First Time on the Boeing 787

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Flag of United States  , Texas
Tuesday, January 8, 2013

United Airlines Flight 187 (IAH - LAX)


I needed to be back in the Bay Area for a business event so I decided to look up flight options on the 787 as they were still flying domestic proving runs.  As of January 3 a majority of the 787s were to be deployed to international routes and there were only two 787s flying from IAH (where all the 787s are based), to ORD and LAX.  Through some creative routing and some out of pocket expense I was able to get a routing that took me from LGA – IAH where I’d visit a good friend for a few days in Houston then continue on IAH – LAX – SFO in time to be at work by lunch.



Departure was at 8:20a out of Houston’s United International Concourse E.  (Celebrity sighting, I saw the Castro twins – Julian and Joaquin getting off a flight).  I arrived at my gate but the way the concourse was laid out I could not see the plane, a bummer as I would have loved to see it sitting there.  As it was, it was also overcast and rainy that day so maybe it wasn’t that much of a loss.  I had used miles to guarantee my upgrade to BusinessFirst (CO 787s are outfitted with a two class cabin BusinessFirst, Economy Plus and Economy) although I’m pretty sure I would have gotten upgraded for free given my 1K status.

The first thing you noticed were the fancy arched entrance ways from promotional material and the nice cool blue of the LED lights.  I proceeded to my seat in the second section of the BusinessFirst cabin, seat 5L.  The outboard overhead bins were HUGE… Boeing claims you can store four roll aboards standing on it’s side wheels in/out.  It was very similar to the new Boeing 737-NG cabins.

Since I was onboard first I managed to sneak back to the
Economy Section and snag a picture of the seats.  Pretty standard economy seat in that boring
blue fabric.  3-3-3 across with 9” touchscreens and a USB port (outlets were available but were shared).  I wish United had done something unique for this plane to distinguish it from the fleet (instead of painting a wavy gold stripe on the outside instead of a straight one), I’m guessing most people wouldn’t know they were on a brand new plane.

Settling into the seat you notice
how HUGE the windows are, these things were gigantic.  Every BusinessFirst seat had three windows, Iimmediately started playing with the button below the windows to dim the windows
as each button controlled the three you were assigned.  (The 787 does not have shades, it uses an electric current to darken and lighten the window, at its darkest setting you
can still see outside.)  However, I wasn’t sure if it was working since it wouldn’t lighten or darken (maybe cause we were on the ground).  I peered outside and you could see the huge GEnx engine mounted on that beautiful raked wing.  I was a bit surprised at how far forward the
engine was mounted, there was quite some distance from the engine intake to the
wing.  Seeing the engine brought a smile to face as I used to work for GE Aviation and supported systems that built the engine back in 2005.

Sat in my seat and looked around – no amenity kit (as this was a domestic flight) but we did get a new duvet and larger pillow typically found in PS Business and international Business/BusinessFirst.  BusinessFirst seats are arranged in a 2-2-2 configuration which is good but not the new herringbone format like Delta that guaranteed everyone aisle access.  Still,
this was better than United’s Business product with 2-4-2 in 747 and the same in the 777 (!).  The seat was slightly angle outward to the window and my seat was set a few inches ahead of my seat mate in the aisle which gave a perceived notion of privacy.  The seat was rather narrow and the ottoman area for your feet ridiculously small. This is where I thought United’s Business product felt much wider and had more room in feet area.  A weird quirk of the seat, the headphone jack was mounted behind you in a panel by your right ear, I kept ripping out the plug if I leaned forward.  IFE was standard as you’d find in their Business/First International.  The
in-flight map was noticeably crisper and higher resolution… however, no video cameras (like there are on the A380).  



Since we had boarded everyone early I decided to pop into the mid-galley bathroom.  First thing you noticed, no accordion doors, it was a proper door with a handle.  Size was decent, I really wanted to see the toilet flush as I had heard about the automatic seat lid.  You held your hand in front of the sensor (or pushed the button) and the seat and lid would go down – a nice touch since the spray and inherent whoosh of the germs flying into the air always freaked me
out.  Faucet was automatic with an indicator up top for hot or cold water.  No more relentless pushing to get the water on.  Bathroom was nice but not memorable, no window or washlets like ANA… this is the new United after all.



Luckily I was in BusinessFirst as we sat on the ground for approximately 90 minutes due to a mechanical delay.  Turns out the toilets on the right side of the plane did not flush on the ground (I think I might have broken it with the test flush), only when we were above 13,000 feet.  However, the left side toilets functioned properly at sea level and in the air. 
Anyway, mechanics signed off and we were off.



The cabin is very spacious when all the bins are closed and you got the feeling of traveling aboard a 747 instead of a smaller plane like the 787.  The lighting was nice although
I didn’t notice it change any other color from blue – I’m guessing the crew did
not want to bother or didn’t know how to use it.


I shot a video of the plane on take off and I can say, it was the quietest take off I’ve ever experienced and I was sitting right at the engine.  At around the half way mark you can hear the flight attendants sitting about two rows ahead of me chatting.  It was a different kind of noise, instead of a high pitched drone it was more a low hum at takeoff thrust.  We gained speed and you could see the raked wing start to bow and finally we were off the ground

I shot a video as we hit a patch of rough air and it was rather surprising to see the engine bouncing so much on the nacelle and then seeing the wing doing the same thing. 



Breakfast was the usual choice of omelet, French toast or cereal.  I opted for the omelet and then reclined the seat to a bed and slept for a solid 1.5 hours on the 3 hour flight there.  As I mentioned before, this is where you noticed the cramped foot area of the window seat… protip: Book the bulkhead BusinessFirst seats if you can as they had a larger area due to a bassinet mounting area above them.

The windows were now working and I dimmed them to its darkest and lightest (while annoying the person sitting next to me).  Definitely cool but at its darkest setting it did not keep out all the light.


Rest of the flight

The rest of the flight was uneventful, we landed at LAX at roughly the same time as an Asiana 747 coming in from Seoul which was cool. 

I didn’t notice the effects of the new climate system (because the 787 is made of composite it can be pressurized to a lower altitude than that of normal metal planes).  However, I’m guessing you will notice these on long haul flights of over 8 hours.

*Update:  I'm booked SFO - NRT via LAX so I could hop on the 787.  I'll let you know how I feel after the 9.5 hour flight.


Onwards to SFO

The delay didn’t matter as my flight to SFO was delayed as well.  The flight was on a Boeing 737-900 so it meant the large CO domestic first seats. Luckily no one sat next to me which was a plus.  Also the FA on my flight was a fellow Penn Stater (noticed my luggage tag) so we chitchatted a little. 

On taxi to takeoff I got to see an Air Tahiti Nui A340 – love that livery!  We also flew straight
in from the ocean coming east right over San Jose then turned north right over the Facebook campus.



What an amazing plane I would ride on it again in a heartbeat.  I’m so glad I got to experience it for a rather small price while it was flying domestically.  There were nice creature comforts for passengers and the windows and noise levels were a huge selling point. 
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