Inside United’s First 787 Dreamliner At Boeing HQ

We knew it was coming, but now that we’ve had a chance to step on board United Airlines’ latest jetliner in person, we’ll surely be counting the days until we can ease into one of those airborne recliners as the carrier’s 787 takes to the skies. Just days after getting its first coat of paint (and that unique nose-to-tail swoop), United opened up its Dreamliner for journalists, select customers and a handful of staffers to take a first look at the 787’s interior, which includes 36 flat-bed BusinessFirst seats in a 2-2-2 configuration, 72 Economy Plus seats with up to 36 inches of pitch and 111 Economy seats with a fairly standard 32 inches of pitch.

You could have garnered that from glancing at a seat map. What’s not so clear is just how magnificent this aircraft is to ride, or, in the case of our grounded demo at Boeing’s Everett factory today, how it looks from the ground. This isn’t our first trip down the aisles of a 787, having flown on ANA’s Dreamliner with Engadget in Japan last year. In comparison to the 777, however, where we’ve spent weeks of time in flight, it’s quite exciting to see how the in-flight experience is improving, even when compared to the pleasant ride on the carrier’s previous-generation flagship.

%Gallery-161659%United will be operating the Dreamliner on new and existing routes, and while we don’t know exactly where the 787 will fly first, service is slated begin later this year. The first confirmed route will launch on March 31st between Denver and Tokyo, growing direct service between the Japanese hub and the U.S. to 10 cities (including Honolulu and Guam). Passengers on board those flights will certainly appreciate the oversized dimmable windows and giant overhead bins, along with all-LED lighting, which sadly are limited to basic color configurations, rather than the ANA we’ve seen during boarding on ANA.


The 787 is more than a foot narrower than the 777, but United maintained the same seating configuration as its Continental acquisitions, which you might assume makes the aircraft seem a bit cramped. The higher ceilings and open feel made the difference almost unnoticeable, however, and the Continental-era BusinessFirst seats on board are still far superior to United’s own triple-7 layout, where four center seats mean you could end up paying for a bed yet still have a middle seat. Here, just like on those select triple-7s (mostly used on flights beginning in Houston or Newark), biz seats offer much more privacy, with more personal space and substantial dividers.

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In the Y-cabin, seats seemed cushier than what we’ve used on United’s existing fleet, and feature the same in-flight entertainment system installed on some of the carrier’s current aircraft. Like BusinessFirst, these seats also feature larger dimmable windows and overhead bins which reportedly offer 30 percent more capacity than those on United’s 777. Rows 16 and 27 have substantially more legroom than other Economy Plus seats. In fact, there’s so much space between the window-side seats in row 27 that you could plop down a sleeping bag and camp out on the floor if the FAA permitted it.


Surprisingly, the most spacious seats on the plane aren’t in this row or even in the business cabin, but instead are located up a flight of stairs in a hidden second level. Two sets of crew quarters are located at the far forward and far aft positions, behind doors marked “Crew Only.” Through those doors and up a small flight of stairs you’ll find two full-size beds in the front of the Dreamliner and six in the rear. There’s not much room to do much other than sleep, but thick, full-length mattresses will surely enable pilots and flight attendants to make good use of scheduled rest periods.


We felt quite comfy during our visit to United’s 787, even on the main level, and while we couldn’t experience the boosted humidity, increased cabin pressure, noise suppression and computer-assisted smooth performance, it’s clear that the Dreamliner will be very popular among United passengers. There’s a few months to go until you can take a flight of your own, but we have plenty of photos to tide you over for now. Thumb through the galleries for a closer look, then scroll down below for a hands-on video from Engadget.


Bad Flight Saved By Airline Crew, New Laws, Amiable Travelers

flight 108

Last weekend, United Airlines Flight 108 from Newark, New Jersey, to Edinburgh, Scotland, put 2011’s Airline Passenger Bill of Rights to the test. It was not planned that way; we did not set out to see if the new regulations would kick in to help in a bad situation. But when things went wrong, rules established by the bill kept a bad scene from becoming a total disaster. I was on board and lived to tell about it.

The first leg of our travel plan on United Airlines took us through bad weather from Orlando (MCO) to Newark (EWR) rather smoothly, arriving a few minutes late at 8:15 p.m. On landing, a text from my FlightTrack Pro iPhone app informed me that our next flight, from EWR to Edinburgh, Scotland (EDI), scheduled to leave at 9:55 p.m., would be delayed until 12 p.m.

“Surely they mean 12 a.m., just a little late, not 12 p.m.,” I said out loud with the comment echoed by other passengers, also checking their phones after landing. But p.m. it was, so put up in a hotel we were – the cheesy Ramada Inn Airport hotel – along with carry-on luggage and food vouchers for dinner and breakfast.

