Yesterday was a beautiful day at Paine Field to take a look at United Airline’s first Boeing 787 Dreamliner. This was not a delivery ceremony, but a celebration that the aircraft (reg N20904) is out of the paint booth and one step closer to being delivered.
United is expecting to take delivery of their 787 sometime in September. The terminology used yesterday makes me think the plane might be delivered closer to the beginning of the month than the end — we shall see.
I arrived to Paine Field at about 9am to check in. All the media had their equipment quickly sniffed by a Boeing security dog (one of the best parts of the event) and we took a short bus ride to the compass rose, where the airplane was waiting.
There was a tent set up where United employees, VIP mileage members, invited guests and media waited. Before the event officially started, the media was able to take photos of the Dreamliner. It was difficult to sit down to listen to the speeches — I was itching to get on board.
During the speeches, United had some good things to say. David Hilfman, United Airlines senior VP of sales stated, “We have been awaiting this day for a while. And it has been worth every bit of the wait.” It is obvious that the airline is very excited about their new aircraft.
In the middle of the speeches, everyone was in awe, when a Boeing Dreamlifter took off in the background, to a cheering crowd.
Soon, it was time to board. I have been lucky enough to get on JAL’s 787, Qatar’s and a few of ANA’s Dreamliners previously which puts me in a pretty good position to compare United’s interior versus the others.
My first surprise was the entry way. One of the things touted by Boeing about the Dreamliner is the ability to have a dramatic bar entry way (example of JAL’s). When boarding in the second set of doors on the United 787, you are greeted by one of the galleys, not an impressive entry way.
It isn’t bad and most passengers probably won’t notice, but it was a bit of a surprise. I talked to one of United’s VPs of Marketing and he explained the choice provides more space in the cabin. Read: probably a bean-counter’s decision to add more seats. It could be a smart move, since it is not clear yet how much these open bar areas will be used by passengers during flight on other airline’s Dreamliners.
After entering, I headed to check out the Business First product. There are 36 of the seats configured in a 2-2-2 layout. The product looked clean and for the few minutes I sat in the seat, it was comfortable. The non-shared armrest in each seat is able to be lowered, providing a nice addition of width when sitting or sleeping.
There is plenty of storage space and with 68″ of seat pitch, even the tallest passengers can get comfortable. The only down side that I could see is that the center divider between seats cannot be lowered. It is small enough to still be able to talk to the person next to you, but not large enough to give you a level of privacy that competing products have.
All the Business Premier seats have a slight tilt. With the left side seats tilting to the left and the center and right hand seats tilting to the right. This allows additional space and privacy for passengers.
Going farther back in the 787, you first come across 72 seats in Premium Economy and another 111 seats in Economy. United has decided to configure their Dreamliner in a 3-3-3 layout. The seats were comfortable, for the few minutes I sat in them, but not sure how a ten hour flight would go. Each seat on the plane has its own in-flight entertainment, which will offer a distraction for passengers not able to sit in a premium seat.
As with all 787 Dreamliners, United’s has the LED lighting, dimming windows, lower pressurized cabin and improved economics.
A tour of a 787 Dreamliner would not be complete with out a visit up to the flight deck. Between airlines, there is almost no different of the flight decks. I have been told that really the only main difference is a screen view from airlines that use the Rolls Royce Trent 1000 versus the GEnx engine.
One part of the 787 Dreamliner I have not been able to check out yet was the rear crew rest area, which is located above the main cabin. I would have to say that it gets the job done, but surely is not super roomy.
There is no question for me that United’s 787 is a nice product. However, it is far from revolutionary. Still, I don’t think this is United’s fault. My guess is the carrier wanted to premiere their new Business First product on the 787, but due to the delays, they have already installed the product on 777s and 767s. Heck, even the 767s are getting a better in-flight entertainment system than the first 787s will have.
Currently, the only route that United has announced for their 50 Dreamliners has been Denver to Tokyo. The first commercial flight for United will be sometime in October.
A special thanks to Mal Muir for helping me at the event.
UNITED AIRLINES FIRST BOEING 787 DREAMLINER PHOTO GALLERY: