Flights for a Day Trip to Detroit

August 21, 2022. I made a day-trip to the suburbs of Detroit to attend some events. This post would be about the flights back and forth, my first time flying United Airlines.

Ticketing

For this trip, I had some tight constraints with time. I needed to be in a suburb of Detroit between 12pm and 3pm on Sunday August 21, which meant if I were to make a daytrip flying, I had to take the first flight of the day leaving Washington DC, and then come back on an evening flight. I could only confirm the trip by the evening of August 19, so flexibility was critical. And for that, I seriously considered making the 9-hour drive from Washington DC to Detroit, spending two nights on the road.
Initially, I held a set of award tickets with Delta Airlines. However, that would have me leaving Baltimore at 5:50am, and coming back at 11:25pm. Adding the drive to and from the airport, it would be a long and tiring day. At 21k miles round-trip, it’s hardly a cheap flight.
Then I came across a set of tickets with United Airlines, that would depart Dulles in the afternoon of Aug 20, and return in the evening of Aug 21. At 250 dollars plus one night of hotel, it meant I would pay slightly more for good rest, and I gladly took it.
Then a series of events happened in the week leading up to the flights. First United Airlines canceled my flight on Aug 20 citing crewing issues (which made the ticket refundable). Just as I thought this was some divine intervention directing me to make the 9-hour drive, something unexpected took place and I could only confirm the trip by the afternoon of August 20, by which time it would be too late to drive.
So I called United and after some back and forth between the agent and her supervisor, I successfully changed my flight from Dulles to Detroit to the morning of Aug 21, saving me one night from home. Scheduled to depart at 8:15am, that would give me two more hours of sleep compared with the Delta option from Baltimore.

United Airlines Flight 4266 from Washington Dulles to Detroit

So on the morning of August 21, I left home at 6am and drove to Washington Dulles Airport. After security check (from the powerful x-ray machines that didn’t require taking items out of the bag), I arrived at a mostly empty concourse A.
Dulles Airport’s concourses C&D were used almost exclusively by United Airlines’ mainline operations, concourses A&B were used by other airlines, including international ones. Tagged next to concourse A was a small regional terminal with United Airlines’ regional operations. From what I experienced during the day’s two flights, concourses A&B were spacious and fancy, while United’s C&D in comparison were like a third-world airport.

Most of the lounges in concourse A&B open at 7:30am, which gave me just enough time for a quick breakfast before my flight’s boarding time. While the closest lounge (that accepted PPS) was AirFrance/KLM in concourse A, it didn’t open promptly at 7:30am. So I walked farther west and visited Turkish Airlines’ lounge this morning, for some quick bites.

  • Concourse A
    Concourse A
    This part of the terminal was mostly used by international airlines. In the morning it felt pretty quiet.
  • Seating in Turkish Airlines Lounge
    Seating in Turkish Airlines Lounge
  • Headhouse
    Headhouse
  • Concourse C
    Concourse C
    From the connector bridge to the regional part of concourse A on the ground level.
  • Boarding Flight to Detroit
    Boarding Flight to Detroit
  • Concourse A
  • Seating in Turkish Airlines Lounge
  • Headhouse
  • Concourse C
  • Boarding Flight to Detroit

Click here to display photos from Dulles Airport.

Concourse A


Concourse A

This part of the terminal was mostly used by international airlines. In the morning it felt pretty quiet.


Seating in Turkish Airlines Lounge


Seating in Turkish Airlines Lounge


Headhouse


Headhouse


Concourse C


Concourse C
From the connector bridge to the regional part of concourse A on the ground level.


Boarding Flight to Detroit


Boarding Flight to Detroit


I found this trip shared some similarities with the one three weeks ago to Laredo. In both instances, after airline schedule change, I convinced the phone agent to change me onto a better flight. But on the flip side, I was forgetful and locked myself out of the rental car in Laredo. This time, after I boarded the flight to Detroit, I realized I left my umbrella in the terminal.

United Airlines 4266
Dulles, VA (IAD) – Detroit, MI (DTW) Operated by Commutair dba
ERJ-145 (N16178)
Seat 22C
Scheduled Departure – 8:15am
Actual Departure – 8:40am
Scheduled Arrival – 9:45am
Actual Arrival – 9:42am
1 hour and 2 minutes
Here’s GPS tracking:

After boarding, we waited a while for bag loading before heading out, so I spent that time frantically looking up the weather in Detroit, and scouting over options where I could get a replacement umbrella. The weather forecast indicated rain for the day. Luckily, it only ended up raining in early morning and evening, while the day in between stayed dry.
And with such mentally straining searches, I was a bit tired once we were in the air, and spent the flight between naps.

United Airlines Flight 390 from Detroit to Washington Dulles

Fast forward to my evening flight back to Dulles. While the flight was scheduled to depart at 7:42pm, I was surprised to get a text message from United Airlines just past noon, that the flight was delayed to 9pm “because of current or anticipated disruptions related to airspace and/or ground congestion”.
I had no clue that United Airlines could predict congestion 8 hours into the future. Even worse, they didn’t. There was no congestion and the plane (N4901U) arrived on time in Detroit. Yet since the delay annoucement was already made, they could not push the departure time back so people sat at the gate for more than an hour just to kill time.

Another possibility was that the crew for the flight to Dulles needed to be flown in from somewhere else. That’s not the case as there were no other United Airlines arrivals between 7 and 9pm that night.