Going back to the Newark airport the next day – a few hours early as good airline passengers on international flights do – we found a further delay for more maintenance, pushing departure to 1 p.m. Soon though, the situation improved. The flight was moved back to 12 p.m. and boarding the international flight, a process that can take some time, finally began.flightWith boarding completed, the flight crew, who had also been ready to go since the night before, prepared the cabin and off we went – all of about two football fields in distance.

Newark airport normally has two operating runways. Today that was one working runway as the other was undergoing maintenance, placing us last in a line behind 15 planes.

A timely announcement produced some unanimous moans and groans from passengers. “Oh well, what can we do but sit here and wait.”

By the time we made it to number seven, almost an hour later, we had burned about 10,000 pounds of fuel, according to the flight crew. That’s so much fuel that we had to leave the takeoff queue, return to what the crew onboard called “the ballpark” and refuel.

“Not a big problem, we sure did not want to run out of gas crossing the Atlantic,” I thought, echoing the mood of the other passengers on board. To expedite the process, we stayed on the aircraft, avoiding a repeat of the time-consuming international flight boarding process.

But by the time fueling was complete, we were on the verge of violating part of that new passenger rights bill, which established a three-hour cumulative time limit for such delays. This is a big deal to the airlines, if for no other reason than the fact that they can be fined $17,000 per passenger if they don’t comply.

By law, at that three-hour mark, airlines are required to provide passengers on a delayed, grounded aircraft like ours with food, water, restrooms, ventilation and medical services, among other provisions.

Over the aircraft loudspeaker, the call was made by Rick Chase, International Service Manager, that if anyone wanted off the aircraft, to let the crew know and they would make it happen. Two passengers wanted off so we pulled out of the takeoff queue and waited for ground crew to come fetch them.

Back in the queue for take off after 4 p.m., it was looking like we were going to make it off the ground after all. Then a weather concern stopped the countdown.

Thunderstorms directly in our planned flight path were going to be a problem. United Airlines operations people, we were told, scrambled to file a new flight plan.

Again came the grumbles of passengers but no one wanted to be hit by lightning then plunge into the Atlantic. At about that same time, someone at United Airlines operations remembered that this particular aircraft had never flown this international route before.

Apparently, by law, custom or just an abundance of caution, a qualified mechanic must be on board when that happens, we were told. Rumor had it that due to cutbacks caused by the Continental and United Airlines merger, there were none available.

This time we did not go back to the ballpark but rather just stopped where we were and waited for the revised flight plan and a mechanic. At a little after 5 p.m., United Airlines Flight 108 finally took off, racking up a total of over 17 hours delay.

The whole situation was just bad news all around. A big part of the enduring memory though will be how very well the onboard flight crew handled the situation. Keeping us informed every step of the way, caring for our individual concerns and making the most out of a bad situation far exceeded the requirements of the Airline Passenger Bill of Rights.

They took what could have turned into a very nasty situation and transformed it into a “let’s all get together for a reunion” sort of thing. To the credit of United Airlines, before we got off the aircraft we were asked to visit UnitedAirlines.com/appreciation where the airline put their money where their mouth is, offering all passengers on the flight compensation for their time and inconvenience. While the package was customized for each passenger, some included a voucher for domestic travel within a year ranging from $400 to $2000, a 20 to 50 percent discount for a future international flight, or between 15,000 and 50,000 additional frequent flier miles.

It was more of a “it’s the thought that counts” sort of offer at the time, but I bet that after thinking about the situation for a while and how very well the flight crew handled it, that most passengers will indeed give United Airlines another try.

United Airlines 'Computer Glitch' Disrupts Travel


[Photo- Chris Owen]

Disabled Veteran Accuses Airline Of Animal Cruelty And Verbal Abuse



Paws and Stripes founder and disabled veteran Jim Staneck had a very disturbing experience with United Airlines in Virgina’s Dulles International Airport. According to Staneck, not only did staff ask him if he was “retarded,” they also kicked his service dog, Sarge.

The incident occurred during a hectic time, when there were a lot of flight cancellations and delays. After spending 48 hours in the airport, Staneck approached a United Airlines’ staff member to ask for help. The veteran suffers from a brain injury that makes it difficult for him to concentrate under stress, and was having trouble understanding the new itinerary.

“He said, ‘Just read it,’ and I said, ‘Sir I can’t read it,’ and he said, ‘What are you retarded?'” Staneck recalls. “Prior to this I told him I have a brain injury and PTSD, I’m a disabled vet, this is my second night here; I need help.”

