannon salute, although a couple of the agents working our flight welcomed the passengers as they de-boarded. Once again, I had to wait until all of the economy passengers had de-boarded, so I could grab my poster board.

With two hours until my flight home to Denver, I grabbed another bite of food at Tomokazu, and then went over to the Red Carpet Club to charge my laptop. There was a flight to Denver that departed an hour earlier than mine, although it had already filled up when I tried to switch.

Fifteen minutes before boarding was scheduled to begin, I walked over to the gate, and discovered that the flight was running thirty minutes late (not too surprising these days). At least it gave me time to eat my lunch at a table.

United 561

San Francisco – Denver

Wednesday, August 15th
Scheduled Departure: 11:50AM
Actual Departure: 12:26PM
Scheduled Arrival: 3:19PM
Actual Arrival: 3:46PM
Duration: 2hrs
Aircraft: Airbus A320
Registry: N476UA
Seat: 21A-Exit Row

As usual these days, I missed the upgrade back to Denver, however I bounced from #3 to #7 to #2 in the span of five minutes.

I was very pleased to see that today's flight was on an aircraft that was still painted in the United Rising Blue livery, instead of the Continental twenty year-old bingo cage livery.

As we boarded the aircraft, I asked the Purser if it was possible to store my poster board in the closet. Unfortunately, as this was a former TED aircraft, there was no first class closet, so the Purser suggested that we store the poster & banner on the flight deck. The pilots were very receptive to the offer, and took a couple of minutes to chat with me. When I asked about Channel 9, the Captain said that he always turned it on, and proceeded to flip the switch on the upper console. This was especially nice for me, as it seems that many pilots are keeping Channel 9 turned off until they receive a new contract from the airline.

Back at my exit-row seat, I was pleased to see that this aircraft featured the newer leather seats. They're much more comfortable than the Continental park benches!

After take-off, we spotted a forest fire to the left side of the aircraft, which the Captain reported to Air Traffic Control. I do hope that the fire has been extinguished by now!

With my upgrade not going through, I decided to purchase the Tapas snack-box on-board. Although it cost almost $9, the contents seemed to be worth the cost, and the box was fairly filling. Matthew mentioned his experiences with the Tapas box in this post.

An hour later, we touched down in Denver, at which point I thanked the pilots for enabling Channel 9, and wished them a pleasant journey on their next flight.

As I drove home, I looked back on the two inaugural flights, and the fun I had. This was my first set of inaugural flights, and will certainly not be the last! While I can not fly the Denver-Tokyo inaugural on the 787, I'll be at the gate to take photos of the gate party, and wish my friends that are on-board a safe flight.

Thanks for reading the second portion of this trip report. I hope it was as enjoyable to read, as it was for me to fly!


Donna August 18, 2012 at 12:20 am

As always, great report, Daniel! It sounds like you had a wonderful experience. :)

BR August 18, 2012 at 12:53 am

Sounds like a good time....thanks for posting

Great conclusion. Thanks for this, Daniel!

Fun report. Thanks for sharing.

Did the NC governor fly out to SF on the flight?

Brad August 18, 2012 at 07:44 am

Great report Daniel. Its hard to tell who got more publicity, you or your poster board, haha.

Thanks, everybody!

@Tom: The Governor was on-board the flight to SF, as she was planning a three-day visit with some of the tech companies in the Valley. She was also flying in Y, which was surprising.

Nice report. RDU is my hometown and I am very proud of the great airport we have here. The US Air club is nice as are the Delta and American lounges. Great facilities in a nice terminal.

@FriendlySkies - Bev Purdue is a very down to earth politician. In fact she is basically retiring from politics seemingly because she has had enough of the nonsense it entails. Good for her. I have a lot of respect for her even if I don't agree with all her ideals.