What makes the 27th delivery of a Boeing 787 to an airline special? Its employees.
Recently, United took delivery of a 787-9 Dreamliner and invited 200 employees along, to celebrate their dedication and hard work. Team leaders, around the world, were asked to select top performers and they were invited to fly to Seattle, attend a VIP dinner, and take a Dreamliner delivery flight back to home-base in Chicago.
The road to… well… unite United has not been easy and there is still a lot of work ahead. With new leadership, there is renewed hope for bringing everyone together for the purpose of making the airline stronger. From what I saw during the delivery flight, the airline seems to be on the right path. I have become optimistic about their future.
When I woke up at 4:00 am, I had to remember why my alarm was set so early. Oh right… airplane! It was easy to pop out of bed and I was at the Seattle Delivery Center, located at Boeing Field (KBFI) by 6:30 am. For those of you who follow where planes are built, you will know that the 787 was built up north at Paine Field, and typically they are delivered from there. But this 787-9 was first flown to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to have some modifications done (standard procedure for United) and then flown to Boeing Field for the delivery. Typically the facility only delivers 737s to customers, and this was the first Dreamliner to be delivered from the location.
Buses soon arrived, carrying the 200 United employees. After dropping off their luggage, they were guided outside on the ramp to see their new plane. Quickly, people started pulling out their phones and cameras to take photos of the Dreamliner. I was surprised at the level of excitement — many people seemed more excited than me to be there (and that is saying something).
As it started to rain, I made my way under one the massive wings for cover and just watched as the employees enjoyed their new 787-9 Dreamliner.
As the taking of selfies started to slow down, the official ribbon cutting ceremony began. Fight attendants, the pilots, executives, and a few United employees (who won a raffle the night before) did the honors of cutting the ribbon. As the cheers rang out, the rain began to fall harder. Everyone made their way back inside for some breakfast, hosted by Boeing.
I stayed out with the plane as long as I could, watching all the smiles of people making their way back inside. I started to realize that this experience wasn’t about this plane’s delivery — it was really about the employees who are working hard for an airline that they care about. They were proud of this plane and they were proud of their company — something I don’t always see when flying United.
I have not always been a fan flying United. Almost every time I do, I have a bad experience. Yes, there are some amazing, wonderful people that work for the airline. I, unfortunately, have mostly interacted with grumpy people who seem to dislike their customers and probably should have left the business years ago.
When speaking to my friends, family, and even strangers (who are not AvGeeks or frequent fliers) they all seem to have a dislike for United. Given that hating airlines, as a whole, is the “popular” thing to do, hating United seems to be the “super popular” thing to do.
Even though I have had my issues with United, I have always been rooting for them. Over the years, I keep thinking, “maybe this is it… maybe this is where they will turn it all around.” Yet, I seem to keep being disappointed time after time. But I think that this might be an opportunity to make that transition. Rebuild the trust with your employees, which in turn will rebuild the trust with your customers. Easy enough on paper, but very hard to do in reality.
With the entrance of their new CEO, Oscar Munoz, I feel there is a legitimate chance for change. Unfortunately he ran into some serious health issues, but he is now back in action. From what I have seen and read about Munoz, I am impressed. Setting a positive tone up top and meeting with employees to hear their concerns and boost moral is a great start.
To help to promote employees sharing their positive experiences with the airline, United has started a special Twitter handle and a culture of pride. “@WeAreUnited was launched in early March as the official social media platform for our employees from around the world to share, in real-time, all the things that they think makes United a great place to work,” Jonathan Guerin, United spokesman explained to AirlineReporter. “Our employees ’“ whether they are working above or below the wing; in a support center; at the gate, and on the phones ’“ want to share the experiences and the thoughts and ideas they have that contribute to making United the best airline. We are seeing great engagement from employees and from leaders as they visit stations, attend team meetings, and travel.”
Now, back to the delivery…
Once breakfast was wrapped up, we all started boarding the plane. Just like any other airport, there were TSA agents doing the screening and we had to take off our shoes, belts, etc. There were no assigned seats and I was able to board early enough to snag one of the Economy Plus seats. Of course, sitting up front would have been grand, but the BusinessFirst seats were given out to employees via the raffle the night before. Kind of cool.
