We had taken off from Seattle a day before and had mini-adventures while in Iceland and Turkey. Now RwandAir’s first Boeing 737-800 was on her final leg to Kigali, Rwanda with only about 5.5 hours to go. In Part 1 I talked about pre-departure, then covered what it was like flying from Seattle to Iceland to Turkey in Part 2. In Part 3 I talk about what it was like finally arriving in Kigali to an amazing welcome.
Heading into African airspace on our way to Kigali, Rwanda.
Before the 20hr flight I was concerned about the comfort level of a domestic Boeing 737. I was also afraid of having too much free time on my hands, so I brought a book, downloaded a lot of airline articles and even got some additional games for my iPhone. However, with sleep, socializing and watching 30 minutes of Big Mama 3 (I can’t believe I lasted that long), I did not get bored. It was comfortable having an entire row to myself, but I am sure my tone would have been different if I had shared my row with seat-mates. The back of the plane seemed the place to go if you were looking to get some sleep. Quite a few folks sitting up front made their way to their own rows in economy to stretch and rest.
9,200 miles of adventure. Our route to Kigali.
I had used my electronics quite a bit from Seattle to Iceland to Istanbul. By the time we were on our final leg, they were badly in need of some power. I had forgotten my international power adapter and did not get to charge while in Turkey (luckily someone let me borrow theirs while in Rwanda — thanks Adam). Unfortunately the seats in the back of the plane did not have power outlets, but those in Business class did. I had three different devices plugged into three different seats up front. It was important I was all ready to go when touching down in Rwanda.
While my electronic distractions were charging,I had no problem gazing out the window. The sky was clear, so it was easy to witness crossing over to African airspace. It was interesting seeing desert forever, then civilization and green around water. We followed the Nile for a while and it really became clear how a river or water source really creates growth.
Hanging out in the cockpit of RwandAir's Boeing 737-800 while over Africa.
Although socializing and watching movies can be entertaining, the best form of entertainment is being in the cockpit. Even though my devices weren’t fully charged, I didn’t want to turn down an opportunity to visit the front of the plane while cruising at 39,000 feet to take photos, video and talk to the pilots.
Both pilots at the time had come from the now defunct Olympic Airlines and were very excited about flying the 737-800 — almost to the point of being giddy. They said it was an obvious improvement in performance, ease of use and efficiency. It sounded like there would be a formidable (and friendly) competition to see which pilots would get to fly the new 737-800 vs the older 737-500s in the fleet.
Every time I got up into the cockpit during flight, the calm always surprised me. I don’t know what I really expeced. Maybe the pilots constantly at the controls, talking on the radio, messing with knobs. But during cruise with a modern airliner, they are able to easily take time to enjoy flight. Looking straight out the front windscreen into the limitless blue makes the aircraft feel like it is not even moving. It is a cool experience and it is unfortunate that it is rare for even media to get into the cockpit during flight (and this is only the second airline to allow me to share photos).
RwandAir's Boeing 737-500 looks on.
Before we knew it, the plane was starting its descent and we were almost done with our flying adventure. From the hotel to boarding the plane, most of us dressed up. But once on board, we changed into something more comfortable. Now realizing we were getting close to Kigali, it was time to get back into professional wardrobe. You would have thought with only 30 people on board, there wouldn’t be any lavatory issues, but when so many are trying to change and brush teeth at the same time, it really caused some issues. Ichanged my shirt in the aisle and brushed my teeth in a lavatory being used to store drinks. A guy has gotta do what a guy’s gotta do. Luckily everyone was ready to go and seated by the time we were flying low over Kigali.
We were told we would do a low fly over the airport before circling around to land. As we kept getting lower and lower, some of us became certain that the fly-by was cancelled and we were going to land. Kudos to the pilot since we buzzed the tarmac just a few feet off the ground before pulling up, circling around and landing.
Our flight buzzed the airport before coming in for a landing. That is one nice fly-by. Photo from RwandAir.
People on board the airplane cheered as we landed and taxied to the tarmac. Two fire trucks gave us an official water salute as we pulled into the airport and before getting off the plane we could see a group of dancers starting to make their way out towards the plane.
