United’s first Boeing 777-300ER (reg N2331U) at Chicago
Last Monday, it was disorienting when my alarm went off at 3:30am. At the time, I was not sure why it was happening, but I knew that I was not a fan. That was until I snapped back into reality and remembered that I was getting up early to fly on a few airplanes. The mission of that day was to check out United’s new Polaris business class — and I was up for it! I was to start in Seattle, fly to Chicago to meet United’s first 777-300ER, then I would get to know the product flying to San Fransisco, before heading home. All in the same long day.
In the Polaris business class cabin on United’s first 777-300ER
I have read about United’s new Polaris product and seen the photos, but nothing beats putting it to the test at 40,000 feet. Was it worth getting up so early? Oh you better believe it — it was one stellar experience (okay, I will try to behave with the space puns, mostly).
The Gogo Building is now part of the Chicago skyline, seen from across the Chicago River
Being an aviation enthusiast means different things for different people. I like to consider myself an AvGeek generalist with interest in not only flights, plane spotting, and airline news, but also the behind-the-scenes of the industry. I have long considered myself a “culture nerd” as well, observing what makes some companies cohesive and successful, and others… well, not. In my work as a graduate student, I have dedicated a good bit of my study to culture, organizational behavior, and leadership strategy which has only intensified said interest. When in-flight WiFi provider Gogo offered a tour of their almost brand-new (to them) downtown Chicago HQ (referred to as The Gogo Building) I jumped at it. If you have an opportunity to let passions unite, fly with it!
Would #TheGogoBuilding have personality and charm like culture leader Southwest Airlines? Or, would their walls and decor be barren, and the general feeling something one might expect from the embodiment of the words “Corporate America?” I assumed something in between. I was wrong…
The flight deck of N321GG, Gogo’s 737 testbed – Photo: David Parker Brown | AirlineReporter
I’m still grinning from ear to ear. Sitting in the flight deck of a jet during landing is pretty much THE AvGeek holy grail. It’s hard to do – FAA Part 121 regulations, which nearly all airlines operate under, prohibit non-crewmembers on the flight deck during flight. But every so often, you can find a plane that operates under different rules. As it turns out, our friends over at Gogo operate a 737 test bed which just so happens to fall under those rules.
Entering N321GG from door 1L – Photo: David Delagarza | AirlineReporter
About a month ago, AirlineReporter and Gogo teamed up to hold a huge contest for a few of our readers to win a flight on Gogo’s 737, N321GG, from Chicago to Austin, where the annual South by Southwest (SxSW) festival would be going down. I’m sure more than a few of you reading this story were disappointed not to get the ‘congratulations, you’ve won’ email. After receiving more than 10,000 entries, we randomly selected two winners. Our first winner, Meghan, is a flight attendant for a major US airline and a major AvGeek to boot. Our second winner, Shams, is a San Francisco-based tech consultant, and is looking forward to attend his first Aviation Geek Fest this April in Seattle.
I have a dirty little secret to share. I made it around the sun 30 times before stopping to pick up a passport. For most of my adult life I could easily explain this away: “My airline doesn’t fly internationally.” Then came the May of 2011 announcement that Southwest would acquire AirTran, and as a result would become an international carrier. Fast forward a few years and AirTran had been fully integrated into Southwest, yet I was still without a magic blue book. What seemed to be my last valid excuse (aside from pure laziness) was gone. It was time to join the majority of my AvGeek brethren (and 35% of the U.S. population) in securing a passport.
BONUS: Photo Tour of Hobby’s New International Terminal
At a dinner with fellow AvGeeks, a friend of mine who recently interned with an airline in Chicago mentioned that he had applied for, and received, a same-day passport in downtown Chicago just hours before he took his first non-rev trip abroad. I was intrigued. I had discovered a way to make a task I had put off for years more interesting than filling out paperwork and sitting around for weeks waiting for a response. Not only that, I now had a completely valid excuse to board a LUV bird to jet up to Chicago for a day trip. I was fully on board for a same-day passport challenge.