To the US: FRA to ORD on United 906, Boeing 777-200ER

April 11, 2017:
It was cold, and I felt it, as I walked out of the confines of the Boeing 747-830. I paused to put on my jacket, and then continued through the jetway. As I went up a level, Lufthansa agents stood around holding placards with names of connecting flights - Detroit, San Francisco, etc. They took care of all the passengers who had short connections, while there were more agents a little away who directed passengers with long connections to their gates. I stopped by one of the agents to get my gate - my connecting flight - United 906 - would depart from "Zee Sixteen", she repeated once again for me - "Zed One Six". She indicated it was a long walk - it indeed was.
This was the bird that took me to the US. Photo: www.planespotters.net

The long walk begins..

It appeared the terminal I landed in was an arrival terminal - there were no waiting areas or didn't seem like there were boarding gates either. After about 10 minutes of  walking (and pausing in between to click some pics), I reached a signage with "Gates A/Z" marked to the right, upwards. I took the escalator to reach an upper level. That was a tram station! Oh! wow! A security officer signalled me to wait, since the tram was yet to arrive. A little later the driverless tram rolls in. I get into the tram - it was empty, but filled to seating capacity before we started moving off.
Inside the tram..

This was the tram..

At the Terminal 1 Skyline station..

The tram ride was about 5 minutes long, and dropped me at Terminal 1 Skyline station. After walking for some distance, I reach some display that estimates the traveling time to my gate to be 25 minutes - kidding me? A little later, I found the security check in between takes most of the time, actually. A counter set up by Lufthansa cross-checks passengers for their boarding passes and validity of their visa. I was let through after the agent checked my boarding pass. The next stop was the security check. The check was strong - every item was sent through scanning, and passengers were pulled aside for frisking - pat downs, rather.
Security check area..

Post security, I walk into a large concourse, and finally land up at the gate. Near the gate was a passenger services desk of United. I found a place to charge my phones for a while and remained seated there. I used the free WiFi to call up home, and updated my people back home. The entire area was filled with Lufthansa planes of different sizes - down from a new Airbus A320Neo up to the heavy Airbus A380-800. The Boeing B747-800s made for some variety. I had nothing to do, but browse on my phone.
The Z16 gate..

Gate agents appeared a little past 1100hrs. They were busy preparing documentation for the flight, printing out boarding charts, setting the display and so on. United boards were put up, stanchions were rolled in, and queue lines were prepared. Additional desks for document verification were set up. A little past 1120hrs, the agent call out for passengers traveling on United with boarding passes that were not issued by United counters in Frankfurt, and, obviously, all passengers connecting in from other flights. I head out to the counters for verification of my boarding pass - I was called to one of the new counters that were set up with the purpose of verification of documents.
My boarding pass.. notice the highlighted "SSSS" markings..

The lady at the verification desk quickly verified my passport, the visa and questioned me on the purpose of my visit. She pointed towards the "SSSS" markings on my boarding pass, and said I was selected for a "secondary screen" and I should wait. A security agent took away my boarding pass and asked me to wait for a while. Meanwhile, more passengers with "SSSS" markings on their boarding passes were collected. About 10 of us were around by now - the security guy asked us to follow him and we walked towards another gate (Z21, if I recollect correctly). We were called one by one for Secondary screening - swabs from everywhere - the bags, my coat, belt, etc were taken and they did an explosives screening. Thankfully, the result was negative. My boarding pass for an "ICTS Security" seal, and I was permitted to head to the boarding gate now.
Boarding just commencing..

Date of Journey: April 11, 2017
Airline: United Airlines
Flight No: UA906 also LH9150 || Seat: 42K
Aircraft type: Boeing 777-222ER || MSN: 26924 / 116 || Regn: N797UA
Sector: FRA-ORD
STD: 1245hrs, ATD: 1510hrs
STA: 1247hrs, ATA: 1529hrs
All times local.

The first boarding call was made at 1150hrs. Preboarding, followed by Groups 1 & 2, then Group 3 was the order. I had understood earlier that we'd be having a bus boarding, and the aircraft was parked at a remote stand. The boarding process was slow - really slow. Passengers with the "SSSS" markings went through another round of document check. I got past the gate by 1159hrs. It was first a downward ramp, then a flight of stairs. I really wondered how would passengers with disabilities get through the stairs - may be there existed an elevator. I had to walk down two levels to get to the ground level. It was C-O-L-D there.

