Yesterday, I flew from PHL-LAX via IAD and MSY. I purchased the ticket a week ago and was on an M-fare (a relatively pricey Economy fare). IAD-MSY-LAX was operated by an A319 with only eight First Class seats, making my chance of an upgrade more tenuous.
My IAD-MSY upgrade cleared about 48 hours prior to departure, but my MSY-LAX upgrade remained waitlisted.
As usual, I left my home in PHL with just enough time to walk to 30th St Station and catch a train to the airport. I’ve got that timed down to a science. I arrived at the airport, collected my boarding passes, and cleared security. I reached the gate just as GS and 1K members were invited to board. So far, so good.
I was carrying a medium-size duffel bag and a small rollerboard–the same carry-ons I always travel with. Both fit in the small overhead bin of the ERJ-145, the only aircraft available if you are traveling on United Express between IAD and PHL. I usually gate check the duffel bag, and bring aboard the smaller roller, which contains schoolwork, my laptop, toiletries, and anything else I want by my side.
Now keep in mind that I fly between IAD and PHL at least twice a month, often more. As I boarded, the FA stopped me and said the rollerboard was not allowed onboard. I told him it fits in the overhead and he said it didn’t matter because the rules prohibited such bags onboard. I called his BS and told him that no such rules exist. He again repeated that the bag was not allowed.
The First Officer, an overweight girl named Lauren, felt the need to chime in and yelled, "Look sir. The FAA rules say you can’t bring that onboard" from her Flight Deck seat. I told her she was mistaken and she said, "No. Actually I’m not."
I thought about making a scene and being removed from the flight, but simply told Lauren politely that she needed to review her FAA guidelines, took my laptop and Bose headphones from my roller, and surrendered it to a gate agent collecting green-tagged bags.
During the flight, I had a five-minute conversation with the FA about carry-on policy. First, he admitted that there was no FAA rules, but that United had prohibited rollerboards. Then he said that it was Trans States’ policy. In the end, he admitted there was no clear policy and agreed I was right. He defended the conduct of the teenage dunce in the cockpit, saying it had been a long day with many passengers not wanted to comply with the "rules." Gee, I wonder why?
All Trans States employees should check out their company’s website. It contains carry-on baggage limits.
We get to Dulles and I proceed to my New Orleans gate, where I see that the flight has checked in full. I go up to the gate agent, who happened to be Amir–a GA I’ve dealt with for years at IAD–to see if any volunteers were needed. Before I could ask, he barked at me that my carry-ons were too big and I needed to check one now. I refused and told him that one bags fits under my seat and the other fits up above. He challenged me, but I pointed to many other passengers in the gate area who had much larger carry-on bags than I did. Amir said, "Well, the rule is one carryon and one personal item. You better get one of those under your seat." As it turned out there were plenty of overhead space, despite the full load. No volunteers needed.
I took this picture four years ago, but any UA frequent flyer who has been through IAD in the afternoon or evening the last few years should be able to recognize this guy.
The flight to MSY was uneventful. The purser was professional and the meal, a large salad topped with almonds, bell peppers, and a chicken breast was tasty.
As expected, the A319 I was on would be continuing to Los Angeles. Boarding was scheduled to began in about 15 minutes, so I just had a seat in the gate area after inquiring about my upgrade. It cleared.
Boarding began at 1900 and I was surprised to see General Wesley Clark on the red carpet in front of me. Taking a break from national politics, Clark is currently a lobbyist for an ethanol company based in the South. We had a brief chat and he indicated that he is looking for an opening to return to politics. He sat in 2D and I was in 2A.
Some sort of movie script writer was sitting next to him and they had an extended (I mean hour-long) conversation about movies during the flight. At one point, their voices were so loud the woman sitting next to me "sshhed" them.
Flight time was over four hours so I was expecting a full dinner on the flight. Sadly, the choices were identical to the two hour flight from IAD to MSY: salad with chicken or cheese ravioli. I went with the ravioli this time, which was good, but fattening. It was served with a bread roll and chocolate cake (can you say starch?). Piping hot nuts as well.
So my first experience with United’s UDU was a good one. If upgrades continue to clear on A319s, I think I’m going to like this program.
And to all the gate agents, flight attendants, and first officers who purport to know "FAA Regs": you’re not fooling me.