United Airlines Flight Report : Toronto - Houston - Mexico City

UA 5265 Toronto - Houston

Flying out of Toronto is generally quite expensive. Lack of competition and crazy government charges make air travel unaffordable. So when the chance to Mexico came up, I knew chances are I would need to transfer somewhere in the US to save money. United came to the rescue with a dirt-cheap flight and fairly decent flight times. The outbound would be around lunch time, connecting in Houston in 1h10, a fairly straight-line route.

A nasty icestorm swept across Toronto the weekend before my flight. Many flights were cancelled and the roads were a mess. Luckily, the freezing rain had passed by the time Tuesday came, and things were starting to get back to normal. Interestingly, my flight showed a 30 minute delay early in the day already due to the inbound's late departure from Houston, so I wasn't in a big hurry to get to the airport. The bottleneck would be US pre-clearance, which was always unpredictable.

Living in the suburbs, GO Transit runs decently-frequent bus services from several points to the airport.

Mid-morning traffic on the toll freeway was light.

The US section of Terminal 1 was surprisingly quiet this morning. Seems anyone who was stranded had been cleared out already. There was no line for security and with no weird answers during my immigration formalities, the machine spat out a good receipt and I didn't have to go through the detailed scrutiny line that had snaked around for a bit. This was my fastest processing at Terminal 1 to-date.

With just 1h10 of transit time, which would include transferring terminals in Houston, I went up to the gate agent to see if I would still make it. He reassured me he checked the connections and I would be fine. He also announced the inbound had landed at around 12:40, and we would board in about 15 minutes after the passengers clear out and the crew performs its security checks.

1pm came and we were boarding. The regional jet was not too big so it didn't take long to board all the zones. Unfortunately, this jet was small so I had to valet check my hand carry at the gate. This would add valuable minutes to my dash-for-it connection.

I sat comfortably in my window seat, quite satisfied with the decent legroom despite the plane being so small. We were a full flight today, and settled quickly anticipating departure. Flight deck then came on to announce they are waiting for the fuel truck to come, which should take a few minutes. Over 10 minutes later, it finally arrived and did a quick top-up. We were out of the gate almost an hour late.

To make things worse, it had started to snow, and we had to head to the mid-field area to de-ice. Despite a flight time of just under 3 hours, chances of catching my connection were starting to dwindle. At this point, I could do no more but to watch the workers dash peach and green liquids onto the plane.

We eventually took off at 2:30, almost 2 hours late.

Flight deck also noted we would experience some light turbulence in the ascent and things would clear from Indiana onwards. It wasn't too bumpy and the crew served complimentary drinks and pretzels not long after take-off. There are no televisions on board, but if you have the United app, you can stream IFE on your mobile, while the wifi allows free access to United's homepage. The crew recommended checking the app for the latest gate updates for our connections. Sadly, my connecting flight was not delayed.

Thinking back to my Vegas flight a few weeks ago, this flight's views were nowhere as spectacular. We passed through farmland and winding rivers with very occasional urban areas along the way. The skies cleared out for the latter 2/3 of the flight, with Houston reportedly partly cloudy and hot this afternoon. From snow to summer ...

The clear skies were a bit bumpy on our final descent into Houston. The winds seemed quite strong and we bounced left and right quite a bit. I thought we probably wouldn't be able to land, but the pilots managed to touchdown safely at 4:40pm. By now, there was no hope to catch my 4:20 connecting flight, which I later found out actually left early.

As a final announcement before the doors opened, the crew asked us to turn on the air vent and close the window shades to keep the plane cool after we leave. That's a nice environmental gesture.

My valet bag was fairly quickly taken out and onto the tarmac. I had already spotted it as I came down the ramp, and I sat fairly upfront already, too. This section of the airport sits at ground level to board these small regional jets on the tarmac. After a long walk down the pier and up a level, I struggled to find the Customer Serice Center to rebook my flight. The regular part of the airport with the airbridges was quite nice and new. A small line, presumably from my flight, snaked out of Customer Service around the corner as you walk towards the exit. It was about a 10-minute wait to get processed. Luckily, there are plenty of flights to Mexico City out of Houston, and I was rebooked for a flight 2 hours later.

Now with some time on my hands, I leisurely explored Terminal B and all those narrowbodies. The train connects all the terminals air-side, and it was just a quick 1-stop ride to Terminal C for my next flight.

Terminal C seems to be a United facility as well, and looks much older than B. There were plenty of food options all around the terminal, although a turkey sandwich for 11 bucks was a bit pricey. Plane spotting is quite decent with lots of windows giving various views of the tarmac. Like my prior visits to other US airports, there was a lot of clutter alongside the airplanes - equipment, trucks, etc, giving a good photogenic frame for the airplanes.

Vending machines are getting more sophisticated nowadays, with electronic gadgets on order just before you board. So don't worry about forgetting your headphones when you leave home.

UA 1092 Houston - Mexico City

Boarding actually began early at around 5:50pm and the crowd at the gate was quite small. Zone 3 came quickly and I settled into what seems to be an extra legroom seat. Behind me was the exit row but the numbering jumped to 20 already. I didn't see any special markings on the headrest like what Air Canada does, but I was quite happy with my big and plushy seat.

There were plenty of empty seats.

With everyone on board, we waited for pushback to begin 2 minutes before departure. We roared into the clear afternoon sky on our way to Mexico City!

The cheerful crew came by after take-off to serve drinks and a bag of pretzels. Unlike my previous flights, I was asked if I wanted the can or a glass. Being environmental, I opted for the can only. She also asked if I wanted to purchase something from the snack menu. Browsing the in-flight magazine, I now regretted buying that sandwich. The food on the plane was more reasonably-priced.

I would expect a US carrier to have a complicated route map within North America.

Otherwise, it was an uneventful flight into the sunset. The crew didn't ask passengers to open the shades for take-off except the emergency rows. I wonder if this is not a regulatory requirement in the US? The crew also made sure those seated at the exit rows replied "yes" to assist in the event of an emergency.

With arrival expected shortly after sunset, which was a disappointment since my left window had great views of the historic city centre and skyline on descent.

Despite arriving one flight late and missing out on a golden opportunity to take city aerials on approach, I was quite happy with the comfortable 2nd leg into Mexico City. Thanks to a light loading, I had plenty of time to stretch out and enjoy the decent seat.

The terminal looked old and way out of date. We entered into a long white corridor with many turns and a staircase here and there to reach immigration. An agent directed certain passport holders to the automated kiosk to clear immigration. Luckily, mine qualified, and it was a fairly self-explanatory way to get the receipt. Then the agent checked the receipt and stamped my passport. I was landside in arrivals within 20 minutes of landing.

Although there was no sign for the buses inside the terminal, there was one for the Line 4 bus stop outside. That same stop is also used by the terminal shuttle, so make sure you look at the destination sign before boarding.

Before boarding, look for this orange ticket machine inside to pay for the fare.

It was a bit unnerving seeing a police officer travel with us for the journey into town. Luckily, my hotel in the historic centre is only a short walk from the bus stop.

The alternative is to ride the metro, which many guidebooks already noted is not safe.

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