With 200 passengers, on a plane that holds 252, there were lots of open middle seats. I was lucky enough to have one next to me. No matter where you ended up sitting, it was going to be a good flight — everyone received business class service. My seat had a pillow and blanket (both were impressive) and we would get drinks and a high-end meal.
Not many people have taken off in a Boeing 787 Dreamliner from Boeing Field. It was awesome passing a KC-46A, an F/A-18, and one of the first Boeing 787s as we taxied to the runway (I was asked not to take photos of the flight line and respected that request). And talk about a rocket ship. A 787, barely loaded, no cargo — it didn’t take long for us to lift off and start heading east towards Chicago.
Shortly after take off, champagne was served — VIP style. The United executives who were on board (including Jim T. Olson, senior VP of corporate communications; Manny Naeem, VP of technical operations; Steve Morrisey, VP of regulatory and policy affairs; and Jeff Painter, managing director in-flight service strategy and performance), put on flight attendant aprons and served the smiling passengers. Once everyone had a glass, they toasted to the employees who were on the flight and the future of the airline.
Then it was time for the food. The meal choices were surf and surf (shrimp and lobster) or turf and turf (beef and chicken). I decided to go with the land animals and I was not disappointed (although the other meal also looked delicious too).
After the meal service was really when the flight became obviously different than your regularly scheduled flight. People were standing up, chatting, moving around the cabin (all when safe and no turbulence). The atmosphere was fun and I had a great time talking with a number of different people. Many were optimistic, some were more pessimistic, and a few had concerns on the Continental vs United divide that still exists.
Then it was time to prepare for landing and I couldn’t believe it. That was surely the quickest flight ever from Seattle to Chicago.
As we touched down, the employees once again cheered. I gathered my belongings and made my way off the brand new 787. While waiting for people to de-plane, I was chatting with a passenger waiting to board. On the flight, I was wondering when it would be put into service and turns out, it went RIGHT into service after landing. It was cleaned up and turned around for a flight to Houston.
For me, I grabbed lunch, waited around the airport for a few hours, then hopped on (an aged) Boeing 737-900 to Seattle (it only had about a 25% load factor — which I have not seen in years). My flight arrived at 10:00 pm, which got me home around 20 hours after I woke up. Worth it? Absolutely!
Yes, seeing and flying on a brand new plane is great, but this experience was much more than that. I got to see a part of United that I have not seen in a really long time. With the new leadership and a renewed desire to unite the United employees, I truly hope this is the start of something wonderful. I know that might just be blindly optimistic and no question that this sort of transition will not be easy. Everyone, from top management, to the new hire, will need to work together to make a positive transition successful.
I, and many others, believe in you United — please do not let us down!
Note: United provided airfare back to Seattle. All opinions are my own.
David, once again thank you for a awesome article.
Boeing once again proof that their aircraft is superior to the rest in the market, in every aspect.
I am worried that you are taking too many free flights and while I am sure you are trying to be objective, the optics aren’t right.
First off, I did forget to put the disclaimer on the bottom of the story that UA providing me free airfare back home to Seattle. We are always (well when I don’t forget, like this time) open about the free flights we might get surrounding a story.
Everyone is going to have a bias, we try to put ours out there — we are pro airline (free flights or not). We try to see the best, in most situations, about the airline business.
I think in the story, I am pretty honest. I have not been a fan of United, I went into the story for the 787 delivery, and then found a passion for the airline that I haven’t seen before. This more positive story had nothing to do with the free flights and everything to do with the genuine experience and hope that I have for the airline.
David | AirlineReporter
I am glad to read your words. I understand that it is going to hard to avoid a certain privilege. I understand your pro-airline point of view. I also think disclosure a very good idea.
As a United Retiree,, who retired 2 years ago in a time of turmoil at UA,,,thanks for the great article,, Boeing has always produced the best aircraft in the world, and hopefully United will prosper under the new management.
Thanks for the Boeing commercial, Peter!
Some of us in the general vicinity of Toulouse might put this point differently.
Do no worry Jonathan — more Airbus stuff coming soon. Sharing my tour of Airbus’ Hamburg facility soon. Plus we have two of us taking our first A350 flights this week!
David | AirlineReporter
It would be great if you could persuade the Powers that Be to let you have a look around Blagnac.
David, when United abandoned offering Channel 9 ATC, I abandoned them! Channel 9 … was the main reason I’d tolerated their ongoing SNAFU’s & SHENANIGANS – for several years! (However, I remain a MP member; to enable me to fly Award Trips on STAR Partners).
