I had high hopes for a fun date with Ted, the low-cost operation that United launched in February from its new Denver hub, serving Ontario, Calif., and other cities.
Sporting white, blue and orange plumage, Ted, which takes its name from the last three letters of United, is "warm, friendly and casual," its publicity says. It also seemed aggressively trendy. The onboard "Tedevision" and "Tedtunes" entertainment was getting enthusiastic reviews from teens.
But I was mostly disappoin-Ted.
It started with check-in at the Denver airport for my afternoon nonstop to Las Vegas, where I confronted a bank of automated kiosks. A couple of the staffers who worked the counters, tagging bags and giving tips on using the kiosks, wore Ted baseball caps, but they served United customers too.
When I asked a mostly monosyllabic Ted-cap wearer about the meal policy, she replied: "I don't know. You'll have to ask the gate agent." He told me there would be no meals because the one-hour, 49-minute flight was too short to qualify. (On longer flights, you can buy $7 club sandwiches and salmon Caesar salads.)
At the gate, there was a forest of orange signs, offering cheery greetings such as "It's a great day to be flying," and "Ted is happy to see you."
But onboard, it was much like flying United, with its pleasant but business-like crew and cramped legroom. Plus one unsettling oversight: a used tissue in my seatback pocket.
Ted's entertainment was hipper, of course. There was no seatback satellite TV, but drop-down monitors showed a Liz Phair music video, a profile of teen singer-actress Mandy Moore, an episode of NBC's "Scrubs" comedy and other shows. Music on 14 channels ranged from retro to house and trance mixes; classical was scarce.
We got little bags of party mix and beverages, including what Ted touts as Starbucks coffee. The anemic liquid in my cup bore little resemblance to that heart-racing brew.
When I asked a couple of passengers what they thought of their Ted flight, they shrugged, although acknowledging they liked the music.
"They've got to work on that coffee," added a woman across the aisle.
That and a couple of other things.
On the upside, Ted delivered the lowest fare of the five carriers I compared, $179.10, matching low-cost competitor Frontier.