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Going West Pax Report: IND to DEN Via Really Cute E-170

United Express Embraer E-170 like the one for our trip  (photo: Flight home)

 I hadn’t seen my mom in northern California for almost 4 years, and my considerable lack of financial resources didn’t offer much hope of making the trip anytime soon.  But as it turned out, she had a way (and the cash) to fetch up some super cheap tix for me and my wife to go west and bask in the Cali sunshine this week.  Thanx mom!

 My parents divorced in the mid 1960’s when I was 4, but both worked for United out of SFO which meant that I spent a lot of my youth thru the late 60’s and 70’s riding on United airplanes like the DC-8, 727, 737, DC-10 and 747 (with a few rides on a DC-6, Caravelle, and Boeing 720).  As many of you know, it was an entirely different era of air travel back then… very different from today, especially in the back 3/4’s of the airplane.  I’ve only flown the airlines a handful of times in the last 10 years, so this trip to the west coast is giving me a chance to get a feel for what the state of the industry for peasant travel is today.

 The tix my mom got originated in IND with a stop at DEN before reaching the final destination of SMF (Sacramento).  The IND to DEN leg was on an United Express Embraer E-170 and the DEN to SMF leg was a United Airbus A-320.  This post has details on the first leg only.

 This was my first experience at the all new Indianapolis Airport terminal.  I like it a lot.  It feels like the big time while also being fresh, clean, and easy to understand… it’s a great facility.  I had ‘checked in’ for the flight the day before via the internet and had picked the seats and printed the boarding passes at home.  We parked in the economy lot and rode a really comfy shuttle bus to the terminal.  After covering some ground via escalators and moving walkways we arrived at the dreaded TSA gauntlet. 

 I realize this experience can be wildly different from location to location, but I honestly have to say that the TSA people at Indy were sharp, focused, and doing a great job.  We got thru it all, including shoe removal and a nearly complete extraction of the ton and a half of electronic crap from my backpack in less than 10 minutes.  I felt like they had been thorough and effective, and I was happy to see that.

 We worked our way to the gate and settled in for a 45 minute wait before boarding was to start.  We shared a turkey sandwich and chips from one of the very nice food vendors and then were really pleased to see that boarding started right on time and was about as smooth as you could ever hope for.  Nothing about this experience so far was less than excellent.  But what would this little E-170 be like?

 I’ve been paying some attention to the E-jets here lately and have been pretty impressed with what I’ve read, but til the butt is in the seat, you really don’t know what it’s like.  I had high expectations, which is often a recipe for disaster when trying something new like this.  Down the jetway we went (sorry, I just can’t say ‘jet bridge’) and we stepped into Embraer’s cute little E-170.

We were in row 7 of this really nice E-170 cabin

 First impressions were great, everything looked really nice.  I had some fear it might feel like a Lear 23 on the inside and would require the window sitter to lean their head in a little to keep from hitting the sidewall.  Fortunately it was nothing like that at all.  I don’t know if they’ve really done their homework on this cabin cross section or what, but it felt a lot bigger than it really is.  Up front there was a short first class section just 2 rows deep and it had 1-2 seating.  We were in row 7, out of 18 rows total, in the 2-2 seating.  The seats were very comfortable, pretty much what I hoped for but really more than expected.  They were covered in a leather-like material (real leather?) in a nice gray color.  It might just be me, but I find seats that are colored, especially ‘very colored’ to be a substantial distraction to the overall  feng shui of the cabin.  The colors in this cabin were not flashy, but they felt really good.

 The wall and ceiling panels looked good in both fit and color.  And as a big plus, there was almost no rattling of the interior on takeoff roll.  I realize that as a newer airplane it’s likely to have less rattling, but hopefully they’ve also designed it better than some of the old legacy aircraft.  I’ve ridden in a couple old 737’s that I fully expected pieces to start falling off of!

The great looking E-170 wing with nice sized winglets

 When the throttles went forward on the E-170 you knew it.  The acceleration was more brisk than I expected, especially since we were lugging enough fuel for nearly 3 hours en route.   The airplane felt solid on climb out, a lot like an airliner 3 times as big.  The only thing I noticed was what seemed to be a little bit of wander in yaw in the light chop we had climbing out.  Otherwise it felt rock solid.

 The view in cruise looked great, and if it wasn’t for the fact that at times it looked like you could reach out and touch the winglet, you’d have thought it was a 767 wing.  There was also what seemed like just the right amount of flex in the wing (it was pretty visible) to keep the bumps from feeling harsh in the cabin.  Again, the airplane felt a lot more like a much bigger airplane than it is.  I like the E-170 so much I’d really like to have one!  However currently, I’m still about $30 million short : (

The all-glass front office of the E-170

 There was a fair amount of turbulence on approach so I didn’t expect a really smooth landing, and I didn’t get one.  It felt fine though and the airplane didn’t make a lot of noises in the process.  Also, the systems related to operating the flaps and landing gear were noticeably quiet as well.

 I stopped by the cockpit on the way out to thank the guys up front for a great flight… they looked like kids!  I guess that has something to do with the fact that I’m getting to be a bit on the old and crusty side myself!  They were cool guys, and when I asked how well they liked the E-170, they seemed pretty enthusiastic to say they really liked it a lot.  They were quick to point out the all-glass instrumentation.  I think they were happy to have someone, anyone who cared enough about the fact that they were up there to stop by and say hi.

The E-170 we rode in from IND sitting at the leg 1 destination gate of DEN

 The pic above is the actual airplane we were on, after we had gotten off at the gate at DEN.  Kinda funny how big the jetway looks up against the smallish fuselage.  I gotta say I was really impressed with what Embraer has done with this airplane.  I’d be interested to hear responses from others who have experienced either the E-170 or E-190… leave some comments.  We’ll be riding one again from DEN back to IND over the weekend, so I’ll have a little more data to formulate my impressions further.

 I know the entire E-Jet airplane family has sold well, with 625 units delivered as of 3-31-10.  Embraer also has a current, firm backlog of 236 airplanes.  It sure looks like the E-Jets are on their way to being a pretty big success story.

 This entire leg of our trip to California was excellent... from the airports, the TSA, the airline and the crew, to the airplane itself.  I was very impressed. 

Food at the DEN terminal from Paradise Bakery

 The last point to make here is terminal food.  Wow, it sure has changed from the 70’s!  The food at O’Hare back in the day was horrible.  Pictured here is my delicious turkey sandwich with cranberry sauce (with a chocolate chip cookie and chips) from the Paradise Bakery in the terminal at DEN.  It’s a little more expensive than in a normal setting, but it sure is nice to be able to get great food that you’re familiar with at the terminals these days!  You probably already know that good, affordable food is readily available at most terminals, but the point is that it wasn’t that way over 30 years ago.  So even if the peasants have a hard time fetching up some grub in the cabin today, at least you can find it in the terminal!


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