There were a couple of buses there - I confirmed with the ground staff that the bus was intended for my flight - he confirmed it was for "United to Chicago". The bus was kinda full already - I got in from the last door and managed for find some space to stand. The bus got moving a little later (1203hrs). It was a Mercedes Benz Citaro articulated coach. We had a long distance to cover, including cross the apron and one active taxiway. We made it to the aircraft by 1213hrs, docked at Stand #V129. On duty today was United's Boeing 777-222ER, N797UA. The bird, numbered 2897, was delivered to United in February 1998 - a little over 19 years old!

Boarding began a minute later. It was so cold that I just wanted to get into the aircraft - and did not even bother clicking a picture. Unlike in India, there was no documents check at the stairs. I was inside the aircraft by 1217hrs - welcomed by FAs at the gate. I was among the first passengers on board, and hence got to the seat quite soon. The overhead bins were all empty and I managed to leave my bag right over my seat. My seat, #42K, was in the aft section of the aircraft. On my seat was a pillow and a blanket. We had a rather comfortable 3-3-3, 9 abreast seating. The FAs manning the aft section of the aircraft were busy distributing, what they called, Earbuds. I got one, and realised it was actually the headphone! United provided in-the-canal earphones, which passengers could take out with them. The, "Made in China" product didn't look very long surviving, but appeared quite well put. Although I tried testing if the earphones worked, the entertainment system was not yet turned on. The screens said it would be switched on only after we got to the cruising altitude. While it was sure we had no way of making an on-time departure, we managed to complete boarding by 1240hrs. The "arm all doors, cross check and report" call was made around 1243hrs. However, the luggage bay doors were still open, and luggage checked-in at the gate was still being loaded. And, interestingly, the seat next to me was empty! Immigration cards were handed out soon after boarding was completed.
Inside N797UA..

We were pushed back by 1247hrs - two minutes behind schedule. The Pratt & Whitney PW4090s were spooled up, and they came alive even as we were being pushed back. We commenced taxi at 1251hrs - it was one very long taxi to the holding point of Rwy18, where we reached by 1300hrs. We lined up at the holding point, parallel to D-AINA - Lufthansa's, rather, the World's first, Airbus A320neo and a Airbus A319 (D-AILR, also from Lufthansa). AINA went in first, followed by AILR. We commenced rolling from our holding point by 1307hrs. The engines powered up as we were rolling on to Runway 18. We had a spectacular rolling take off, lifting off by 1308hrs. We took off to the south, before banking right, and setting course to the west. The captain had advised before take off that we were expected to have quite a bit of turbulence on the way, and the seatbelt sign was likely to remain on for quite some after take off.
The race.. D-AINA and D-AILR at the holding point..
Soon after taking off..

The seatbelt signs were turned off about 10 minutes after we took off - we were still climbing. The Purser announced over the PA that passengers should preferably keep their seatbelts on. A little later, the trolleys came out. To be honest, I was quite hungry and looked forward for my lunch. I was expecting the trolley to have the lunch - but it was a drinks trolley! Everyone received breadsticks along with the drink of their choice - I picked up some water and a can of Minute Maid Apple Juice. The breadsticks were good, so was the juice. There were no movements for a while after that. About 30 minutes later, the special meals came out. I got my Asian Vegetarian Meals (AVML) soon. The spread was appealing - there were some cut fruits, salads, a bun, the main course, cheese spread, a dressing for the salad, plastic cutlery and a bottle of water.
The Apple Juice and Breadsticks..

The AVML Lunch..

As always, I start off with the fruits - it had strawberry, muskmelon and sun melon (thats how its known in India, not sure if there is another name for it in the west). The salad was made of lettuce and cabbage - the herbal dressing was a little too sour for my palate. The main course had rice, a vegetable accompaniment (green peas and carrot in a tomato based gravy) and a Dal (Lentil curry - I guess they used chickpea). The food for others came a little later and had only a chicken option - the spread appeared smaller than the AVML I received. The food was really tasty - the Dal was a bit too bland, but the curry made for it - it was spicy, and had all the right flavours in it. A little after they cleared the trays, came another trolley with Ice creams! You gotta be kidding me now!
Main course - Rice with Vegetable curry and Dal

The Losely Ice Cream - Strawberry & Clotted Cream!

