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Onboard the “First” Flight: Flying on United’s New Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner
It was an early morning in Los Angeles as Terminal 7’s Gate 77 was a buzz on Monday at 7:00 a.m. with excited passengers, all lined up to board a special United Airlines aircraft. United operates flights nearly every hour between Los Angeles and Newark, but the 8:15 a.m. departure was special as it would be the “first” flight of United’s newest aircraft, the Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner.
Delivered to the airline in November, the Dash 10 is the newest aircraft to join United’s fleet, just four years after the arrival of United’s first 787-8 Dreamliner in 2015. Its entry into service on Monday makes United Airlines the world’s first airline to operate all three variants of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner on regularly scheduled service.
Although it wasn’t the first revenue flight of the aircraft, as it was delivered to United in November and operating a handful of revenue flights over the past three weeks, this was the first time the aircraft would join a route to stay there. As part of a trend of many new United aircraft, the aircraft will be flying the transcontinental route from Newark to United’s Los Angeles hub and eventually its San Francisco hub for the next two months as it looks to familiarize the airline’s flight crews with the aircraft.
To commemorate the occasion, United held a brief ceremony at the gate before departure, as well as distributing drink certificates to all passengers onboard.
A Unique Aircraft
With the new aircraft, United had the opportunity to roll all of its latest advancements and newest products into a single package. The aircraft comes standard with the new Polaris business class and Premium Plus premium economy class, the first aircraft type to come standard with those products.
Polaris business class takes up the first 11 rows of the aircraft situated perfectly in between the first and middle galley. The dash 10 is the first United variant to feature Zodiac Optima seats in a 1-2-1 configuration as opposed to the 2-2-2 paired B/E Aerospace Diamond seats found on older Boeing 787-8 and -9 aircraft, although new deliveries of those types will now see the Zodiac Optima seats installed.
The fully lie-flat seats appeared very elegant, featuring marble counters, small lamps, and came with the standard amenities such as a large high definition in-flight entertainment screen, a personal reading light, a tethered remote to control the entertainment system and bounds of storage space. On each seat was United’s signature Sax Fifth Avenue blanket and pillow, as well as a small amenity kit.
Also standard on the dash 10s is the Premium Plus product, United’s version of premium economy. With 21 purple colored seats across three rows in a 2-3-2 configuration, these recliner seats feature 38 inches of pitch and 19 inches of width. One could expect similar amenities to an economy seat, as well as a coat hanger and larger screen.
The arrangement is consistent to that found on other Dreamliners, including American’s Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners that have the product onboard, as well as the airline’s Boeing 777s retrofitted with the product. However, a benefit to this particular aircraft’s Premium Plus cabin is that it’s not entirely closed off and only half walls separate it and regular economy, giving it a less closed in feel.
I was seated in economy for the cross-country flight to Newark, which is divided into the extra-legroom Economy Plus and regular economy. Economy Plus only takes up a small portion of the economy cabin, which extends from row 30 up to row 60, but features a generous 35-inches of pitch and 17.3 inches of width. These seats are complimentary for elites but do not come with the same benefits of a Premium Plus seat such as enhanced meal options and non-plastic flatware.
The remainder of the aircraft included standard economy seating featuring 31 inches of pitch and 17.3 inches of width, though that goes down to 16.3 inches in some seats. Every economy seat features a personal in-flight entertainment screen, adjustable headrest, USB charging port and a rear-facing 110v AC power outlet. As is standard on United’s 787 fleet, the economy configuration was 3-3-3.
Even though the economy seats feature a pitch of 31-inches, the legroom felt incredibly spacious. As a larger fellow, I had no problem sliding into the seat and being comfortable even with the armrests down.
New In-Flight Entertainment
The highlight of the flight was getting to use the new in-flight entertainment systems that were being debuted on the aircraft. While on the outside the screens look the same to most other United aircraft, the systems are vastly different. The screen quality alone was among the best I’ve seen on an aircraft in terms of definition. I don’t believe I’ve seen a most crisper screen in my life, even on the larger screens that are affixed on the forward cabin walls and display the moving map.
The feature I was most excited about was the split screen feature where you can watch a movie and check the moving map at the same time. Although it isn’t the largest problem in the world, it does help enormously when you can pull up a map without having to leave your movie. It took a while for it to boot up at first, but once I got it working, it was impressive. The flight information section was also incredibly detailed and uniquely displayed.
Selecting a movie was also easier since the posters are displayed in two rows to allow for easier scrolling. Additionally, when I started a movie with a duration longer than the remainder of the flight, the system informed me that I would likely not finish the movie for landing and also recommended other options that would be able to be finished before landing.
The system also features a relax mode where an idyllic display is shown on the screen such as a lake or the Earth viewed from space along with a relaxing playlist played in the background. With the long-haul flights that this aircraft will be operating, relax mode will come in handy to hopefully ease passengers to sleep.
Another interesting feature of the system is that the color of the screen changes depending on what cabin you’re seated in. For Polaris business class, the home screen displays are a dark blue and show a starry night while in Premium Plus the home screens are purple to match the seats and in economy the screens are light blue.
The systems featured the same options as other United aircraft, though selecting a movie was a lot easier since the movie posters are stacked when viewing alphabetically so you see more in a single page than if they were shown individually. United’s famous Channel 9 feature was also brought over to the dash 10 where passengers can listen in to air traffic control communication from the cockpit.
Departing from Los Angeles
Our flight pushed back and departed from the gate almost exactly on time. Unfortunately, there was no water cannon salute to celebrate the departure, but the excitement onboard was celebration enough. Due to the rainy weather that morning, Los Angeles was operating on an east flow with aircraft arriving and departing eastbound. We took off from Runway 6R, an incredibly rare departure but a special flight calls for a special departure.
The excitement onboard the aircraft was palpable since the flight was full of AvGeeks. Like bees to honey, AvGeeks from around the country had bought tickets and flown to Los Angeles, even sleeping in the airport overnight (myself included) to be a part of United history.
Smooth and Quiet Like a Dream
As we began our journey eastbound, we were informed that the flight would only take 4 hours and 6-minutes, nearly an entire hour off of our 5-hour and 4-minute flight time. This wouldn’t be a normal flight by any means as the scores of enthusiasts onboard were up and out of their seats to explore the aircraft as soon as the seatbelt sign chimed off as we reached cruising altitude.
Our altitude for the relatively quick flight would be a whopping 39,000 feet where you can just about see the curvature of the Earth. The snack and drink service was operated as usual during this special flight, although United did give all passengers two drink vouchers to celebrate.
The flight could be easily described as a party. The numerous nooks and crannies of the widebody aircraft were filled with mingling AvGeeks, all there for the same reason and easily identifiable either with a camera strap around their necks or adorned with aviation-related apparel. The crew was equally excited, chatting with passengers about the historic day and how proud they are to fly for United.
As usual, the Dreamliner performed beyond expectations. The cabin was incredibly quiet, a noticeable difference to the Boeing 757-200 I had flown in on from the night prior. At one point in the flight, it was so quiet and smooth that it felt like the aircraft wasn’t even moving, an experience that I’ve never felt before in all my years of flying.
Welcome to Newark
Thanks to the generous tailwinds at altitude, we were descending into Newark before we knew it. As the aircraft greased its wheels on Runway 4R at Newark Liberty International Airport, our historic flight was over, but we were four hours into a new era for both United Airlines and the American aviation industry.
Although we weren’t greeted with a ceremonial water cannon salute because of the cold temperatures in Newark, the gate was adorned with balloons, banners and food for both the inbound passengers and those who would be flying on the aircraft for its flight back to Newark.
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