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Old Dec 24, 12, 12:13 am   #1
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Me, the Universe, and a Dreamliner

Note to the reader: This is my first trip report so please be kind and if you can't then at least comment slowly. This is also my first post of a long document in PHP, so the constant need to press the "Preview Post" button oddly reminds me of LaTeX... Anyway, enjoy.

Every year, most Americans embark on a journey to all points across the country to celebrate Thanksgiving with their family. Most of the time, it’s a fairly routine process that we come to expect from air travel: blood, tears, agony, and ever increasing delays that makes it look like the Universe is playing a sick joke. Unfortunately, my story is just another one of those Thanksgiving tales: a log of sick jokes played by the Universe…at me. Back in August, I booked my trip home to LA so that I travel just a few days before the Thanksgiving rush. And then United announced the domestic routes for their new 787 fleet. I was able to change my trip so that I was on the IAH-SFO 787 service and used 20,000 miles to upgrade myself to First Class (which is really a International BusinessFirst seat). Wonderful. The catch was that I was now traveling on the day before Thanksgiving. Not so wonderful.
I think the Universe has a thing against me, not too sure why. Maybe its because I am an engineer, but I digress. The following trip report is just a list of those awful jokes played by my arch enemy…the Universe.

Sick joke #1
Delays in Boeing’s delivery of the planes to United caused the airline to switch out the 787 with a 764 on my original segment. Ugh. Fortunately, United allowed free changes and I was able to reroute to IND-ORD-IAH-LAX, the last two legs on 787’s. So not only was I still on a 787, I was on a 787 TWICE. Awesome. It was almost something out of that “YO DAWG” meme. And I was able to save my upgrades so I was in First on both 787 segments.

Me 1. Universe 0.

Sick joke #2
On the day of departure, I was supposed to catch the shuttle to the airport…I missed it by 2 minutes. So I ended up driving myself there, so I paid $23 in parking over the cost of the shuttle. Sick joke #2 was not that bad, but I should have noticed it as a sign of things to come. Did I mention that there was really dense fog (read pea soup…the chunky kind) when I opened my front door that morning?

Me 1. Universe 1.

Sick joke #3
Yeah about that fog. It was everywhere, not just your-neighborhood everywhere, but across-the-whole-damn-midwest everywhere. ORD was now on a ground stop, which meant my short hop from IND to ORD was canceled. With my ORD-IAH 787 flight showing as on time, it was pretty clear I was going to misconnect if I took the other (delayed) ORD flights. With no other better options, I rebooked to IND-IAH-LAX and lost the ORD-IAH 787 segment, but was able to save the remaining IAH-LAX 787 segment. However, I was now sitting in Economy on a small ERJ-145 on IND-IAH…ugh.
With all the ORD-bound flights delayed, it seemed like my decision to get rebooked IND-IAH-LAX was a good one. However, bear in mind that my original ORD-IAH 787 flight is also subject to the same ground stop at ORD, but it is officially on time and if really was on time I would certainly misconnect if I took the other available IND-ORD flights. Furthermore, the 787 that would take me on ORD-IAH is the same plane that would also take me on IAH-LAX. This meant I was less susceptible to losing my 787 seat in the event of a delay.
Now we are gambling. Do I rebook (again) to my original 787 X2 routing and run the risk of losing both of them, essentially betting that the ORD-IAH flight would be delayed? Or do I call it a day and just be happy with one Dreamliner? I chose the latter and boarded my flight to Houston in modest defeat.

Lets call this a tie…
Me 2. Universe 2.

Sick joke #4
Fast-forward about 2 hours when I land in Houston. I find that not only did the IND-ORD flights leave only 30-minutes after I did, but that the ORD-IAH Dreamliner flight was also delayed…by nearly TWO hours. If I stuck to my original routing, I would have made the connection and keep my two First class seats on the Dreamliner! I was visibly pissed, ok maybe not, but I did remember cursing in some strange language…MATLAB or C or something like that. I felt like catching a flight back up to Chicago to make my original flight.


