Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: United (page 1 of 5)

My First Flight to Nowhere

On the heels of a miserably long day of travel (for the flight distance) after a canceled flight (SEE: My Second United Horror Story), I had another awesome experience with United. It was deja vu.

Instead of a flight cancellation stranding me hundreds of miles from the next closest airport, however, this was different. I took my first flight to nowhere.

Work isn’t the problem, travel is

After finally arriving in Las Vegas at 2:00 a.m. Friday morning, I had to be up and in Needles by 10:00 or so. This allowed me about 5.5 hours of sleep, but it was enough. My day of work went well, and I made it back by evening into Henderson.

Since my flight was middle of the day on Saturday, I got plenty of rest my second night. The morning was leisurely, and I worked a couple hours and got some blog posts written for Points with a Crew from the Centurion Lounge Las Vegas. Then it was time to head to the plane. An uneventful 2 hours later, I stepped off in San Francisco.

From the Centurion Lounge San Francisco and while walking to my gate, I was thinking about how smoothly today had gone compared to Thursday. Except it wasn’t over yet.

Flying to nowhere

It all started with some confusion at the gate. I arrived just as boarding was supposed to start, but no one was in line. Gate 84 can be confusing since United parks multiple CRJs at the gate and often boards them back to back.

The fact that it was scheduled boarding time and nothing was happening should have been my first clue that something was amiss. I just chalked it up to a typical United delay. When I finally asked a gate agent what was happening, she said that the flight was delayed due to weather. I only had to assume it was the Arcata weather.

About 20 minutes later we finally boarded. I sat in my tiny window seat on a tiny CRJ-200. This is definitely not my favorite plane (SEE: Argh! I thought I’d seen the last of the United CRJ-200). But seat 2A did give me a great view of the captain when he came back to discuss why we were sitting so long. We were playing the waiting game with the Humboldt fog.

Kudos to the captain for keeping us on the ground as long as he did. It was a serious mark of professionalism for him to come back in person to address everyone. You could tell that this wasn’t his first rodeo with the wild SFO-ACV hop.

He finally decided to depart when conditions in Arcata were “improving”. We had already sat on the ground for about an hour, and the CRJ-200 had two more flights scheduled that evening, so it had to get going sometime.

Taxi and takeoff were quick, one of the quickest out of SFO I’ve ever experienced. As we got closer and closer to Arcata, I began to figure all was fine and dandy.

Then the plane started a long, slow bank to the right, and I realized I might not be making it home that night. Back to San Francisco we went. We parked at the same gate. I had literally gone nowhere.

All’s well that ends well

After arriving back at SFO, the gate agent printed me a standby ticket and told me to run to gate 77. Which I did. No more running. I’m tired of these United games.

Out of breath, I arrived at the final flight to ACV. Which I almost didn’t take. I wanted to get a hotel and get some sleep. The idea of wasting another 2 hours trying again seemed foolish. But the next flight they could get me on happened to be the following day at 7:00 p.m., so I figured I’d give it a shot.

After a long delay, we were finally in the air and headed for Humboldt again. To my astonishment, we didn’t turn around this time, and the ERJ-175 touched down smoothly at ACV. Everyone clapped. I can’t remember the last time I’ve heard anyone clap on a domestic flight.


I really have a love-hate relationship with our tiny airport. It’s so convenient, but it is so unreliable. The considerable delays and cancellations plus no other airline options is a recipe for disaster. United has left me in the lurch now three times with canceled flights. Two of these involved Arcata Airport. Let’s hope this is the last for a while.

My Second United Horror Story

Almost two years to the day after our first debacle (SEE: Our First United Horror Story), United managed to leave me high and dry again. Well, it wasn’t all their fault. But the whole experience was still frustrating.

Last-minute work trip

Work sent me to Needles this week. I booked a flight from Arcata to Las Vegas and rented a car to make the 2 hour drive. After departing on Thursday, I am in the process of returning today (and things are looking fine to make it home on time…so far). Hotel, rental car, I had everything quickly and easily booked for the trip. What could go wrong?

Things started with a minor delay notification just as I arrived at ACV. This was expected, as I had been monitoring the inbound aircraft for a few hours. It had been delayed a couple legs prior, so I expected departure from Arcata to be 20-30 minutes late. Really not bad compared to what our little airport often experiences. Assuming that was the extent of it, I would still make my connection in SFO.

