United Business Class to Chicago & United First Class to Toronto

Denver has suffered it's share of capacity cuts over the past two years, with the biggest hit being our trans-atlantic service to London-Heathrow. However, when I booked my flights to Toronto, I was pleased to see that the morning Denver>Chicago service would be operating with one of the international 777s.

The 777 scheduled for the short journey to Chicago was supposed to come with the reconfigured First, Business, and Economy cabins, but a last minute aircraft swap left us with the old product, featuring barca-loungers in Business, instead of lie-flat seats. Although I was disappointed, the flight affected was less than two hours long, so it wasn't something to cry over. Had this been a longer flight, my feelings on the matter would have been different.

I was finishing a phone call in the Red Carpet Club (to AT&T so my iPhone would work out of the country) when boarding began, which meant that all elite groups had boarded, and the agents were working on the four zones of Economy seats. I was glad to have avoided the elite-scrum at the gate, which has gotten worse ever-since Continental decided to change the United boarding order. Although many will disagree, I firmly supported only allowing Global Services/1K/First/Business to board on the red carpet, while Premier Executive and lower utilized the economy lane. With so many elites trying to force their way through the carpeted lane, in this post-merger life, it can be almost impossible for a 1K to board when 1Ks are called. This is especially true on hub-hub flights, such as ORD/IAD>SFO.

Once on-board, the flight attendant servicing my section brought over a tray of cups filled with orange juice and water. Despite a policy change with regards to pre-departure beverages, I decided not to raise this with the flight attendant, and accepted her meager offerings. Once the boarding process was complete, the flight attendants assumed "demo positions" for the safety briefing. Although I'd rather watch the video, the manual briefing means that I don't have to watch the intro video featuring Jeff Smisek, the President and CEO of Continental Airlines United Airlines.

Traffic was light on this Tuesday morning, so our taxi-time to the runway was fairly short. The pilots had switched on Channel 9, which always makes for an enjoyable flight.

Shortly after take-off, the flight attendants came around the cabin to deliver breakfast, and take drink orders. Several years ago, United used to offer two choices in the business class cabin on domestic flights, but that option was cut, leaving passengers to "take it or leave it". And, with the elimination of most special meals, this can be an issue for passengers that have food allergies. Our option was the standard United breakfast. However, it features a "potato cake", which seems to have drifted over from the Continental side of the operations. When United and Continental fully integrate their operations, I hope we will see more of the CO breakfast items on UA. The second photo is a breakfast from Houston to San Diego on CO.

IMG_0323United Breakfast

392702_10150347520037257_717672256_8550359_468239010_n Continental Breakfast

Less than twenty minutes later, we began our descent into Chicago. Although it was fairly cloudy in Chicago, I was able to get a view of downtown, as well as the Sears Tower. Unknown to me at the time, we were landing on the farthest runway from the terminal, which added about twenty minutes to our taxi time. Our gate was also occupied by a late international departure, which annoyed several passengers in the business class cabin. I could hear one guy telling his travel companion that he would never fly United again. Guess things like this only happen on United ;)

Moments later, we taxied over the C17, and I became one step closer to Canada. Although we were delayed arriving at the gate, I was able to stop by my favorite Red Carpet Club (B17), and visit with some of the staff members that I've grown to know over the past few years. We exchanged stories about the merger, and I learned of their fears, as well as their hopes for the future. The lounge was pretty busy, as Lufthansa's 747 to Frankfurt was about to start boarding, meaning that there was almost no seating available. Didn't matter much to me, as it was time to start boarding my flight to Toronto!


When I got to the gate for the flight to Toronto, I was pleased to see that our Embraer 170 featured the Pre-Merger United livery. More than 50% of the United fleet has been repainted with the Continental color scheme, unfortunately.

As boarding started, I got the feeling that this flight would be elite-lite. The first indication was that no passengers boarded when Global Services were called. I was the only passenger to board when 1Ks were called, and then it turned out that I was the only passenger on the plane for the next few minutes. Ten minutes later, we were speeding down the runway, with less than 50% of the aircraft filled.

Snack mix was distributed, and the flight attendant in first addressed each passenger by last name when taking drink orders. This is somewhat unusual for United Express flight, but it was a nice touch.

Forty minutes later, we were beginning our turbulent descent into Toronto, when I reminded the flight attendant about the customs forms that we had to fill-out. She had completely forgotten to distribute them during boarding, and profusely thanked me as she walked down the aisles, while trying not to fall over. This was one of the bumpiest flights I had been on in 2011, but it managed to calm down as we started to see signs of the airport, namely the Air Canada & HSBC logos all over the place.YYZ Arrival

Using NEXUS, I managed to skip the long lines at customs, and proceeded directly to baggage claim. Despite "priority" bag tags, my rollerboard was the last one on the belt, causing me to miss the 4:30pm Airport Express bus.

The Toronto Airport Express is run with a series of coach buses, and makes stops throughout the downtown Toronto area. For $25~ USD, passengers can enjoy round-trip transportation to downtown Toronto, without having to worry about navigating the subway system. The buses feature free wireless Internet access, which made the one-hour ride pass by fairly quickly.

Stay tuned for my next report about the Hyatt Regency Toronto, and the flight to Tokyo/Seoul!


Nick January 8, 2012 at 10:41 am

The subway system is easy once you get used to it.

However, if you have a lot of bags, etc, it can be a pain ;)

That's been one downside to being in London. The majority of the stations don't have an elevator, so I've had to haul my heavy rollerboard up and down the stairs, while trying to carry my camera bag and backpack :eek:

Nick January 8, 2012 at 10:02 pm

I've done the bag thing many times on the Toronto Subway, actually the main way I've gotten from the hotel to the GO bus at Yorkdale or York Mills

marc January 8, 2012 at 11:16 pm

What were the Red Carpet Club employees thoughts on the merger? Fears? Hopes?

Matt January 9, 2012 at 09:00 am

If you prefer to avoid the elite-boarding scrum, why not just board later as a manner of routine? I find the option to board at my leisure a much nicer "carpet perk" than being one of the very first to board, most of the time.

@marc: They had considerable concerns about UA switching to COs antiquated SHARES reservations systems. Another main concern was the majority of the leadership team being legacy CO, as opposed to an even split. I could tell that they had many other concerns, but I ran out of time to discuss those issues, unfortunately.

@Matt: I tend to do that when I'm on a mileage-run, and I'm only flying with a backpack. However, when I'm traveling with my rollerboard, I try to be on-board as soon as possible, to avoid the possibility of storing the bag several rows behind where I am sitting, or having to gate-check.