Every plane flying today had its delivery flight at one time or another. Many have been built at Paine Field, in Everett, WA and then flown to each airline’s home base to be put into operation. When the opportunity came up to join Qatar Airways on the delivery of their 24th and 25th Boeing 787 Dreamliners, how could I say no? I didn’t!
For most airlines, the whole experience is more than just the flight itself. There are pre-events, meals, speeches, and then the best part: the flight. I wasn’t able to participate in everything, but I was able to enjoy a line tour of the both the 787 and 777. Getting into the Boeing Factory never gets old, and seeing how making building complicated aircraft look easy is a feat in and of itself.
These media events are also about the people who attend. The airline media world is not so big and made up of many great folks. Part of my excitement was being able to hang out with people like Jason Rabinowitz, Paul Thompson, Seth Miller, and I got to meet Mark Lawrence for the first time. A bunch of AvGeeks flying in a 787 halfway across the world? Yes, please!
When my alarm went off at 3:00 am, I wasn’t too happy. But when I remembered why I was getting up so early, it unsurprisingly became quite a bit easier. I got ready and prepared to make my way to the Boeing Delivery Center at Paine Field. It was dark, cold, and a big foggy, but those two Qatar Airways Dreamliners sitting at the gates looked gorgeous.
At first we were told we would likely be flying back in economy. That was okay by me. There were only about 30 people expected to be on the plane, which meant there would have been plenty of room. However, when I got my hand-written boarding pass, I was so distracted at first by getting a ticket showing PAE to DOH that I didn’t notice my seat assignment was 3A — business class. Sweet!
Before boarding, we were treated to a nice breakfast in the event space. I have been able to visit the delivery center a few times and have seen the space, but never actually been able to use it. Not a bad thing, enjoying some food while thinking about the 14+ hours of flight ahead of us, with our 787 sitting just outside.
Then it was time for us to board. First I went through a security process that many of you are familiar with, but instead of the TSA, it was done by Boeing security. It was more like the PreCheck experience, with not having to take out liquids or our laptops, but still needed to remove metal and our shoes. After my bag was scanned, I was ready to get on the plane.
Although the 787 is designed more for boarding via the second set of doors (where the open entry arch is located), the delivery center had us coming on at door L1. It was still impressive, but not as grand as the second door.
Once on board, the first thing that I noticed was the smell. It was a mixture of “new plane” plus flowers. Throughout the cabin (and lavatories) were different flowers… mostly roses.
With the other delivery flights that I have been on, the operation is anything but standard. One of my favorite instances was the plane breaking out into a dance party at 35,000 feet with music and making good use of the Dreamliner’s mood lighting.
There was no dance party with Qatar Airways. The flight was set to operate as close to standard procedures as possible. Not a bad thing, especially when considering the airline.
The flight was operated so much as a normal flight that the initial announcement included “we welcome our premium oneworld members on board today.” Heh. Don’t think there were any. Even my flight attendant came by to introduce who she was and that she would be there to help, although we already had a conversation about thirty minutes earlier. She seemed a bit nervous, but confident and she had her training kick in.
Even the food was pretty standard. Qatar produced a full menu (with special “25th” printing) and a Sky Chefs truck was driven up (from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport) to cater the flight.
It was a bit surreal when Akbar Al Baker, CEO of Qatar Airways, boarded the aircraft and took seat 1A (I guess his standard seat in any aircraft). From that moment and really throughout the entire flight, he was almost in is own little bubble, yet treated like a normal passenger. If he wanted to interact with someone, he did, but mostly kept to himself. Although he is known as being outspoken and never one to shy away from a risky soundbite, there were no speeches and really not any interaction with many people on the flight.
What I found interesting was that Al Bakar didn’t have his own flight attendant — heck, we had the same one and he seemed to almost get the same amount of attention as anyone else that would have been in that seat. Kind of cool.
Then one of the best parts of a delivery flight: the taxi and then takeoff from Paine Field. Although thousands of commercial airliners have taken off from the airport, very few do it with passengers.
We pushed back from our gate and, as luck would have it, the Seahawks 747-8F was parked next to us. As we were pulled by tug for engine start-up, we passed the 24th 787 for Qatar, a Saudia 777, EVA Air 777 (with new livery), Air Bridge Cargo 747-8F, among others. Yup. If I wasn’t giddy already, this now did it for me.