So here I am, sitting in the IAH United Club, snacking away on cheese, crackers, and chocolate covered raisins. Writing my trip report and watching planes hover by. I get to spend a lovely 4 hours in Houston and my Dreamliner to LAX is now delayed 29 minutes. Score one for the Universe…

Me 2. Universe 3.

So how do you spend four hours in Houston? Lounge hopping. Much like bar hopping, but without the dancing. You get to try out all the amenities for that domestic and international airlines have to offer, which for United Airlines is not much. Compared to the amount of services, amenities, and features that Lufthansa, Cathay Pacific, and British Airways offer, United is far behind. Prepackaged cheese, crackers, and carrot sticks are not worth the $400/year membership price that United is asking and thankfully I never paid for it (TK status match). That said, I went to two United Clubs, one in Terminal C and another in Terminal E. The former is quiet and small, but lacking in atmosphere; the latter is crowded and large, but is newer.

More to come:
The 787: Inbound arrival and boarding
The 787: Push and Start, Takeoff
The 787: The flight
The 787: Landing and post-flight
Summary and Conclusion

Last edited by UAL1200; Dec 30, 12 at 1:44 pm Reason: Added links
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Old Dec 24, 12, 12:24 am   #2
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The 787: Inbound arrival and boarding

The 787: Inbound arrival and boarding

During my four hours in Houston, I was tracking the inbound progress of the plane so I could catch a few photos of it pulling into the gate. When it did pull into the gate, I starting taking photos of it like no ones business, like a super model coming down the runway. As you’d expect, this drew odd stares from passengers, gate agents…and the crew.

Since these flights were essentially shakedown flights, engineers from Boeing, GE, and several other subcontractors were at the gate to debrief the crew on the performance of the plane. Speaking of which, my 787 to LAX was N26906, the second plane in the fleet and delivered to United only a few weeks earlier.

Engineers in the cockpit...

After a quick turnaround and a change of crew, UA1159 to LAX was ready to board. Since I was in First, I boarded with Group 1, which seemed like a lot of people.

Once onboard, I got a whiff of that new airplane smell, which is a lot like a new car small but hits your face less when you walk in (probably because of all the passengers that came in before me). I quickly proceeded to my seat in 4L, a bulkhead window seat. Manufactured by B/E Aerospace, this “First Class” seat is actually United’s BusinessFirst seat used on a majority of international flights. Each seat comes equipped with power, AVOD, and the capability to transform into a lie-flat bed. However, I had no intention of sleeping on this 3-hour flight! After settling in, stowing away my bags, I began playing with my seat and the electro chromatic windows. It does take a while for the shade to change and at its darkest setting you can barely see anything outside. Again…snapping photos and attracting another fresh batch of odd stares.

One of the FA’s introduced himself and his fellow FA working in First. He offered me and my seatmate a pre-departure beverage of anything we wanted, so I took a ginger ale and my seatmate didn’t take anything. After shrugging off the odd stares from my cabin-mates in First, I settled down for the 3-hour flight to LAX. Boarding announcements by the crew had a special touch to the tone of “our special 787 service to LAX” or “welcome aboard our new 787 Dreamliner”. With the doors closed and everyone bucked in, it was time to pushback and play the safety video. The safety video had a special 787-edition message from Jeff Smisek and other United employees, with the safety video itself been customized to have a 787 instead of the usual 777.

Last edited by UAL1200; Dec 24, 12 at 12:33 am
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Old Dec 24, 12, 12:28 am   #3
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The 787: Push and Start, Takeoff

Having been in a 777, I feel that a 787 engine start has much more structural vibration to it from its older cousin. It might be due to the more cavernous cabin of the 787 or that 4L was right next to the engine, but there was considerable noise as the engine spooled up. However, as the fuel switches were flipped on and N1 reached stable idle, the noise went away and it was dead silent in the cabin. I mean…dead quiet and I did not realize it until the A/C packs were switched back on…the rush of A/C air was much louder than the engines. We waited on the tarmac as N20904, the first United 787, was taxiing in.