Btw, United never fed me the choice of meals – in Cattle Class – illustrated in your report! Furthermore, they abandoned meal service on MOST Domestic flights, years ago! And yet they had the audacity to charge me Baggage Fees for the ” privilege ” of flying with them! Apparently they believe that customer SHOULDN’T bring clothing and hygiene articles, etc. when their trip is longer than one day.
Bye, bye DIVIDED and CAN’Tinental!!
I am just as sad about Channel 9 as you. But you have to remember that most passengers don’t know ATC chatter. There have been situations where everything is being done just right with the flight, but a passenger freaks out b/c a mis-understanding. That said, still wish they’d keep it.
United, and most airlines, have gone more to the ala-cart model. I know that many are not a fan, but I support it. Let’s you fly cheaper, if you do not need all the extras.
David | AirlineReporter
David, why should “AvGeeks ” ( like us ) bear the loss of Ch 9 ATC; as a consequence of those IGNORANT types!? In the absence of Ch 9, there’s no legitimate reason for me to subject myself any longer to UA’s ” service “!
Furthermore, ATL is my home airport; where United is a minor player!
David, like you, I have been let down by this airline at a rate that far exceeds all the others, even Spirit and Allegiant: Technology issues, people issues, mechanical issues, unwillingness to accept ownership and correct problems, “us vs. them,” the whole gamut. So much in fact that I’ve made a conscious decision to stop flying them, for a while at least.
That said, I have caught a few glimpses into what could very well be a turn-around. As a pro-airline guy I too hope UA can return to the position of strength and respect that either of its predecessors once had.
Thank you for an honest review, assessment of the current state and hopes for the future. I’m with you all the way.
It certainly sounds like I will be in the minority, but I have always liked United Airlines and don’t recall having any terrible experiences with them. My very first commercial flight was on a United Airlines DC-4 during Christmas 1954: San Francisco to Los Angeles and back. I was seven years old and that’s when I became smitten with civil aviation and airliners. I was deeply in love after a 1957 non-stop United DC-7 flight from Los Angeles to New York. Those early experiences are part of the reason why I became an aeronautical engineer and went to work for Boeing’s commercial airplane division when I graduated from college. United was my favorite airline back then and I still like them. My most recent United Airlines flight was just a few weeks ago on a 787-800: round-trip Denver to Houston. That flight was just fine and I really enjoyed the experience. The 787 is a terrific airplane! We all know that most airlines are going to get us on baggage fees or something, and United does seem pretty awful in this regard. It is just something you get used to. It seems to have become part of the stupid game we created when consumers started obsessing about low fares, and things seem to keep getting worse. I don’t see how the trend can be reversed, or even stopped. I took a New York to London round-trip on a Pan Am 707 in the summer of 1968. That summer there was a sale and it cost $440 (the regular fare was $480), and the minimum wage was $1.60. I think we are going to London this year and it looks like we can get round-trip tickets for $700 or so, and the minimum wage is now $7.25. I’m not sure this is a completely fair comparison, but I think most consumers do regard this as progress. I don’t think so and I really would prefer to pay more to get a little extra room and food service, but the current cost to fly first-class is obscenely high. I had many flights on United Airlines DC-8’s and 727’s (my favorite airliner) before deregulation when you had legroom and food, but I have also been to Hawaii and many other places on their very nice 757’s and their 767’s during the current anything-goes, every-man-for-himself era. A trip to Hawaii on one of their 757-300’s was very comfortable and we didn’t mind the long line deplaning (we just sit and wait until the crowd subsides). It kind of reminded me of a round-trip flight to Hawaii on one of their really long DC-8 Super 70’s. I still like United Airlines and will always look to see what they offer when I plan a trip. Airline deregulation has been tough and I don’t think United has done as well as some of the other airlines, but they are still in business and it sounds like you think there is still hope for them!
I do think people develop a distaste for an airline for strange reasons. I used to work with an engineer at Boeing that called United “Untidy Airlines” because she said their planes were dirty. I recall she preferred Northwest Orient or American because they flew 707’s, not DC-8’s, and she was definitely a Boeing person. I took my first United Airlines DC-8 flight in 1969 when I was working for Boeing and was going to the Los Angeles area for Christmas. That was a wonderful flight on a very nice airplane with pretty stewardesses and pretty good food. Man, did I get the business when I got back and told her I flew on a United DC-8!