It is hard to describe what it is like to be jet-lagged and stepping off a plane that just flew from Seattle to Rwanda with people dancing, music playing and people wanting to shake your hand. This was an amazing moment for almost everyone there and the most impressive welcome I have ever experienced.
Upon landing we were greeted by dancers, local media and VIP guests.
The plane was not just carrying people over to Africa. Boeing has a program called Humanitarian Delivery Flights that, “humanitarian items; such as, medical supplies, clothing, and educational materials, are loaded into the empty cargo space of new airplanes being delivered and transported to a customer’s home destination.” On this flight, there were 1500 educational books that were being delivered to the Rotary Club of Kigali to be distributed to high schools, universities and libraries around the country. Boeing partnered with RwandAir and Operation USA to help deliver the books and there were a group of children at the celebration to accept them.
Some RwandAir pilots and me hanging during the post delivery reception.
We all had some food, drinks and great conversations, but after our long journey, it was time to head to the Kigali Serena Hotel. I was not quite sure what to expect of my accommodations when staying in Rwanda. For some reason I kept picturing a bed with a bug net and a generator providing electricity. It is my own fault for not being informed, but it was a nice surprise to find that the hotel was way beyond my expectations. They even offered free Wi-Fi internet which can be hard to find in many American hotels.
The hotel was one of many interesting experiences during my four day stay in Kigali. Stay tuned for my Destination Rwanda story coming soon, followed by a video documenting the delivery flight. Until then…
How does an airline get a plane made to fly only about 3,000 miles from Seattle, WA to Kigali, Rwanda? I am not really sure, but I bet it involves a lot of fuel stops. This Thursday, RwandAir is set to take delivery of their first Boeing 737-800 with Sky Interior. The airline is very excited to operate the first Boeing aircraft with Sky Interior in Africa. The new interior option is a feature for 737s that gives it an updated look. I have previously had the opportunity to fly from Seattle to Dallas to check out the Sky Interior with American Airlines and was very impressed. Now, I will have the ability to experience the Sky Interior and RwandAir’s newest 737 for a bit longer, since I am lucky enough to be invited for the ride from Seattle to Rwanda.
The 737-800 will leave Boeing Field at about 11am on Thursday and we are supposed to land in Kigali sometime during Saturday. This is going to be a long flight for sure and one probably only an airline geek could love. What is it going to be like to ride in an airplane half way across the world that is designed to barely fly across the US? I am not sure, but I feel an adventure coming on.
At this point, I do not even know what route we will take. I am assuming we will fly over to the eastern side of the US, then over to Iceland and Greenland before getting to Europe. I know that we will be stopping in Istanbul, then down south to Rwanda. Anyone want to take a guess to the exact route (I will update this post with FlightAware tracking information when it is posted)? You better believe I will be taking a lot of photos and sharing some stories when I am done. Until then, I will be running some guest blogs and pre-written content.
The airline is currently in the process of replacing their aging MD-80 aircraft with new Boeing 737s. American plans to retire at least 25 MD-80s in 2011 and it is not exactly known when all MD-80s will be out of service. American will receive an additional 54 Boeing 737s with Sky Interior over the next two years (story continues below photos).
Inside the cabin of an American 737 being retrofitted.
New pop down LCD screens are being in stalled.
New bins are being in stalled on AA
American’s new Sky Interior looks updated and clean.
Click photos for larger version. All retrofit photos by American, Sky Interior by Airline Reporter.
The airline plans to upgrade their older 737s to have newer seating and larger bins. In May 2010, American began updating its existing fleet of Boeing 737s. The retrofit includes the installation of new seats, new cabin interiors, updated in-flight entertainment systems and more storage throughout the aircraft. The retrofit is slated for completion by the first quarter of 2013. The retrofits will be handled in-house by American employees at the airline’s Maintenance & Engineering base located in Tulsa, OK.
American is also in the process of updating all Boeing 757s used on domestic routes. Updates include the installation of new seats, new cabin interiors and updated in-flight entertainment throughout the aircraft. Also, First Class will receive two additional seats, which increases the number of First Class seats from 22 to 24 on each aircraft. The 757 aircraft enhancements began in August 2010 and have a planned completion of December 2015. As of early May 2011, American has completed upgrades to ten 757s.
