A United 737-900ER flying the friendly skies – Photo: John Nguyen | AirlineReporter
“Thanks, United” – it’s not a phrase you hear very often these days, but I want to give some credit where credit is due. Just a few weeks ago, after finding a great fare, my wife and I decided to take a long weekend trip to Cancun at the end of February. We were looking forward to sitting on the beach, soaking up some winter sun, and enjoying drinks at one of Cancun’s many all-inclusive resorts. Well, a lot has happened since then.
Areas affected by Zika virus – Image: CDC
First, the Zika virus became big news. In case you’ve been living in a cave for the last few weeks, Zika has been spreading like wildfire throughout South America and has recently been making inroads into Mexico and the Caribbean. On the surface, Zika doesn’t sound so bad – it typically has mild flu-like symptoms and tends to clear up pretty quickly. However, doctors have recently noticed a scary trend, wherein babies born to women who contracted Zika during pregnancy exhibit alarmingly high rates of birth defects. This led the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to issue an unprecedented travel warning, recommending that pregnant women avoid travel to all affected areas. Concerning, but still not worth canceling a trip over, given that neither of us were pregnant.
Inside the United NOC – Photo: Jason Rabinowitz
Your typical airline headquarters and operations center is somewhere near a major hub airport, usually in some nondescript building with views that don’t really inspire much of anything. United, however, couldn’t be any further from the norm. Inside Chicago’s Willis Tower, once the tallest building in the world, the once largest airline in the world is managed by motivated individuals around the clock.
The United NOC is located in the Willis Tower in Chicago – Photo: Jason Rabinowitz
I have been to a few airline operation centers in the past, but never the control center of an airline quite as massive as United. Hundreds of people, across an entire floor of the Willis Tower, are dedicated to keeping United and United Express moving efficiently and safely, a task that is far from easy.
A United 787-9 touching down – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter
United’s daily service from Los Angeles (LAX) to Melbourne (MEL), Australia is the world’s longest Boeing 787 Dreamliner flight. The long flight (UA98 is scheduled for 15 hours, 50 minutes) allowed me to not only put the 787-9 to the test, but also United’s Economy Plus product.
Flights from LAX to Melbourne take off in the late evening and arrive in the early morning, so the outbound flight is quite easy to sleep on, assuming you aren’t contemplating the remoteness of the vast Pacific Ocean. The routing typically takes the aircraft out on runway 25R, and after an eternity over open water, high above Kiribati, American Samoa, and Fiji, before crossing the Tasman Sea, leaving less than an hour of flying time over land.
Economy Plus on the United 787
As you enjoy your breakfast, you can gaze out on a sunrise over the Australian Alps and observe the Dreamliner’s wings, which are nearly free of fuel, in their most upward-bent shape. I was excited for the flight, but not sure if United could come through during such a long trip.
The first Boeing 727 sitting at Paine Field
Back in August, we connected with some of the fine folks that have been working to prepare the first Boeing 727 for its last flight. At the time, they were painting the plane and it looked damn good. Although a new coat of paint will make the plane look slick, it doesn’t exactly get it airborne. What does? Engines, of course.
Classic first class seats in the first Boeing 727
I heard that they took possession of a few Pratt & Whittney JT8D engines and I wanted to get an update on how things were going and also take a tour of the interior.
When the aircraft was donated to the Museum of Flight, it was almost fully restored to how it looked (inside and out), when it first flew for United Airlines. So, I headed to the Museum of Flight Restoration Center at Paine Field and see how things were progressing.