Category Archives: Airline Inflight Reviews

Q&A with Thomas Lee, a Passenger Aboard the First Commercial Boeing 747 Flight

By Jay Haapala / Published January 27, 2015

Thomas Lee in his office at Zodiac Aerospace. Image Courtesy of Dan Krauss

Thomas Lee in his office at Zodiac Aerospace. Image Courtesy of Dan Krauss

Thomas Lee has been involved in the aviation industry for more than 30 years. He was a founder of Aero-design Technology, Inc., which introduced inflight trash compactor technology to commercial airlines. He currently serves as director of marketing and innovation for Zodiac Aerospace, a global aerospace cabin interior company based in Paris, France.

As we celebrate the 45th anniversary of the first-ever commercial flight of the Boeing 747 on January 22, 1970; AirwaysNews spoke with Lee, who at the age of 17, was onboard the Pan Am World Airways flight, New York to London. Lee’s father was the equivalent of a frequent flyer, even though the mileage programs had not been invented yet. As a frequent flyer globally on Pan Am, the entire Lee family was invited to be aboard this historic flight. Lee has flown the inaugural flights of the 747-8, 787, and A380. At the time of the interview, he was flying on Qatar Airways’ first Airbus A350 flight.

Pan Am inaugurated the world's first Boeing 747 service in January, 1970 at the Pan Am WorldPort.

Pan Am inaugurated the world’s first Boeing 747 service in January, 1970 at the Pan Am WorldPort. Image Courtesy of AirwaysNews

Thomas Lee's flight certificate for the inaugural Boeing 747 flight aboard Pan Am. Image Courtesy of Thomas Lee

The Clipper Victor’s flight certificate. Image Courtesy of Thomas Lee

AirwaysNews: Did you have any personal fears that the flight would be unsuccessful?

Thomas Lee: No, as a 17 year old, one is typically fearless. This is why most military personnel are age 17 to 22.

AN: Did any problems occur on the first commercial flight?

TL: Yes, during the take-off, we experienced a flameout in engine number four and had an aborted takeoff. This created a significant problem. This aircraft would need an engine replacement and could not fly. Fortunately, for Pan Am, a second 747 had been delivered by Boeing the day before and was in the hangar. However, this second aircraft had not undergone any preparation for flight. Pan Am had to waste a lot of time while preparing the second aircraft, known as “Clipper Victor,” for the inaugural flight to London.

They arranged five huge buses to take all the passengers from New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK), to an Italian restaurant in New Jersey. We were there for over five hours having a party while the second plane was being readied. When we were driven back to JFK Airport, 30 people decided it was too dangerous to fly this first commercial 747 flight and did not board the aircraft and make the flight.

The Clipper Victor in London. Image Courtesy of Thomas Lee

The Clipper Victor in London. Image Courtesy of Thomas Lee

AN: Describe your experience on the first commercial 747 flight. Where you invited to be on it?

TL:  I was only 17 years old at the time of my flight on the Pan American Clipper Victor, [so] I obviously viewed the experience through a different set of perspectives. This was a transcendent moment, full of anticipation and excitement. As a teenager, climbing the winding stairs of the 747 to the upstairs piano bar and lounge, provided a sense of adventure that was almost surreal for an airplane experience. Even in what were relatively confined spaces, the uniformed attendants, the cordial bartender and the musician tinkling the piano keys created a bigger than life experience.

The Piano Bar aboard the Clipper Victor. Image Courtesy of Thomas Lee

The Piano Bar aboard the Clipper Victor. Image Courtesy of Thomas Lee

AN: What was the most memorable part of the flight for you?

TL: Clipper Victor flight was filled with passenger ,including families and businesspeople in newly tailored suits, dapper hats, dresses and fine jewelry. During the 747 inaugural flight, passengers could walk freely into the cockpit and chat with the flight crew. In this current age of increasing volatility and tightened security, those particular areas are [now] understandably off limits.

AN: What was the atmosphere like onboard the aircraft?

TL: In 1970, I was a curious youth with an exhilarating sense of one eavesdropping on a uniquely breathtaking formal event. Rather than studying the textures of the padded cloth seats or analyzing the patterns on the glistening silverware, my observations were of a more general nature. The most vivid memories were of an extraordinarily large craft with an enchanting stairway ascending upward to a virtual Land of Oz. That, and a one-of-a-kind galley buffet necessitated when some of the catering equipment could not be transferred to the replacement aircraft after the original take-off malfunction.