How about some coffee?

It was Strawberry & Clotted Cream flavoured ice creams from Loseley. The ice cream was awesome - the perfectly shaped spoons let me finish the ice cream without leaving any traces! A little later came the drinks trolley - I picked up a coffee this time. The coffee from illy was tasty and the serving was the typical American Small size - kinda large for the common Indians. Half-and-Half and sugar was given along. After my coffee, I decided to sleep for a while - the window shades were down already. Although I tried hard, I couldn't sleep. I tuned into the entertainment system for a while. The screen was not very responsive, but felt a little better than the hit screens I experienced on the Lufthansa B748. I sifted through, and found a Bollywood movie - I watched the movie for a while, and felt asleep sometime in between.
We are about half way through..

I kept transitioning between being asleep and being awake. It was almost 2000hrs Indian time, and almost 22 hours since I left home, and I had hardly slept. I dozed off for a while in between. I remained glued to the screens whenever I was awake. I watched two movies and a documentary through the flight. I discovered that there was a WiFi on board - and access to the United app and their website was free. This let me update my seat selection for the flight ahead to Detroit and also check the gates where we would be landing. The live map feature on the map was a little boring - it refreshed very slowly. I slept for about 2 hours during the flight - most of which was towards the ending.
The evening snack - Vegetarian option..

The ride got really rough as we flew over the Americas. It was very turbulent, and I understood we were flying against fairly heavy headwinds from the live map. I slept on and off, and at one point, when I woke up, I found a sandwich kept on my traytable (in fact on the tray table of the middle seat). I was a little confused it it was actually meant for me - but there was a sticker on the cover which read "42K" - my seat number. So that was for me. There was a vegetarian sandwich and an energy bar. Drinks service was repeated, and I picked a coffee again. It was so turbulent that half the coffee spilled on the tray table (and a little on my trousers as well). The FAs were very generous with the paper napkins, which was really useful to clean up the mess. Seat belt signs were back on (they came on and off multiple times during the flight) by 2200hrs (German time).
On Short-finals to Chicago O'Hare..

It was cloudy outside, and I couldn't see anything outside. We slowly came out of the clouds - the first sight was that of Lake Michigan, and the city around it. By now the entertainment system was turned off, and only the live map was running. We were descending quite soon. I saw that there was another aircraft flying parallel to us - and it was real fun watching a parallel landing - absolutely a first for me. We touched down on Runway 10C of Chicago's O'hare International Airport at 1521hrs (Local time - about 2221hrs German time) - some 9h13m after we took off from Frankfurt airport. We had a long taxi to the International terminal, aka Terminal 5! We finally docked at Gate M16, by 1529hrs. Disembarkation began soon, and people hurried about getting off the plane. I too joined the crowd. I was out of the aircraft by 1537hrs, and commenced my long walk to the immigration and customs counters.
About to touchdown on Rwy10C

After a long walk, I got into the almost empty queue for immigration - the CBP officer there asked for the immigration card, quickly glanced through my passport, asked a couple of questions, and welcomed me to the US. The round seal with "Admitted" was a big thing! The first international trip, and to the US! I was quite excited as I walked to the baggage carousel. The baggage hall was crowded - there was no less than three international arrivals, and people jostled for space. I got my bags by 1601hrs, and joined the queue for customs clearance.. to be continued.

Ratings:
Boarding: 4/5 (Very organised and orderly. But no elevators at the bus gate!)
Cleanliness: 5/5 (Very Clean)
Punctuality: 5/5 (Negligible)
Crew: 5/5 (Awesome crew)
Catering: 5/5 (Awesome food)
Overall: 4.5/5 (Good one)
Tracking from FR24..

Summary:
This was my first trans-atlantic flight, first flight to the US, first flight on a Boeing 777 family aircraft, and first one on United! The aircraft was kept in good shape - the seating was quite comfortable. The leg room was a little lesser than that of the Lufthansa B748i - but this was wider. The blanket was very comfortable, and kept me in good comfort through the flight. The onboard entertainment selection was fairly good - the United WiFi personal entertainment was a good addition as well. The crew were amazing - responded quickly to calls and appeared very friendly - quite opposite to the general perception. The food selection was good - the AVML was lip smacking. The sandwich served for snack was a little dry - may be an additional spread might have helped matters. It was overall a great flight!

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