Once we were lined up for the main taxiway, the GEnx engines started to spool up. That sound is one of the best sounds in the world. Then, under our own power, we taxied to the north end of the runway, lined up to 16R and with no hesitation, went full throttle and off we went. Not too surprisingly, a partially loaded 787-8 doesn’t take too long to take off.
Soon we were above the clouds and I took this opportunity to check out the in-flight entertainment (IFE). Rarely is IFE loaded onto a plane before delivery (it is done as part of the plane’s onboarding process). However, since there were going to be people onboard, the airline had some options pre-loaded. Problem was, it was a very limited selection. I know, I know, big deal right?
The Thales setup was very impressive visually, with a large screen easily within reach, but I found the same issues as when I tried this out in Qatar’s A380. Why are there so few functions available on the touchscreen? To complete most tasks, you have to use the wired remote?
We had WiFi, but it was slow and immensely expensive. I was given a promotion code, which gave me about 135MB for free, but it is amazing how quickly one can burn through that much data, even when being very careful.
Shortly after takeoff, meal service started. We were able to choose from breakfast or lunch. Since I had just had breakfast, I decided on the lunch and it was quite good. Not that I would expect low quality with Qatar, but for most delivery flights, the catering has been a mix between economy and business… this was all business.
I guess I should share the fancy words that went along with my “lamb” option: braised Arabic spiced lamb shank, with saffron pearl cous cous with apricots, dates, and prunes, roasted mixed nuts, and raita.
After my meal, it was time for some sleep. At that point I had already been up for hours and I was pretty tired. I darkened my windows, put my seat into bed mode, changed into my PJs (given to me, just like a standard Qatar flight), and I was able to get a few hours of rest.
Before nodding off, I realized that Al Baker was also in Qatar PJs, but they were a different kind than mine. I guess you get VIP PJs when you are in charge of the airline.
My lavatory of choice (I know you have all been dying to know) was the one right at the back of the business class cabin. The lavatory has a window in it (with dimmer, just like the others). It is quite entertaining to stare out at the GEnx engine and mountains while using the restroom. It can be a little intimidating for some and a few times I went in, the shade was drawn — this is the only window with an old-school-style pull-shade.
A nice part of the flight was being able to get up and socialize with the other AvGeeks. There was a small bar-like area near the back of the business class cabin that was a good place to hang out. This wasn’t quite up to the level of the full bar found on Qatar’s Airbus A380, but it did its job and was stocked with champagne, snacks, and fruit for the flight.
During one of the conversations, Jason was talking about how the IFE boxes were quite a bit in the way in economy. These are the power boxes that one might find under the seats to run the IFE system. I thought Jason was exaggerating, so we headed to the back of the plane. We passed rows and rows of mostly empty seats and found one in the back with no one around.
I took a seat at the window. And hot damn — he was right (and as Jason is a good friend of mine, I always hate admitting when he is right). The power box by the window was very much in the way, took valuable leg room, and was just awkward. Then he reclined the seat in front of me. I am not sure that setup would be so great for 14.5 hours… I headed back up to my seat up front, which I was grateful to have.
One of the best parts of the flight was watching the sunrise a few hours before landing. Absolutely gorgeous. It woke up the cabin and, AvGeek or not, people took many different photos out of the windows. After the sun was up, we were flying over Iraq — it is truly a beautiful country.
Then… like that, we were told that our descent would be starting. I changed back into my clothes, gathered my things, and prepared my camera for the sights of Doha. The views coming in for landing were visually stimulating and we shortly landed and made our way to the terminal.
It was a great flight and I was happy that I was able to be a part of it. What’s it like taking a delivery flight? It is something that is very special.
I have found, through my own flights on the Dreamliner and talking to others, that you really have to stop and think about how you feel different with the increased humidity and lower altitude of the aircraft. It really takes flying another plane, not that long after, to realize the benefits. Although I felt more refreshed, less dry, it wasn’t until my flight home on a Qatar Airways 777-200LR (DOH-PHL) that I fully appreciated the 787’s benefits.
That was one awesome ride. Although after 14 hours, on any plane, I am about ready to be done with the flight. With Qatar’s product and level of service, it was made quite easy in the front of the plane.
Note: Qatar Airways provided airfare and accommodations for this story. All opinions are my own.