In our line of work, new planes are a big deal. So we’ve watched closely as Boeing’s longest version of the Dreamliner — the 787-10 — hits the skies. United is the first U.S. airline to get the “dash-ten” and it has started deploying the stretch Dreamliner on their premium transcontinental routes between Newark and Los Angeles & San Francisco. When we found out that the San Francisco-Newark inaugural flight was on Valentine’s Day, we knew we had to be on it!
There’s a lot of reasons to care about United’s 787-10. It’s the first of United’s Dreamliners to carry the Polaris business class seat, which goes fully flat and offers everyone direct aisle access. The plane comes with an awesome new inflight entertainment system. And now United is the first and only airline to operate the full Dreamliner family: the 787-8, 787-9 and the 787-10.
Read on for photos and more from United’s inaugural 787-10 transcon service out of SFO — including a Valentine’s Day celebration for United’s newest plane.
To the moon! Or maybe just to Jersey.
Letâ€™s start out with the obvious: itâ€™s been a rough few yearsÂ for United Airlines. Amidst a choppy merger, a CEO ouster scandal (then the new replacement CEO having health issues), and an awful economic climate for the industry during most of theÂ decade, the Chicago-based airlineâ€™s public perception took a big hit. It has become pretty clear that majorÂ change is needed to win over the hearts and minds of the American flying public.
Over the past year, United has unveiled a number of updates, including the return of free snacks in economy, beerÂ and wine in long-haul international economy, the continued rollout of WiFi, increased direct-to-device streaming entertainment, refreshed menus in premium cabins, and improved United Clubs. Some updates have gone into effect already, while others will be rolled out gradually during this year.
p.s. BusinessFirst – Photo: United
One major structural change in 2015 was Unitedâ€™s withdrawal from JFK Airport, which had previously served as the New York terminus of the flagship domestic Premier Service (p.s.) routes from San Francisco and Los Angeles. As of October 2014, those flights now land at Unitedâ€™s massive and ever-expanding hub at Newark Liberty International (EWR). On the other coast, United has also been investing in its Terminal 3 hub at SFO.
Other airlines have been upping their transcontinental game, with American flying three-class A321Ts, JetBlue expanding its ever-popular Mint service, and Delta offering its Delta One long-haul product between JFK and LAX/SFO.
Over the course of a few trips between San Francisco and New York on the p.s. route, I had a great chance to test drive some of the latest changes at United. Read on as I share some of my insights from putting the new United through its paces.
Cathay Pacific Boeing 777-300ER at JFK – Photo: David Montiverdi | Flickr CC
Recently, I needed to get from New York (JFK) to Vancouver (YVR) and, surprisingly, it was not easy to find a flight that didnâ€™t include a crazy set of layovers and several hours of travel time. I was not expecting to find a non-stop Cathay Pacific 777-300ER option — done!
Preparing for the flight out of New York in Cathay business class – Photo: Katka LapelosovÃ¡
The flight is special, since it is a transcontinental, but is operated as an international flight, since the stop in Vancouver is part of a longerÂ hop to Hong Kong. Because of this, the flight lands in YVR at 1am, which means you should do some planning on getting to your final destination, since options will be limited.
Itâ€™s not a long flight – only about five-and-a-half hours – but it doesn’t mean one can’t enjoy the premium experience.
Business Class on the American A321 – Photo:Â SouthpawCapture
I live in the Dallas area, and donâ€™t often fly transcon flights. However, I recently needed to go to both LA and New York close to the same time, and I thought it would be fun to try Americanâ€™s new Airbus A321â€Tâ€ they are flying between JFK and both LAX and San Francisco.
I am an Executive Platinum AAdvantage member (Americanâ€™s top-tier elite for the unitiated) so I can often, but not always, upgrade on a regular coach fare. I looked for the flight with the most available seats in business class, reasonably figuring that this would give me the best chance of upgrading. It was a midweek flight leaving LAX at 1 PM, arriving at JFK at around 10 PM local time.
If itâ€™s not obvious, I am a typical top-tier elite member – very spoiled. Sitting in the back of the bus is for the great unwashed, not I. Seriously, no, I am not above sitting back there, and as I make lots of last-minute changes, I often wind up squashed in with everybody else. Plus since I own my business, travel costs come out of my pocket. No high-end business class fares for me.
American’s A321 in flight – Photo:Â SouthpawCapture
So when you have the opportunity to take â€œAAdvantageâ€ of the few perks you get with business travel these days, you grab it. Considering this was a five-hour flight and I was already very tired, I was REALLY hoping for the upgrade, to say the least.
When I got to LAX, the upgrade still wasnâ€™t there, and I was pouting. To make things worse, the flight was listed an hour late due to weather in JFK. But about 45 minutes before the flight left the gate, the clouds parted, the sun shone, and the upgrade gods smiled on me. Business class it was, Seat 8F on the new A321.