To hear Staneck’s side of the story live, check out the video above. It’s also worthwhile to go through the comments left under the video on Life With Dogs, as it appears many are trying to rally a ban of United Airlines until all guilty parties are fired.

What do you think?

Oscars take flight on United from O’Hare Airport

O’Hare Airport had a couple of extra visitors this morning in terminal B. Joining the rest of the passengers heading to Los Angeles on the United flight dubbed “Oscar 1” was none other than Tom Sherak, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. His entourage consisted of several dozen short, gold men: this year’s Academy Awards.

Mr. Sherak was personally escorting the awards from their birthplace at the R.S. Owens Foundry to the ceremony. Passers-by were stopped in their tracks when they saw the famous statue being passed from person to person, and even making an appearance on a nearby concession stand counter. Sherak cleared things up by taking to the intercom himself, inviting anyone who wanted to take their own photo with Oscar.

Airport staff and passengers alike had their fun with the award. Guests pretended to write acceptance speeches, thanked their parents, and a couple brave souls lifted the 8.5-pound award single-handedly to the sky. When asked questions about what metals the statue was made of, Sherak pulled out a cheat sheet from his pocket for help: gold on the outside, then Britannia (tin, antimony, and copper) on the inside.

The crew of the flight also got to spend a few minutes with Oscar, and he even took a trip to the cockpit, where Captain Mel Mason Jr. said he was the most prestigious non-human passenger he’d ever flown. The other 42 trophies were also on board, stashed securely in the plane’s cargo. But preparing for the 4 1/2 hour flight, Sherak still had his Oscar in his lap, available for the passengers. Sherak was uncertain about their arrival time: “We’ll see how the speeches go. It could be a seven hour flight.”

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5 airlines with great in-flight services in economy class

in-flight services economy class

Last week, I spent 13 hours desperately trying to fall asleep on a Thai Airways flight from Bangkok to London; my economy class seat didn’t have a personal entertainment system and the cabin monitor was pitch black from my angle. The week before, my sister took a red-eye United Airlines flight from Honolulu to San Francisco without the benefit of a pillow, blanket, or snack.

For many airlines, it looks like in-flight services in economy class are going the way of liquids on board. But thankfully, there are still some airlines that understand that service, entertainment, and even a few extras are a part of the customer experience, even for the peons in coach. These five are leading the pack.

Virgin Atlantic
Not only does Virgin offer one of the best personal entertainment systems I’ve ever experienced, they also offer a uniquely British flight experience on their Heathrow-JFK service. From complimentary English publications like Hello and Tatler in the waiting room, to free toiletry kits with socks and eyeshades, to a high tea service with scones and clotted cream, the attention to detail is there.Singapore Airlines
Rated by Zagat as the best international airline for both premium and economy seating, Singapore Airlines spares no expense with their amenities, offering all passengers luxurious Givenchy socks and toothbrush/toothpaste kits. If you happen to snag a seat on their Airbus A380 (say, through this sweet deal) or Boeing 777-300ER planes, you’ll also be able to read digitized versions of publications like the Wall Street Journal and Elle Magazine on Krisworld, the airline’s award-winning inflight entertainment system.

JetBlue
Though it’s a budget airline, JetBlue’s little extras make the flying experience one of the best in the U.S. Their entertainment systems offer 36 channels of DIRECTV programming, while their complimentary snack selection runs the gamut from Terra Blues chips to animal crackers (who doesn’t love animal crackers?). Plus, their Shut-Eye Service on overnight flights from the West includes free eyeshades and earplugs, plus hot towels and Dunkin’ Donuts coffee upon arrival.

Virgin America
Yup, Virgin again. Their American cousins offer sexy dim cabin lighting, standard and USB plugs at every seat, and the ability to easily offset the carbon emissions from your flight through a credit card swipe donation to Carbonfund.org. Plus, from now until January 15, passengers on flights departing from San Francisco, Dallas-Fort Worth, Boston, Chicago, and New York JFK can enjoy free in-flight WiFi on new Google Chromebooks through the Chrome Zone pilot program.

Emirates Airlines
I first flew Emirates Airlines from Tokyo to Dubai when I was 12 years old, and it still sticks out as one of my favorite travel experiences. At the time, I was blown away by one of the first economy class personal entertainment systems in existence, as well as the extra Swiss chocolates snuck to me by the charming flight attendants. These days, Emirates offers 1,200 channels of programming plus telephone, SMS, and e-mail services on their ice entertainment system; regionally inspired multi-course meals with locally sourced ingredients; and cabin lighting specially designed to ease jet lag. I’m betting those chocolates are still there too.

[Flickr image via Richard Moross]