Airports, Airlines, Aviation

United 1241 – DEN to LAX – Flight Review

United 1241 – DEN to LAX – Background

Having just flown from DEN to LAX on Frontier a few weeks ago, I decided to take my next flight back home on United 1241 to write a comparison blog. I have to admit, even though I’m a peon on United (a lowly Silver status), it felt 1000X better than being cattle-prodded through the Frontier low-cost carrier mentality. That said, I paid $100 more for the flight – but with that I got a free checked bag both ways (due to my elite status), early boarding, and in-flight beverages. And, I of course had the opportunity to accrue more United miles towards Gold status – which I may be able to reach this year with the help of my United Explorer credit card, which counts towards elite status (up to Gold).

This was one of those obligatory flights that I had to purchase – Thanksgiving (Christmas being the second) – to spend the holiday with my parents, John and Jody, in Los Angeles. This United flight sure did not beat my parents’ recent private flight experience – but hey, we can’t all travel like the rich and famous.

I booked through because it was slightly cheaper than Orbitz – enough so that the  Orbitz Rewards bucks became negligible. My total fare was $240.20.

1 Adult (18-64) $212.00
Additional Taxes/Fees $28.20
Total Fare $240.20

One of the other reasons I wanted to fly United was because of the in-flight Wi-Fi – I can’t lose a second during the day to get work done, and this was no exception. It turns out the Wi-Fi, as usual, was lackluster – but I’ll get in to that more later. Here’s the pre-flight e-mail teaser I got, explaining that in-flight Wi-Fi would be available to purchase. It was confusing though, because United made it seem as if you could purchase Wi-Fi at a discount in advance – but it turns out I was only able to purchase DirecTV in advance, not Wi-Fi.

United 1241 - In-Flight Wi-Fi Available for Purchase
United 1241 – In-Flight Wi-Fi Available for Purchase

I did pretty well on airfare considering it was Thanksgiving – here’s a blog I recently wrote rolling up Thanksgiving fare data from Hopper. My flight (Tuesday before Thanksgiving through Tuesday after Thanksgiving) was slightly higher than average, but considering it’s over a holiday, it’s to be expected. My flight was actually only 9% above average, which means I did well, considering 2013 industry data shows 35% higher fares for holidays in 2013 – source Hopper.

United 1241 - Boarding Pass
United 1241 – Boarding Pass

United 1241 Departure Airport, Check-in, and Boarding

I used The Parking Spot again. It’s quite convenient and they run a well-oiled machine. Very little slack or wait time. All business, no party – at least usually. This time was a bit unusual because I had to wait about 10 minutes for a shuttle to pick me up and bring to me from where I dropped my car off to the Main DEN Terminal. Some folks waiting with me said they had to wait for 20 minutes. I still think this is the way to go – with my work discount I parking comes to about $6/day, which is cheaper than taking a cab (from downtown Denver to the Airport it’s about $80) – unless you’re staying away more than 20 days or so, and the economics begin to break-even.

We’ve already reviewed DEN extensively here. However, for Thanksgiving, I have to say it felt empty, and security was light. Dropping off my bag with United was painless – there was no wait since I could use the automatic bag drop kiosk, as I checked-in in advance the night before. The flight was really packed!

United 1241 - Seat Map
United 1241 – Seat Map

I was also able to find myself a better seat – in an exit row.

Denver Airport Model
Denver Airport Model

After I walked around the main terminal and took pictures for a few hours, I decided to try going through security on the Northside of the Main Concourse, at the end of the Concourse A walkway. At Denver Airport, there are actually 3 security entrances – the two obvious ones in the Main Terminal, North and South side – and then a 3rd across the walkway going to Concourse A on the North side.

This walkway, incidentally, always has great exhibits and art – during my visit, a Beer exhibit was featured in honor of Denver Beer Festival in October.

Concourse A Walkway at DEN
Concourse A Walkway at DEN

The wait times at this security checkpoint are always shorter, AND there is a TSA Pre-check line. I chatted with one of the TSA agents at this Concourse A Security checkpoint, and she said that the only time the line gets slower is when they’re doing training exercises (not frequently). She also mentioned it can get quite crowded for crew members. However, it’s clearly a great 3rd option for the general public – and you can always check security wait times at the 3 security checkpoints here.