American will also be increasing their fleet of Boeing 777s with the addition of five 777-300ERs with deliveries slated for 2012 and 2013. The -300ERs will supplement their -200ERs and will become the largest aircraft that American flies.
“American Airlines has made a significant investment to enrich the flying experience for our customers through the purchase of new aircraft and the refurbishment of our existing fleet,” said Virasb Vahidi, American’s Chief Commercial Officer. “At American, we are focused on providing a differentiated customer experience, with a distinct focus on best delivering what premium customers value most ’“ world-class products and services. The delivery of the first 737-800 with the new Boeing Sky Interior is our most recent step to deliver on this commitment.”
In the past, there have been times where I had serious concerns about American’s future. They had an aging fleet of aircraft and were not merging like other large airlines. They also had a lack of a solid presence on social media and really just weren’t as “fun” as other airlines. It appears that American realizes they need to change the way they do business to better compete against other airlines. American has already spent $5.5 billion in new aircraft, facility enhancements and on-board improvements between 2007 to 2011 and plans to spend more in the future.
American is trying very hard to stay relevant and hoping that customers will take notice of their effort. Will it be enough to survive without a merger? Only time will tell, but it seems American is on a positive track.
American Airline's flight crew are ready to welcome guests to see the new Sky Interior at Boeing's delivery center at Boeing Field (BFI).
Yesterday American Airlines took delivery of their first Boeing 737-800 (N867NN) with the new Boeing Sky Interior. I felt privileged to hitch a ride on the airplane during its delivery flight from Boeing Field to Dallas-Fort Worth with American and other invited guests.
Before getting outside to see the aircraft and interior we had to go through a little security. There was a conveyor belt and metal detector, but no requirement to remove shoes, laptops or put your toiletries in a ziploc bag — nice.
The aluminum fuselage glistened in the sun outside Boeing’s delivery center waiting to fly passengers for the first time. After the ribbon was cut and photos were taken, it was time to check out the new Sky Interior first hand.
You have to love walking onto a brand spanking new plane and breathing that new-plane smell. There is something to be said about flying on a plane with only 21 other people (including the pilots) on its delivery flight from an airport that doesn’t see scheduled jet service.
Although I thought the ceiling lighting was going to be the most noticable aspect when entering the 737, I was actually first drawn to the new window openings and clean interior walls. Being an airline nerd, I spend a good chunk of my time staring out the window and this was a welcomed sight.
The Boeing Sky Interior on American's newest Boeing 737-800 (N867NN).
A combination of the larger window openings, blue lighting in the ceiling and new luggage bins, there really is a sense of space with the new Sky Interior. Boeing allows airlines to customize their lighting and American has pre-programmed the following:
* Boarding and de-boarding: blue top, white side lights
* Take off and landing: blue on top and blue on the side
* Cruise: wall lights are off, top is blue
* Night/Sleep: dark blue on the ceiling, wall lights are off
* Meal: Amber on top and side
* Sunrise/Sunset During Takeoff/Landing: Deep orange tones
On top of the nifty colors, the overhead bins have been improved to mimic the Boeing 787 Dreamliner’s bins. They are larger and are able to hold more luggage (48 more bags to be exact in the 737-800). They also fold up into the ceiling to provide more cabin space. If you are 6’1″ you will still hit your head while standing, but those of shorter stature should have better luck.
Even though the windows are the same size in the fuselage, the new interior shows more of the window.
The American interiors on the 737 are newer than other aircraft in their fleet and aren’t too bad, but after seeing the new interior, the standard interior looks a bit aged and cramped.
The new Boeing 737-800 with Sky Interior is part of American’s fleet renewal plan. Later in the week I will go into more detail on American Airline’s future plans to let customers know they mean business.
What flies, is the best selling jetliner in history and is getting some new insides? That’s right… the Boeing 737. Boeing is getting closer to finishing the first new Boeing 737 “Sky Interior.”
Forty five airlines and leasing companies have ordered the Boeing Sky Interior for more than 1,100 airplanes; that’s half of Boeing’s 737 backlog. It will be the new standard in the single-aisle market.
The first Boeing 737 with a completed interior will be done by the end of October, until then, you can check out their process in this video.
Be sure to check the winglet in one of the shots to give away who will be taking delivery of this aircraft.