Hmmm….I can’t see the runway

After going through security at ACV (which can be an ordeal, SEE: Getting the full pat down from the TSA at Arcata Airport), I sat down and thought I’d be waiting maybe 15 minutes for our aircraft to arrive. I chose to sit by the window to have a good view of the CRJ-200 landing.

But then I realized that the fog was so thick I couldn’t see the runway. This was mildly concerning, but no one had said anything about the flight being canceled.

It was barely 10 minutes later when another announcement came over the PA system: our inbound aircraft had been diverted to Medford. They could not safely land the plane due to the thick fog.

Making alternate plans

I gave myself 3 minutes to collect my thoughts and look up alternate flight options out of ACV, STS and SFO. As it had not been this foggy when we arrived at the airport, the blanket had just rolled in. Who knows when it would clear up enough for an aircraft to land. In any case, I knew I’d be missing my connection to Las Vegas for sure. If I was lucky, I could still get on one of the other two departures out of SFO that evening.

I decided to call United while also heading to the check-in counter. As expected, there were plenty of other people there already. Fortunately, I got a United rep on the phone within 3 minutes, which beat waiting in a long line to get rebooked.

I asked the rep about the status of the flight and what my options were. There was one more departure out that day, but I didn’t know if I could get a seat on it. Or if the fog would cooperate.

While I was on the phone, the cancellation announcement came over the PA. Now I had to make a call: cancel the trip or drive to SFO. I chose to roll with things as long as I could. Time to multitask.

Rebooking a flight, booking a car

I walked to the National counter and asked the guy for a car. He had a grand total of one. I was glad I got there first. Meanwhile, I fed the United rep the flight number I wanted out of SFO, a 10:20 p.m. departure nonstop to Vegas. It’d cost a bundle for the rental car, but I could still get to Las Vegas and to my hotel by midnight.

But her reply stunned me: there were no seats left on the flight. Now I started to panic a bit inside.

She offered to book me on an 8:56 departure out of SFO to LAX, with an 11:15 connection to Las Vegas. I hesitated. Could I make it to SFO in time? It was currently 3:25, so that gave me about 4:30 to reasonably make the flight, and that would still be cutting it close. I’ve never driven that quickly to the Bay, and I need to tack on an additional 30+ minutes to my typical time, as I was in Arcata and not Ferndale.

I decided to risk it. In any case, if I got stuck in the Bay, I could always get a hotel and be on the first flight out the net morning (assuming it isn’t full, too). I’d have to pay extra for that as well, but at least I’d still make the appointments I’d set up.

Pedal to the metal

Key in had, I dashed to my rental car, threw my bag in, and took off. With any luck, I’d have a shot at making the flight.

My heart sunk when the navigation forecast an 8:40 p.m. arrival at SFO. With a scheduled flight time 16 minutes later, there was no way I’d make it. But maybe I could make up a little time?

It was a race against the clock. I did 10 over the posted limit most of the way (don’t be like me), and the arrival time slowly walked back minute by minute.

Fortunately, I’ve driven 101 south the Bay numerous times in the past few years. I know the road really well, and this was a major advantage. The only poor ingredient is being in an unfamiliar car. But the Kia Soul I’d been given handled well enough.

Glimmer of hope?

Traffic was amazingly good the whole drive. I didn’t get stuck behind any big trucks, and only for a couple minutes behind slow moving cars with no passing lane. The navigation kept walking back the arrival time, and I became more hopeful.

When I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, my forecasted arrival time was 8:04. I might actually do this.

Stupidly, I didn’t pre-pay the gas tank (SEE: The ONE rental car mistake I always make). This meant I would burn 5 minutes at the gas station. I banked on there being one easily accessible off of 19th Avenue as I headed through San Francisco.

This turned out to be exactly correct. I was in and out of Chevron in the fastest time ever. It still cost me 6 minutes.

The rest of the drive was easy, and I returned the car promptly at 8:10. Receipt in hand, I took off toward the air train at a sprint. I had about 35 minutes to get to the terminal, through security, and to my gate before the airplane door closed.

Will I make it?

I missed an Airtrain from the rental car center by seconds. Luckily, the next one was in the distance already, and headed toward us.

