United’s 787 rolls off of the assembly line

We’re warmly looking forward to the launch of the first domestic 787 product in the United States, United Airlines’ service between Houston and Auckland.

With Japan based – All Nippon Airways as the launch partner for Boeing‘s new jumbo jet, however, we have to patiently wait our turn.

The good news, however, is that construction is still on time for a 2012 delivery. Pictured above (click for a massive, full resolution image) is United’s new aircraft that will be making the route, still covered with accouterments from the factory floor. Next steps include engine installation, paint and a full spectrum of tests.

Product launch is expected for the latter half of 2012. We’ll keep you updated on the progress.

First domestic 787 begins construction

Production and delivery of the 787 jumbo jet is starting to shift into high gear, and as ANA shows off its new Japanese aircraft the focus is now turning to the domestic carriers. Delivery of the new Boeing aircraft to its first domestic carrier is slated for the merged Continental/United airlines — it was Continental’s order (in 2004!) before the two giants joined forces.

Planned for delivery in the beginning of next year, the 787 is scheduled to begin service between Auckland, NZ and Houston, Texas.

In its current state, the aircraft is just having its wings attached at the Boeing plant in Washington. If you look closely, you can see that the fuselage is in multiple pieces and the tail isn’t even in sight. Either way, that fact that the airplane is on the production line is exciting news — we look forward to seeing the inside.

FAA stops collecting airfare taxes — and the airlines cash in

Recent budget woes in the legislative branch of our US government have been creating a cascade of disruptions, and the most recent hiccup involves the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Without proper agreement on a fiscal plan moving forward, the government has been forced to shut down a portion of the agency, most notably the section that collects taxes on our domestic airplane tickets.

Those taxes account for a modest percentage of each flight, roughly between 5 and 10%, and when travelers caught wind that the taxes would be discounted, they saw the silver lining of the shutdown as being a temporary sale on domestic tickets.

As planned, the FAA shutdown took place at midnight this morning, but the savings have barely matured. What happened?

Turns out, some of the airlines also realized the gap in price difference and decided to make that up by increasing their fares. So rather than passing the tax savings along to customers, they’re greedily taking the margin for themselves.

Not all airlines have reached into our wallets, however, apparently Virgin America has not only refused to increase fares but they’ve turned the event into a bit of public promotion. Last night the airline had a countdown to tax-free bookings on their sites and as promised, the fares have stayed low. Similarly, United appears to be keeping its fares in place.

On the flip side of the coin? US Airways, American and JetBlue seem to be the leaders in ripping off their consumers. AP has a bit more info if you want to become even more disappointed.

[Flickr image via Fly for Fun]

Tom Stuker becomes first frequent flyer to pass 10 million miles, United celebrates

Ryan Bingham exists in real life, and his name is Tom Stuker. Mr. Stuker, an automotive consultant based in Chicago has been flying United for over 20 years, and this Saturday afternoon, somewhere between Los Angeles and Chicago he officially crossed the line over 10 million frequent flyer miles.

To celebrate, the folks at United hosted a private celebration at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, shutting down a section of a C concourse Red Carpet Club for a celebration with Mr. Stuker’s family, United CEO Jeff Smisek, Mileage Plus President Jeff Foland and a few dozen people from the community.

For his part, Tom Stuker doesn’t seem the least bit weary from his 10 million miles of travel. At just under six feet tall and with a steady, affable smile, he emerged from the Los Angeles flight full of energy and to the cheers of scores of waiting media and friends. In the Red Carpet Club he floated around the room mingling with assorted, eager miletalkers and accepting pats on the back from the wayward executive or marketing agent, effortlessly smiling as the media soaked up his glee.

Among the gestures that United made in recognition of his efforts came a single-edition, titanium Global Services membership card, a scale mockup of the upcoming United 787 and a framed certificate stating his achievement. The most impressive gift, however, was Tom Stuker’s name on the side of a Boeing 747 jumbo jet, similar to the achievement that Ryan Bingham received in Up in the Air.

Perhaps most moving was the humility with which Mr. Stuker accepted his praise. His speech, hand written on three pages of wide rule notebook paper, was a reflection on his time with the airline and a heartfelt thank you to all of the staff with whom he had become friends over the years. He spoke of the difficulty during the United bankruptcy and the subsequent merger, moving himself nearly to tears on several occasions, but remaining gracious and optimistic the entire time.

The underlying theme of Mr. Stuker’s speech, however, kept returning: it was not only a milestone for one frequent flyer but rather for the entire airline — years of work building one of the world’s largest airlines, weathering a merger, a rough economy and an ultra competitive market. For everyone in the room there was much to celebrate, and for this one brief afternoon there were smiles on the faces of Jeff Smisek, the ramp workers and the flight attendants alike.

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[Editor's note: it shall be noted that Tom Stuker flew all of his 10M miles on United while Ryan Bingham from Up in the Air earned his miles in various means -- but we still think that the comparison is bang on. Judge away.]

Twin United pilots throw opening pitches in Chicago’s crosstown classic

The rivalry between the Cubs and the White Sox is no doubt one of the greatest in the sports community, each teams reflecting the vastly different attitudes and culture between the north and south sides of Chicago. Despite the tension, however, there’s always room for some joviality, and this year, United jumped into the fray by bringing a pair of its identical twin pilots down to U.S. Cellular field to throw the first pitches.

Identical twin pilots you say? Yes indeed. Turns out, the Rayl brothers had parallel careers at United and Continental respectively, and now that the airlines have merged they work for the same company. It’s almost like our resident pilot Kent Wien and his brother Kurt at American Airlines. Only identical. And slightly creepier.