On this matter, I wanted to give United Airlines the benefit of doubt. Maybe they saw causes for delay earlier that day, and wanted to give customers advanced notices. Eventually things turned out better than expected, and their goodwill backfired, in a somewhat embarrassing way that the flight attendants and gate agents (and later, their internet support team) preferred not to explain it. But since they never explained it straight up, a part of me still took it as though United Airlines deliberately delayed the flight to make my life miserable.

This delay aside, my schedule in Detroit meant I arrived at the airport a lot earlier than my flight, and I spent the first part of the wait in Lufthansa’s Lounge, right next to United’s boarding gates. After Lufthansa’s own flight to Frankfurt departed and its lounge transformed into a PPS lounge, its offer of food and beverages could be summarized by a few meager cold wraps and uninviting salads. (But since it’s a German lounge, they may have decent beer, which I didn’t try out.)

On the good side, the few seats next to the windows were actually a good place for plane-spotting.

  • United Airlines A320 (N4901U) Landing
    United Airlines A320 (N4901U) Landing
    My plane back to Washington Dulles. It arrived on time in Detroit.
  • United Airlines A320 (N4901U) Taxiing into Gate
    United Airlines A320 (N4901U) Taxiing into Gate
    My plane back to Washington Dulles. It arrived on time in Detroit.
  • Air France A359 (F-HTYL) Landing
    Air France A359 (F-HTYL) Landing
    Smoking the tires in this shot.
  • Delta Airlines A359 (N501DN)
    Delta Airlines A359 (N501DN)
    Off to Amsterdam.
  • Delta Airlines A321 (N307DX)
    Delta Airlines A321 (N307DX)
    Off to Los Angeles. The lounge was close to the taxiway that the plane didn’t fit into my lens at its widest 150mm.
  • American Eagle CRJ700 (N517AE)
    American Eagle CRJ700 (N517AE)
    Arriving from Philadelphia.
  • Delta Airlines A321 (N379DN)
    Delta Airlines A321 (N379DN)
    Arriving from Atlanta. Light condition wasn’t ideal to capture arrival on runway 22R.
  • FedEx MD11 (N584FE) Landing
    FedEx MD11 (N584FE) Landing
    Arriving from Memphis.
  • United Airlines A320 (N4901U) Landing
  • United Airlines A320 (N4901U) Taxiing into Gate
  • Air France A359 (F-HTYL) Landing
  • Delta Airlines A359 (N501DN)
  • Delta Airlines A321 (N307DX)
  • American Eagle CRJ700 (N517AE)
  • Delta Airlines A321 (N379DN)
  • FedEx MD11 (N584FE) Landing

Click here to display photos from Lufthansa Lounge in Detroit.

United Airlines A320 (N4901U) Landing


United Airlines A320 (N4901U) Landing
My plane back to Washington Dulles. It arrived on time in Detroit.


United Airlines A320 (N4901U) Taxiing into Gate


United Airlines A320 (N4901U) Taxiing into Gate
My plane back to Washington Dulles. It arrived on time in Detroit.


Air France A359 (F-HTYL) Landing


Air France A359 (F-HTYL) Landing
Smoking the tires in this shot.


Delta Airlines A359 (N501DN)


Delta Airlines A359 (N501DN)
Off to Amsterdam.


Delta Airlines A321 (N307DX)


Delta Airlines A321 (N307DX)

Off to Los Angeles. The lounge was close to the taxiway that the plane didn’t fit into my lens at its widest 150mm.


American Eagle CRJ700 (N517AE)


American Eagle CRJ700 (N517AE)
Arriving from Philadelphia.


Delta Airlines A321 (N379DN)


Delta Airlines A321 (N379DN)
Arriving from Atlanta. Light condition wasn’t ideal to capture arrival on runway 22R.


FedEx MD11 (N584FE) Landing


FedEx MD11 (N584FE) Landing
Arriving from Memphis.


Unfortunately, with the delay, the boarding of the flight coincided with a patch of thunderstorm passing through the airport. And with lightning spotted near the airport, ground crew were sheltered and our departure was further delayed.

United Airlines 390
Detroit, MI (DTW) – Dulles, VA (IAD)
Airbus A320 (N4901U)
Seat 31A
Scheduled Departure – 7:42pm
Actual Departure – 9:22pm
Scheduled Arrival – 9:15pm
Actual Arrival – 10:21pm
59 minutes
Here’s GPS tracking:

  • United Airlines A320 (N4901U) At Gate
    United Airlines A320 (N4901U) At Gate
    A bit sad to watch it sit at the gate for more than an hour doing nothing.
  • Onboard Plane to Washington Dulles
    Onboard Plane to Washington Dulles
    The untimely rain meant there was further delay.
  • Distant Lights of Detroit
    Distant Lights of Detroit
    We ventured into Canadian airspace after a south-bound departure, likely to avoid some weather system during the climb.
  • United Airlines A320 (N4901U) At Gate
  • Onboard Plane to Washington Dulles
  • Distant Lights of Detroit

Click here to display photos of the slideshow

United Airlines A320 (N4901U) At Gate


United Airlines A320 (N4901U) At Gate
A bit sad to watch it sit at the gate for more than an hour doing nothing.


Onboard Plane to Washington Dulles


Onboard Plane to Washington Dulles
The untimely rain meant there was further delay.


Distant Lights of Detroit


Distant Lights of Detroit

We ventured into Canadian airspace after a south-bound departure, likely to avoid some weather system during the climb.


There wasn’t much to talk about for this flight in the night. Luckily, I had a healthy supply of TV episodes on my phone that sustained my entertainment through the delay.
Just before midnight, I got back home, concluding this rather long day.

END

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