Concourse A Security at DEN
Concourse A Security at DEN

United 1241 Flight Details

  • Route: DEN to LAX via CONNR3 DBL J60 HEC RIIVR2
  • Airline:United 1241 – United’s IATA code is UA
  • Departure Gate: B39
  • Arrival Gate: 72
  • Scheduled:5:30 PM
  • Actual Flight time: 5:42 PM
  • Boarding time: 4:55 PM
  • Scheduled Arrival Time:7:04 PM
  • Actual Arrival Time: 6:36 PM
  • Travel Time: 1h 34m
  • Altitude: Filed at 34,000 feet
  • Baggage Claim:Carousel 1
  • Aircraft type:Boeing 737-900, Tail number 3445
  • Distance traveled: Direct – 862 sm; Planned: 880 sm; Flown: 880 sm;
  • Class: Economy
  • Baggage cost: Free due to Silver Status, otherwise $25 for a checked bag
  • Seat: 25A
  • Upgrade: Check-in the night before in Economy, but was able to upgrade to an exit row at the bag drop counter at the airport. Added to the complimentary upgrade list due to status; however, no upgrade given.
  • Load factor: 79% full on route (average). 167 (20 United First, 147 United Economy)
  • Average one-way fare: $138.43

Incidentally, I pulled this report from which gives some comparisons between United and Frontier on this same route.

U.S. Department of Transportation’s Consumer Fare Report:

Route:  Approximately 862 miles each way with 2016 daily passengers

Fares:  Average one-way fare: $177

Average cost per mile: $0.21

Airline with the Largest Market Share: United Airline with the Lowest Average Fare: Frontier
Average Fare: $202 Average Fare: $153
Market Share: 44% Market Share: 32%

United 1241 Flight

Nothing was particularly remarkable about boarding and take-off, other than boarding seemed more crowded and disorganized than usual – probably due to the holiday rush and the small amount of space at the particular gate we were assigned at DEN.

I was able to grab a picture of the new United In-Flight entertainment software module at the front of the plane, and a picture of the door of the plane that showed that there would indeed be in-flight Wi-Fi.

United 1241 - New In-flight Entertainment Software
United 1241 – New In-flight Entertainment Software
United 1241 - In-Flight Wi-Fi
United 1241 – In-Flight Wi-Fi

We seemed to board and push-back more on less on time. I boarded with group 2 so I was able to snap some quick pictures of the cabin, overhead bins, and seats before the plane filled up. Since I had an exit row seat, there was much more legroom than I was used to.

United 1241 - Cabin
United 1241 – Cabin

We also had the same in-flight entertainment and charger configuration (impossible to find, buried under the seat) that I’m use to on United 737-900 flights.

United 1241 - Seats
United 1241 – Seats

My particular entertainment system was broken, but this didn’t matter as my plan was to pay for in-flight Wi-Fi and be productive for the flight. Finally, the seat-back tray was a little uncomfortable – since it was an exit row with additional legroom, the tray didn’t actually pull out far enough so it was uncomfortable NOT over my lap, which also made it hard to use the laptop on the tray. It either needed to be longer, or come out further to be in a more functional position. There also wasn’t enough room on the tray for my sparkling water, can, and the laptop – but I guess that’s no different than usual. Hey, at least United gives free sodas still, unlike the recent DEN-LAX flight I took on Frontier.

United 1241 In-Flight Wi-Fi

I had initially purchased Wi-Fi for 1 hour. It took 15 minutes to get it to connect, having to continuously enter my credit card information until finally the United system didn’t time out the transaction went through.

United 1241 - Wi-Fi Not Activated
United 1241 – Wi-Fi Not Activated

Incidentally, I got charged for 3 separate transactions – and had to open a dispute process later on with United to get a refund for $2 of my $3 for the 1 hour of Wi-Fi I was trying to purchase. #epicfail

Here’s what it looked like after I finally was connected:

Finally Connected - United 1241
Finally Connected – United 1241

Then, after about 20 minutes to access, Wi-Fi went dead – no signal at all. At that point, I started browsing the free pages that supposedly I could browse without paid Wi-Fi…but even those weren’t working!

Free Browsing Not Enabled on United 1241
Free Browsing Not Enabled on United 1241

Luckily, I noticed it went down, but still had to wait about 5 minutes for the signal to come back up. No doubt I will be charged for those 5 minutes without connectivity. I paid for an hour of service but with all the hassle, delay in being able to log in, and sporadic behavior in between – I got only about 45 minutes worth of solid email-productivity Wi-Fi. On top of that, My gmail wouldn’t work.

Gmail Not Working with In-Flight Wi-Fi
Gmail Not Working with In-Flight Wi-Fi

One cool thing about in-flight Wi-Fi was the ability to track my flight real-time with FlightAware.

United 1241 - Route Map
United 1241 – Route Map

Would  I have paid the same $1 for 45 minutes? You betcha. But I could have done without the stress and hassle in between!

Overall Grade – United 1241

Similar to my last United review, where I gave my BOS-DEN United flight a C+, I continued to be extremely disappointed with the Wi-Fi. This time, at least I was able to access Wi-Fi – but it was still inconsistent, flaky, hard to set up and pay for, and ultimately I felt like I was cheated.

For this reason, coupled with the fact that my in-flight entertainment system would not turn on, I gave this particular flight a B.

This negative experience was balanced out by the positive experience of United allowing me to upgrade to an exit-row seat at check-in, and for getting in early.

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