It took about 20 minutes for the Airtrain to arrive at Terminal 3. I tore down the escalator and to security.

Even though security took maybe 12 minutes, it felt like forever. If I missed this flight, I wasn’t getting out of San Francisco until the next day.

At 8:42 I was finally free of the TSA. Time to sprint. Luckily, the gate wasn’t too far.

I arrived at the gate at 8:45 and there were (amazingly) a few people still in the boarding line. They turned out to be a family flying standby who were discussing seating arrangements with the staff. It sounded like the middle school aged kids weren’t with their parents. I was glad that their discussion had bought me a minute or two. I had made it.

We pushed back on time. Actually, 4 minutes early. But then air traffic kept us on the ground for a few minutes. In any case, we took off close enough to on-time that I was confident I’d make my connection. I’ve never been happier to be on a plane.

No, I don’t want to spend the night in LA

We touched down at 10:22, giving me plenty of time to make my 11:15 connection. Or so I thought.

The Boeing 737-900 came to a stop sooner than expected . I don’t know exactly where we were, but we were not next to a gate. By my guess, we were west of the International Terminal still.

Which is exactly what my phone confirmed. The captain came on after a minute and said that our gate was occupied and that we were hanging out here out of the way until they push back. Great.

The minutes ticked by, and my tight (but reasonable) connection evaporated. I would be hard pressed to get on the plane to Vegas.

To make things worse, we were going to park at Terminal 8. My next flight was out of Terminal 7.

It seemed to take people forever to get off the plane. I was in an exit row and aisle, which is not too far back. Finally, I pushed past one guy (a major no-no deplaning) taking his sweet time gathering his stuff into his luggage in the aisle, and hurried down the aisle and off the plane.

Another sprint it was. Until my lungs felt like they were on fire, then it was walk fast for 15 seconds to catch a breath and then sprint again.

I would have been the last person on the plane, had the guy in front of me hurrying to gate had his boarding pass out and ready. He didn’t, and he told me to go ahead.

It’s a (post) Christmas miracle!

The instant I set foot on that plane a wave of relief washed over me. I’d actually made it. I’d be in Las Vegas that night (well, the next morning, as we landed around 12:30 a.m.). Everything looked so bleak when I started my drive, but it turned out fine.

I made it to my hotel about 1:45 a.m. and to bed by 2:00. Never has a pillow felt so good.

Final thoughts

I hope to never do this again. Ever. But with flights as fickle as they are between San Francisco and Arcata, I’ll undoubtedly face another situation like this.

I’m glad everything turned out well. I managed to get 6 hours of sleep, and I still made my work appointments.

As convenient as ACV is compared to the Bay, I have a love-hate relationship with our airport. It is situations like this that end up costing extra time, money and inconvenience. I was fortunate everything turned out well enough in my case. But it may not in the future.

The Shortest Flight in the U.S. is at Our Doorstep

Did you know that the shortest flight in the U.S. is in northern California? I didn’t either until I saw the headline in a news piece recently.

United is connecting to Santa Rosa?!

When I first read about United adding the SFO-STS hop to their schedule, I thought they were insane. Are you really going to fly a route that people can drive in 90 minutes?

But then I sat back and thought about the market they are attacking. Sure, it is a super short flight. But it lets you avoid the hassle of driving (often in bad traffic) and paying for parking. Plus, if you’re local to Sonoma County, it’s an easy Uber ride to the airport. I can definitely see the appeal.

Not to mention Sonoma County is growing and demand for air service is increasing. The Charles M. Shulz Airport is looking at a desperately-needed expansion coming in 2019.

The flight time of the shortest flight in the United States? A mere 16 minutes in the air. United blocks it at 51 minutes. You spend more time taxiing than actually flying.

The shortest flight in the U.S. offers some great deals!

In contrast to flying out of Arcata, something that requires taking out a second mortgage on your house, there are actually some good deals out of STS. Not directly to SFO, but you can connect to a number of destinations cheaply. Examples, all one-way:

  • STS to LAX for $74
  • STS to SAN for $74
  • STS to SNA for $74
  • STS to PDX for $87

Most of those aren’t even United basic economy!