A few more photos from my seat...

During taxi, the FA took our dinner orders. Today, dinner was a choice of Chicken Cacciatore with gnocchi or Spinach cannelloni, both served with a salad and smoked salmon appetizer. I took the chicken, while my seatmate decided to skip and go to sleep. I think this part is where a small addition of detail will go a long way, offering “Chicken Cacciatore with gnocchi and vegetables” instead of “chicken with pasta” makes for a great touch of service.
Takeoff was uneventful, but noticeably quiet especially considering the engine was right next to me. It was cool to watch the wing flex up as it started to generate lift. See the video for the takeoff.

Last edited by UAL1200; Dec 30, 12 at 1:45 pm
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Old Dec 24, 12, 12:53 am   #4
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The 787: The flight

Shortly after takeoff we turned west into the sun, which made for spectacular wing views of the plane.

The dinner service began with a hot towel service with warmed nuts and a beverage, more ginger ale in my case. My seatmate went to sleep and stayed this way for the remainder for the flight. This is where the lie-flat concept has its flaws: if your aisle seatmate is sleeping you need a couple yoga classes to get your window-loving butt out into the rest of the plane. I wanted to wash my hands before dinner, so I skillfully contorted myself around my seatmate’s legs providing much entertainment to the rest of my First Class cabin mates. Afterwards, dinner was served.

The chicken was good and tender, but nothing to write home about and the portions are a bit small for me at least. Having never tried gnocchi before, I was excited to have an opportunity here. The veggies were crisp as was the salad, which came with very tasty ranch dressing. Smoked salmon was smoked salmon. After seeing the FA bring out the cannelloni for the other passengers, I think I should have gotten the pasta option instead. Dinner was followed by a glass of white wine, which I cannot comment on since this was my first taste of it. Much later was an oatmeal raisin cookie fresh from the oven, still piping hot and a bit undercooked (ultra soft).

The IFE system onboard has a wide selection of TV, movies, and documentaries, in addition to video games. There is certainly enough power under the hood since scrolling motions on the touch screen (or remote) are smooth and seamless. However, my particular system did freeze after takeoff and required a reboot. Rather than waste my time watching a movie, I played a few games and enjoy the Dreamliner a bit more.

I spent the rest of the flight walking around the cabin, getting a look at the Economy section, and talking with the crew. The Economy section “sounds” a bit cramped, most airlines chose a 8-across seating arrangement for the back, but United went with 9-across, which makes for a narrow seat. The crew for this flight was their first time on a 787 as well and usually fly South American routes, and like me they were excited to try out the new plane (and the crew rest area). For an ex-Continental crew, they delivered great service with a personal touch. They knew a lot of people onboard were excited about the plane, so they went around helping passengers take photos or answering questions. One FA offered to take a few photos of me in the cabin as well.

The 787 is equipped with LED mood lighting that changes with the time of day, so departure was afternoon sky blue while later after dinner it changed to sunset amber. Another nice touch is that these lights fade to the next color (or off) so that it’s easier on the eyes. Finally, I could not tell the difference in pressurization between the 787 and other planes, but I could tell the higher humidity on this flight. My skin dries easily and I was much more comfortable to that respect on this flight.

And some...extras.

Just before starting our descent into LAX, the crew began a snack basket service in First consisting of Popchips, Cliff bars, and packaged nuts, and bananas. Apparently, the same basket was sitting as a snack bar on the 2L door handle as I was talking to the FA.

