Director climbs aboard one of the world’s more storied carriers, United Airlines, to visit its home city Chicago
It operated the first scheduled airline service in America in 1926, the first ever all-metal airliner in 1933, the first passenger Boeing 767 in 1982 and the first commercial flights powered by biofuel (from Los Angeles to San Francisco) in March this year.
United Airlines is also the world’s largest airline (in terms of the number of destinations, over 375 cities worldwide, it serves), and is the only airline to have operated Executive One, the designation given to a civil flight carrying the U.S. President.
So does a trans-Atlantic experience with United match up to its rich history? Director recently stepped aboard Flight UA 929H from Heathrow to The Windy City, in order to take in an arts scene that’s as vibrant as the city’s celebrated start-up culture.
Since June 2014, when it opened after a £2.5 billion investment project, Terminal 2 – AKA The Queen’s Terminal – has boasted 60 check-in gates, 66 self-check-in kiosks, 29 security lanes, 33 shops, 17 restaurants, over 7,000 seats, 634 toilets and 42 water fountains. Checking in at 7am on a tranquil weekday morning, with all these amenities markedly underused, was a breeze – especially given I was carrying considerably less than the ample 23kg maximum allowed in economy class. 8/10
The passage from check-in to the gate via border control and even security has been made quick and easy by the wily Terminal 2 planners, who have also made the building light, airy, and voluminous. Once there, it’s pretty much a given that UA efficient ground staff will get passengers in their seats with the minimum of fuss and time loss. 9/10
Economy class on this route features a standard 31-inch seat pitch, 17-inch width and four-inch recline. The entertainment system, truth be told, proved an inducement to load up my laptop with movies before getting on my next long-haul flight: the screen was small by modern standards, and there was no click-and-choose menu interface – just continually running channels, a flick-through of which mostly involved repeatedly re-reading the words “This channel is not available”.
Overall, the flight attendants were immaculately turned out, helpful and congenial – although one steward admonished a fellow passenger for using the wrong toilet firmly enough to startle half of the cabin. On a brighter note, cheese and crackers were served regularly, tiding passengers over until a fairly substantial main meal (Director opted for turkey meatloaf in spicy barbecue sauce with sweet potato mash and mixed vegetables). 7/10
Considering the hearty gusts that buffeted the plane during landing – and indeed Director, throughout our visit to the aptly named Windy City – it was impressive that the pilot managed to touch wheels on Tarmac at all. The subsequent experience of getting from the seat to the arrivals terminal was refreshingly effortless. 9/10
A cantankerous flight attendant and faulty entertainment system were the only blights on a largely pleasant long-haul experience. 36/50
United Airlines Details
United Airlines flight UA 929H from Heathrow to O’Hare International Airport, Chicago.
United Airlines currently offers non-stop return flights from Heathrow to Chicago 21 times per week. Prices start at £738.95 including all taxes.