I’ve also looked at international flights that have either an outbound or return leg to STS rather than SFO. Generally, the price doesn’t jump too much if you decide to touch down among the vineyards instead of alongside the Bay. I’m hoping this holds out long enough for us to take advantage of it a couple times.

The flight above to Beijing is currently $489 flying nonstop from SFO. Adding the outbound from Santa Rosa only brings the price up to $538. Pretty sweet deal!

Next time you want to get out of Humboldt, consider taking the shortest flight in the U.S. out of Santa Rosa!

United cuts an Arcata flight, but switches to larger planes

United airlines has cut service to Arcata airport by one flight per day.  But don’t be too worried about the change. United is switching to operating larger aircraft between here and SFO and will be able to accommodate the same number of passengers per day.

The Star Alliance carrier has been in the process of retiring many of it’s small Canadair CRJ-200 regional jets. This small plane has been one of the primary aircraft United has used on the ACV-SFO route. The carrier is switching to the larger Embraer E175, which seats 76 passengers, compared to 50 on a CRJ-200. United is effectively replacing 3 of its CRJ-200 flights with 2 flights serviced by E-175 aircraft, keeping the number of daily departures the same.

The departure times for afternoon flights has adjusted slightly. Instead of a mid-afternoon departure and a second in the early evening, there will be one departure around 4:00 p.m. moving forward. Most afternoon flights starting in May have a scheduled departure time of 4:20. I want to know if this is a fluke, or some clever person making a gentle nod to the Humboldt subculture.

The two other United flights typically take off around 6:00 a.m. and 11:15 a.m.

Downsides of the change

One negative impact from this change is that there are now only a total of 5 flights in or out of Humboldt County each day. If any of these are delayed or cancelled, more passengers will be affected, and rebooking options will be more limited. Both United and PenAir have very poor on time performances in and out of Arcata Airport, so let’s hope they can improve this moving forward.

It’s a bummer to lose some schedule flexibility, too, with only 3 United flight options now. Hopefully the aircraft swap will mean better operations for the remaining flights. This news also comes on the heels of PenAir cutting a flight per day to Portland.

Personally, my feelings are mixed on the change. My last flight back to Humboldt with United was on an E-175. The plane was much newer and nicer. I was also in shock that we actually boarded via a jetway at SFO. Most of the time you have to walk outside at good ol’ gate 84 to a parked CRJ-200. I happily welcome the new aircraft, but I wish it wasn’t at the cost of a flight per day.

Increased Offer for the United MileagePlus Explorer Card!

Chase has temporarily increased the sign-up offer of the United MileagePlus Explorer Visa to 50,000 miles. The standard offer is 30,000 miles, so this is a significant increase.

The current offer will give you a sign up bonus of 50,000 MileagePlus miles after $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months your account is open. You can also earn an additional 5,000 miles by adding an authorized user.

The card offers the ability to earn United miles, plus several other great perks, including:

  • Free checked bag on United operated flights (and any itinerary beginning with a United flight, as far as I am aware)
  • Priority boarding (group 2)
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 2 United Club passes annually
  • 10,000 bonus miles after $25,000 in purchases in a calendar year
  • (Modestly) increased award seat availability reserved for cardholders
  • Primary car rental insurance (a great perk, in my opinion)

The card carries an annual fee of $95, which does NOT appear waived the first year. It typically is with the regular application.

NOTE: If you have opened more than 5 new credit card accounts in the past 24 months, it is *very* unlikely that you will be approved for this card. This is known as Chase’s “5/24 rule”.

Why apply for the United MileagePlus Explorer card?

This is one of the better offers for this card. The sign up bonus is worth two domestic round trip tickets, or you can have one round-trip to Europe with just a small amount of spending (60,000 miles).

The 50,000 mile offer usually comes around at least once per year. Sometimes it is accompanied with an annual fee waiver, which would be a slightly better offer than this one. Still, 2 domestic round trip tickets for $95 is a great deal.

For those local to Humboldt, this is one of the best airline cards you can have, if not the best. United offers the most flights out of Arcata, and the award availability is generally pretty good.

How to apply

The application link is here. However, if you are really interested in the card, I would love it if you would leave a comment, see my Twitter referral link, or send me a note via the Contact Me page to let me send you a referral link. I’ll get a bonus and you’ll get the same offer. 😉

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