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UA 3471/68 ORD-EWR-ARN (Economy Plus)

One of the things I love about Chicago is that I can get almost anywhere in the world in just two flights.  Most of my travels allow me to get anywhere without connecting at all.  The nonstop option doesn’t really work when I’m trying to get to South Africa or Vietnam, but to Europe it works great.  That is unless of course, you are going to Stockholm (ARN) from Chicago (ORD) – to stay with United the whole way you need to stop in Newark (EWR), or on SAS a stop in Copenhagen is required, or on Lufthansa you need to stop either in Munich of Frankfurt.  The cheapest option for me on the dates I needed to travel was on United.

When I’m required to have a stop, I prefer to have that stop as close to my destination as possible. Get me to Europe and I’ll connect there. That way if there is mechanical issues or other delays, at least I am there and there are more options to my destination.  I don’t want to have a connection in the US and my gateway City (the airport I connect in immediately before I leave the US) have only a single flight a day to my destination.  That’s how my Stockholm flight was set. There were at least half a dozen flights between ORD and EWR on departure day, but only one to ARN.  If my ORD-EWR flight was delayed, I could be stuck in Newark all night after missing the one daily flight to Stockholm.

The week of my departure Chicago had horrendous weather.  I left on a Thursday morning, but the week started out with most offices closing because of “life threatening wind chill” of -42C (or -45F).  It snowed. It was windy. It was miserable.  The morning of my departure it started to snow.  I was afraid that my Regional Jet flight might get scrapped and only the bigger (or as I call them “real planes” would make the hub-hub flights).  I debated on putting myself on the earlier flight just to get to EWR (where the weather was perfect, by the way), but I decided to risk it on my original itinerary – and if it didn’t work, I’d just come back home.  I’m glad I didn’t put myself on a different flight, because my flight was the only one that morning that left on time.  I was actually in Newark before the flight that was scheduled to leave an hour before mine left.  The travel gods were smiling.

Carrier: United Airlines (ORD-EWR-ARN)
Flight: UA 3471 / 68
Seat: 10A / 21C
Departure: January 9, 2014 – 11h55
Arrival: January 10, 2014 – 07h35
Travel Time: 12 hours 35 minutes
Flight Miles: 4,649

I won’t waste anyone’s time with the details on the Regional Jet service between ORD and EWR.  It was a small plane, it was full, service was what you’d expect on a Regional Jet servicing United Hubs. Once we landed I had about 2 hours in Newark, so of course, I decided to hit the lounge.  It was extremely full and since it was my first time in Newark (period), I didn’t know my way around and I didn’t know which lounge would be best.  I picked one right near my departing gate and wandered aimlessly around the lounge, feebly attempting to find a place to drop anchor and work for a few minutes and enjoy cheap lounge booze.

The flight was oversold, so I made sure I was at the gate ready to board when my group was called: Not because I would be denied boarding (didn’t have that much booze and I am confident a Mileage Plus Gold member wouldn’t get forcibly bumped if other options were available), but I wanted to make sure my roller board would be with me. Gate checking for such a short trip always concerns me.

While I don’t necessarily like flying B757s transatlantic (TATL), at least the plane that would carry me to Stockholm had updated interiors including a semi-modern (for United standards) In-Flight-Entertainment System – with both video and audio on demand.  Since it was a TATL, we were served a meal, which I chose the pasta (a gummy flavorless mistake).  The flight attendant consistently working my seat was very nice and very attentive, but she did struggle a bit walking down the aisle (her hips > the aisle width).

I watched the new James Bond film, but as with the other 4 times I’ve watched it on a plane, I am asleep before the film has crossed the 25 minute mark (I blame airplanes, not Daniel Craig).  The woman sitting next to me was Swedish. She was traveling with her husband and 3 daughters (yes, three 17-21 year old blond, tall, thin, Swedish daughters — it did nothing for me, but I was thinking of all my friends who would have been in heaven).  She (the mom) was very nice, but one of those people who wanted to spend the flight chit-chatting.  I told her my plans for seeing Stockholm and disconnecting for a bit.  She thought it a better idea that I go to her town with her family and explore semi-rural Sweden.  It was a lovely thought, but I’ve seen Hostel and I’m not following a beautiful group of people to an unknown land.

We landed early into Stockholm and customs was amazingly fast and efficient.  The border patrol officer thought my quick trip was a great idea and even asked what I planned on doing (perhaps that was part of his profiling, but he did give me some recommendations for food and booze, which I took him up on).

Despite the Chicago weather and the quick layover in Newark, the flight over was perfectly fine. I don’t like the idea of flying a narrow-bodied plane across the Atlantic, but it fit my needs (and I got MY seat — aisle seat in the second row of over-wing exits).  I’d probably take this flight again, mostly because the other options (in coach) have much more limited leg room and the idea of sitting for 8 hours (TATL) with only 30″-31″ of pitch just makes my skin crawl.

Where do you prefer to have your layover – closer to home or closer to your destination?  Do you mind single-aisle, narrow-bodied planes for trips across the pond or do you prefer a wide-bodied jet?  If you had to fly to Stockholm from Chicago, how would you go?

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