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Old Dec 24, 12, 10:09 am   #5
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The 787: Landing and post-flight, Summary and Conclusion

The 787: Landing and post-flight
Shortly after the snack service, we began our descent into LAX. However, before I took my seat, I asked one of the FAs if I could visit the cockpit after our plane pulled into the gate at LAX (he was OK with it). It was a really textbook landing and my flight was fortunate enough to land on the South field on 25R rather than the North field, which requires a long taxi to the terminal. Landing video.
After getting blocked in, the FA asked me to stay in my seat and relax while the rest of the passengers deplaned. With the forward First class section off, she and the purser invited me to the cockpit. A family was already there and similarly enthusiastic about the plane, the pilots and FAs all took part in the fun offering to take photos and sign boarding passes. Soon it was my turn, I introduced myself as an aerospace engineer and the pilots immediately started chatting me up on planes. The pilot even moved out of his seat so that I could try it out and grab a few photos. The copilot on the other hand offered to snap a few photos of me in the left seat. I profusely thanked both pilots for taking the time to let me visit the cockpit and headed out where the FA reminded me of her offer to take a few cabin photos, which I took up.
By this time, a large number of UA mechanics and other engineers boarded the plane with the cleaning crew. Knowing that this crew was due to fly back to IAH in a few hours on the redeye, and the lacking number of passengers onboard (read one…me) I thanked the crew again for their kindness and finally deplaned.

Summary and Conclusion
So my grand plan of magic and wonder didn’t turn out as well as I hoped. What was supposed to be two 787 flights ended up being one. I burned 20,000 miles to sit in the pointy end (as eightblack calls it) for nearly 7 hours, but the Universe decided that was too much and threw in some fog down the Midwest. The last time I checked, the running score was:

Me 2. Universe 3.

I lost one 787 segment and was relegated to sit in a cramped ERJ-145 for two hours, but in the end I did get to fly on a Dreamliner…in a lie-flat seat. It was awesome! Not only did I get to try out an International premium hard product for the first time a long while, but I had a wonderful time sitting in a shiny new plane and got to share the enthusiasm with a great crew. While I would have enjoyed an extra 787 segment, this was great nonetheless. So the final score:

Me 1000000000000. Universe 3.

I win.
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Old Dec 24, 12, 10:28 am   #6
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Thanks very much for this excellent report!

I appreciate you taking the time to write and share the excellent photos of the United 787 Dreamliner.
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Old Dec 25, 12, 3:41 pm   #7
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Bravo! Great report! I am booked to fly in my first B787 next July WAW to YYZ on LOT Polish Airlines. Can't wait
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Old Dec 25, 12, 7:01 pm   #8
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Great photos and videos.
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Old Dec 25, 12, 8:04 pm   #9
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Thanks for a very enjoyable report!

Booking two 787 segments gave you some insurance (always a smart thing on these quick turns in the winter time) - and because of that, you still got to do one 787 segment.
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Old Dec 25, 12, 10:21 pm   #10
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Thanks for posting; I really enjoyed your report! And I can sympathize with your flight to Houston; my YYZ-IAH positioning flight was also on an ERJ-145; 3 hours and 10 minutes of actual flight time. And totally worth it; my flight from IAH-SFO on the 787 was absolutely fantastic and well worth using an RPU to upgrade.

I was especially impressed by our descent into SFO; from 40,000 feet to landing in just 24 minutes, with no discomfort whatsoever. I only wish the flight had been during daylight hours...
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Old Dec 26, 12, 1:25 am   #11
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Nice job, UAL1200!

I look at that bland greyish-blue interior throughout and can't help but yearn for the days when United's First Class had red or maroon colored seats while economy was upholstered in blue and gold. The planes just looked more bright and cheerful inside back then...
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Old Dec 26, 12, 9:04 am   #12
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What a great review. Thank you for taking the time to not only document with photos and video the experience you had, but also for bringing those of us along who haven't flown the new bird yet.
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Old Dec 26, 12, 5:22 pm   #13
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Ha! I cannot remember if I was giving you odd stares, but I now do remember you taking a lot of photographs. Next time, get my good side though. I was in 5L and you cut me in half.

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Old Dec 26, 12, 8:05 pm   #14
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Cool report. I hope to fly in one soon too.
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Old Dec 27, 12, 7:45 am   #15
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Great report . I look forward to flying on one soon.
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