Flying IAH-LAX on United Boeing 787

Trip Start Nov 03, 2012
Trip End Nov 06, 2012

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Flag of United States  , California
Monday, November 5, 2012

It's Day #2 of revenue service for United's first Boeing 787 Dreamliner. I was aboard the inaugural flight from IAH to ORD yesterday. Today I’m on the new jet’s seventh flight from IAH to LAX.

Got up at 12:35 p.m. at the Holiday Inn Houston Intercontinental Airport. I had a chance to sleep in after awakening at the terribly early hour of 4:40 a.m. yesterday for the maiden flight. Checked out of the hotel and took the 1:30 shuttle to the airport, arriving at 1:37 at Terminal C. I was able to use the TSA Pre-Check security screening point today for the first time. I recently was approved for membership in the U.S. Customs & Border Protection’s Global Entry Trusted Traveler Program, which includes access to expedited lanes for immigration when arriving into the USA on a flight from abroad as well as eligibility to use the TSA’s Pre-Check security lanes.

I first tried to use Pre-Check in late September when flying from IAD to NRT but was denied entry and sent through standard screening. When you get to the Pre-Check lane, an agent scans your boarding pass. If you are a "trusted traveler," you will normally receive a green light to proceed through Pre-Check. I got a rejection message that day at IAD however – it wasn’t clear why. TSA states that admission to Pre-Check is not guaranteed and a random sample of otherwise eligible fliers will be redirected to the regular screening lanes to keep an element of the unknown in the aviation security system. I was a brand new trusted traveler, so I wasn’t sure that time at IAD if the system recognized me yet.

This afternoon at IAH I got the green light when my boarding pass was scanned. Hurray! My first admission into the expedited security lane! Pre-Check offers less-intrusive screening to known frequent fliers. For the first time in numerous years, I was able to go through airport security without disassembling myself. All I had to do was take my cellphone out of my pocket. My laptop could stay in my backpack, my shoes and belt could stay on, my wallet could remain in my pocket, and my travel-size toiletries could remain in my suitcase. I was through security in seconds. Fantastic!

I proceeded to the United Club near Gate C24 to upload photos to my blog and write. United Flight 1243 is showing a 15-minute delay from 4:06 to 4:21. I’m #8 on the standby list.

As departure time neared, I walked to Gate C14. There’s the Dreamliner! I got some good pictures out the window while the cargo and catering were loaded on the 787. I was then paged to the podium to pick up my boarding pass for Economy Plus Seat 17E, a bulkhead middle seat in the first row of the main cabin. The Dreamliner flew yesterday IAH-ORD-IAH-LAX-IAH and so far today had gone the segment to ORD and back, making this the seventh passenger-carrying operation for North America’s first Boeing 787.

Boarding began at 4:00. I settled into my bulkhead seat, which has excellent legroom. The only problem of course is that you can’t stow your backpack underneath the seat in front of you since there is no seat in front of you! An announcement was made at 4:31 that the crew is having some trouble with the inflight entertainment system and a technician is on board taking a look. Ah the joys of breaking in a new airplane! A minute later, another announcement. I can’t hear it. A brand new aircraft and you can’t hear the intercom system. Come on! Then at 4:45 a third announcement that the video system has been fixed and we are ready for departure.

We pulled back from the gate 42 minutes late at 4:48 and had a long taxi to Runway 33L. We were not airborne until 5:15 – nearly half an hour after departing. The time change to Los Angeles is two hours backward, so it’s now 3:15 p.m. PST.

The Dreamliner reached a cruising altitude of 40,000 feet. This is a very normal flight – no special announcement about it being only the seventh passenger flight of this new plane. The guy sitting next to me had no idea this was only the 787’s second day of revenue operation – he was merely on his way home to California after a work assignment in Georgia. He saw me reading the Houston Chronicle’s coverage of yesterday’s inaugural flight and asked if this was the same plane. Yes indeed. United has taken delivery of two 787s, but this is the only one to have been placed into regular service.

I walked around the Dreamliner a couple times during the flight. The atmosphere could not have been any different compared to yesterday morning’s inaugural flight. No party environment today – most everybody was sitting in their seats watching movies, reading, or snoozing. It was pretty boring compared to the vibrant voyage yesterday, which was full of aviation enthusiasts, United employees, and journalists scoping out all the new jet’s features.

In the back of the plane, I noticed the oddity of a plastic ashtray contraption on the lavatory door. The plastic ashtray thingy was also inside the lav and on the door of the flight attendants’ crew-rest quarters. A United technical operations employee happened to be standing by and saw me taking photographs of the ashtray. I asked him why in the world a new airplane would have an ashtray when smoking has been prohibited on all flights since the 1990s. He replied that it’s still an FAA requirement to have an ashtray on the door of and inside any enclosed private space where somebody might try to smoke. How bizarre!

The one major thing missing on the 787 I noticed is the air-traffic control on Channel 9. That was a major disappointment. All legacy United planes have Channel 9 so you can listen in to the air-traffic-control channel your flight is on (at the captain’s discretion – pilots have the option of switching the ATC off). Legacy Continental jets do not have this feature, but I had thought I read that the new merged United had decided to offer Channel 9 on all new airplanes and to add the function to old Continental planes as their in-flight entertainment systems are updated. I sure hope Channel 9 will be added to the Dreamliners sometime in the near future.

United’s seventh Dreamliner flight (and my second) landed at LAX at 6:03 and arrived at 6:11 (24 minutes late) into Gate 77.

After disembarking, I checked the gate screens for the latest information on United Flight 1694, the Dreamliner’s return to Houston. Departure is on schedule at 7:47 p.m. I am #11 on the standby list and the seat map shows tons of empty seats.
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