Birmingham Alabama—not the first place most would consider traveling to, however if you ever get stuck here for work there’s a few perks (but not many). The first perk would be the tiny Birmingham International Airport with its measly 13 gates (soon to be expanded). The airport is so small they only have one line for security which is later divided into 4 security screening points after having your Identification check!
Check in, 1 hour before plane schedule departure
Last week when flying home Friday afternoon from work, I checked in at the United Desk 60 minutes before my departure. When I arrived the departure hall was a ghost town. I walked directly up to the two United reps who were sitting behind the desk laughing with each out and was given my boarding pass within a minute of walking in the door. After grabbing my boarding pass (mobile boarding passes are not accepted at BHM) I headed towards my gate. As I walked up to security I noticed that there was only 1 security line, I walked around for a minute searching out the priority line for 1st class or Star Alliance Gold or even a Delta Priority Line and could find one, so I joined the masses (of only about people) and lined up in the general security line. Within minutes I was through security and on my way.
I will say TSA at BHM were honestly some of the nicest TSA agents I’ve ever met. I’m one to normally bite my tongue to keep myself from complaining about the TSA, but last Friday was different. At BHM every single agent wished me a good flight home, smiled, and was overly friendly. Clearly there is something in the water at BHM!
The single terminal at BHM is small and dingy, but does the job for the small number of flights it served. At 2 in the afternoon, there wasn’t much happening. American had a regional flight leaving for Miami, Delta had an MD-80 boarding for Atlanta, and United had two 50 seat regional jets getting ready to head out (really United Express), 1 towards Denver (that would be a long miserable flight on a tiny plane) and another towards Houston. There was nothing going on at the US airway gates, and even Southwest didn’t have a plane on the ground so most of their gates were empty as well.
United gates pictured above, Southwest Pictured below
Overall BHM was an Uneventful place. Nothing really going on in lieu of airline clubs (zero) or anywhere exciting to dine, in fact post security all I can recall is 2 little grab and go food places, a tiny bar and Starbucks! So if you’re flying in and out of BHM, don’t arrive more than 45-60 minutes before departure or you’ll be like me and be twiddling your thumbs. The gate areas are all VERY basic as well. I snapped a couple of pictures and you can see that the SWA actually have by far the best gate areas, with power/work benches and even big comfy black chairs with arm rests and power outlets. The one perk to BHM was the free Wi-Fi!
My flight was schedule to depart at 3pm and finally at 2:55 boarding commenced. The incoming aircraft was slightly late, so it delayed our boarding process. However, being a small regional jet. Within 20 minutes the plane was boarded and we were on our way only slightly delayed. There were no announcements from the gate agent about the incoming aircraft being delayed, which slightly irked me, and my United app still claimed the plane was on time, however we were not late enough to actually complain—I just prefer better communication.
The boarding process was smooth, Elites first, followed by General boarding. Due to the plane being so small, they called zone 1 and 2 at the same time, giving no priority to United Global Service or 1k members. Once on the plane, it was smooth sailing, the safety demonstration was done via a prerecorded tape and we were soon on our way.
I honestly don’t have much to say about my flight on the tiny ERJ-145, other than it was fairly cramped. I thankfully had an exit row seat and had space for my laptop bag at my feet and was able to stretch out. However the seat felt incredible narrow and being 5’10” I could barely stand up when walking down the aisle.
Plenty of Leg Room in the Exit row – Other rows are less fortunate!
The 1.5 hour flight was uneventful and nothing to write home about. It didn’t leave me liking or disliking United. Our FA for the flight was polite and courteous and had just enough time for a single beverage service and to clean up the cabin before we were getting ready to land in Houston.
The plane–Old and outdated. My armrest was falling apart, water dripped from above me from the AC, there was a rust spot in the ceiling and the window in front of my seat looked as though it was going to pop out of place. I honestly felt as though I was on a plane from a 3rd world country! Even the planes I’ve flown on in Aviation-disastrous country of Indonesia looked in better shape. Not to mention the plane was lacking Wi-Fi (I’ve been spoiled by delta) and had no 1st class cabin, ruining all dreams of a possible upgrade (again spoiled by Delta).
Pictures of the inside of the ERJ-145
Upon landing in Houston, we arrived at the regional jet gates at Terminal B and I found myself walking on the tarmac as I entered into a building that appeared to be made from old empty cargo containers left over from the nearby port. For being my first time flying United, it defiantly didn’t leave a good impressing of the Houston Airport, however most regional airline terminals lack amenity and architectural design so it wasn’t the end of the world. I continued through the 2nd world terminal into the larger part of Terminal B and walked to the skytram to continue on my way to my flight to San Diego.
Impressed with United? No, but after all this was ExpressJet Airlines operating at United Express. Hopefully my IAH-SAN United mainline will be better.