I like reading these ‘first flight’ recollections. I’m reminded of the Junior Jet Club. it was a BOAC thing and we got a badge and logbook. not my first flight but an early memory invited into cockpit of Britannia on its way into Heathrow where Captain with Biggles mustache is drinking whisky and soda. it was another era and I long flight and one could assume the skipper needed the Scotch to keep his hands steady. Ah, the romance of flight, as it then was.
Thanks for sharing — those are some great stories! I know there are some out there that have had nice experiences with United and that is wonderful. I just know that mine have not been that great and I still hear a lot of tension caused from the United/Continental split than I do with Delta/NWA or AA/US.
David | AirlineReporter
I forgot to thank you for this excellent report before I wandered down memory lane. I really enjoyed the story you told about the upbeat employees that attended the event, and the photographs. I know a few people that work for United here in Denver and they seem to be in that group of employees that really care about their airline. We just may be lucky here to have attracted some of United’s best people to Denver. For as long as I can recall United Airlines has been a Denver mainstay. They aren’t just a tenant at Denver International, they are an anchor and, as far as I can tell, well-liked in Denver.
When Bob Bogash and his gang delivered the 727 prototype to the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field, she was greeted by some former United employees in their uniforms. That event was promoted inside United Airlines and some friends knew about it. A little while before the flight there was an event where she was photographed with a brand new United Airlines 787-9 up at Paine Field. Does anybody happen to know if that was the same 787 they used for this employee event at Boeing Field?
My father was a life-time United customer–we lived in Chicago, Denver and Salt Lake City growing up, and much of his working life was spent on 727’s like the one flowing to Boeing field a few weeks ago for preservation. A yearly member of the 100,000 mile club. Heck, I was brought up on United, too: watching DC6’s and DC7s flying into Stapleton on cargo and training flights, and we’d always fly United on family vacation. So it’s sad to see what it has become.
I’ve got a great idea: Bring back the Tulip! Get rid of that ghastly” Continited” mash up livery and bring back the “pride” of the old United with the rainbow colors and tulip on the tail. And, I guess if you want the ex-Continental folks to feel included, paint a few jets in the golden tail/red meatball scheme.
While I agree with your sentiment, as a retired United employee, I simply have to say that there are many, many good ex Continental employees out there on the front lines, trying to make the company successful. The problem, from the beginning of the merger process, was the fact that while United was the lead in the merger, Continental management took over leadership roles and attempted to force their style on the front line employees…. Now, hopefully things are changing, let’s allow a little more time to pass until we pass judgement on the new United
Blair: you might like this guy http://www.jetphotos.net/photo/8165609
I’m with you on the “Continited” color scheme – it’s insipid, generic, and the brand they killed! Granted, the pre-merger UAL never settled on a color scheme, but at least they were all distinctive and eye-catching.
Regardless of the rough merger and sketchy product, I still feel UAL has many strengths, some of which David highlighted in his writeup, and the marketplace is better off with them than without. I wish them the best, and look forward to the day when we can call them one of the world’s best airlines.
I thought the Continental tail was an improvement over that “Rising Blue” they had just before the merger, but I don’t really like either tail. I wonder what a pale gold tail (like the color of the gold stripes) with thin blue stripes and a battleship-style tulip would look like? Maybe we should summon the spirit of Saul Bass and put him to work on that! Putting the meatball on a few proud birds with gold tails would sure work for me. I have been looking at some pictures of United Airlines 727’s in their Saul Bass Rainbow/Tulip livery and Continental 727’s with their Saul Bass red/orange/gold meatball livery. Could somebody have merged these together to create something memorable?
Yeah. Let’s screw Continited & bring back the “Stars & Bars” livery they had in the ’60s. They already have one plane in that livery, it is so .
Thank you for the lovely coverage of the 787 delivery. You may have had issues from time to time regarding United, but try having issues continually for 5 years. As a flight attendant for 48 yrs (& still loving the job), the last straw for me was the lie about 5 of the 787s being Continental’s & not United’s – yes we are still 2 airlines. I have chosen to step back with a ‘wait & see’ attitude. With any luck I just might become enthusiastic about the direction of the company again. For those of you who have expressed anger about no channel 9 – come fly on our 747s where some captains still have it available. âœˆï¸
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