The buffet on Lee's Boeing 747 flight. Image Courtesy of Thomas Lee

The buffet on Lee’s Boeing 747 flight. Image Courtesy of Thomas Lee

AN: Tell us about the flight.

TL: The sensation upon entering the B747 was similar to the awe one might feel when first viewing the Grand Canyon. Keep in mind that this was the first wide-body, twin-aisle aircraft. So the step change from the much smaller, single-aisle aircraft was enormous. When we finally took off, the aircraft was lumbering along straining to slowly lift off and climb up to altitude.

As they could not transfer all the catering equipment when the second aircraft had to be prepared, they created a once-in-a-lifetime catering event. The passengers lined up in the aisles. A buffet was set up in the galley and we each filled our own plates and then went back to our seats to eat.

AN: Is there anything that you wish to say about the first flight?

TL: Clipper Victor was not only the inaugural 747 (first commercial flight) in history. Seven years later, it was the same exact 747 aircraft that was struck by the KLM 747 at Tenerife Airport, resulting in the worst aviation accident in history.

Thomas Lee carries a plaque with his first flight certificates on any inaugural. He is pictured on the inaugural of the 787 back in October 2011. Image by: Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

Thomas Lee carries a plaque with his first flight certificates on any inaugural. He is pictured on the inaugural of the 787 back in October 2011. Jon Ostrower, then with FlightGlobal (to the right) photo bombs the picture.
Image by: Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

Cover image courtesy of AirwaysNews.

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Contact the editor at benet.wilson@airwaysnews.com

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On-Board the Inaugural Qatar Airways A350 Flight

By Guest Contributor / Published January 17, 2015

Editor’s note: Below is a trip report submitted by Gino Bertuccio. Bertuccio, a Miami businessman, has traveled the world on major airline inaugurals for the Airbus A380, the Boeing 787, the 747-8, and was the first passenger to fly “The Residence” on Etihad’s first A380.IMG_0431

Below is a trip report and photos from the inaugural Qatar Airways passenger A350 flight from Doha to Frankfurt by Mr. Bertuccio.

I must say that I didn’t expect Qatar Airways to have any celebrations for their inaugural Airbus A350 XWB flight, based on previous experiences. However, I must admit that they have left me very impressed after the inaugural A350 flight.IMG_0429

I arrived at the Hamad International Airport First and Business Class Terminal around 5:35 AM on January 15 for the inaugural flight which was headed to Frankfurt, Germany.

As soon as I entered the terminal, a gracious lady approached me saying: “Good morning, Mr. Bertuccio and Welcome. This way please.” She quickly escorted me to the first class check-in area, but I was shocked that she knew who I was. So, I asked her how she knew who I was, and she explained that she saw my video and interview from the inaugural Etihad A380 flight.IMG_0435

The check-in and passport control process was very quick, and within ten minutes of checking-in, I arrived in the business class lounge where I met up with several “First to Fly” club members. Also in the lounge, I was contacted by a Qatar Airways Media Staff to do an interview for their social media channels.

Around 6:40 AM, a Qatar Special Services staff member escorted my to gate A3 which was the same gate as Qatar’s inaugural A380 flight.

EXTRA: Mr. Bertuccio’s Trip Report From Qatar’s Inaugural A380 Flight

Upon arriving at the gate, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Qatar had a huge gate celebration set up with soft live Arabic music, and all of the passengers were offered drinks, sweets, and a bag that contained a certificate commemorating the first flight as well as an Airbus A350 model. Meanwhile, all of the passengers seemed very happy as they enjoyed their drinks, took many photos, and checked out their gift bag.IMG_0447

At 7:15 AM, boarding started me. Along with myself and several others “First to Fly Club” flyers were invited to board, after we took a big group photo in front of a big Qatar sign.

Meanwhile CNN’s Richard Quest was boarding the aircraft, and when saw us, he pulled out his microphone, and we all got interviewed.

As we entered the aircraft, we were greeted by several flight attendants who welcomed us and showed us where our seats were. I quickly noticed the really wide cabin and the flat ceilings which gave me a sensation of a lot of space that I had never experienced on an aircraft before. Plus, the overhead bins were spacious as they could accommodate all carry-on luggage passengers brought on-board. Even though there are no center overhead bins in the business class cabin, it was not an issue for anybody.

EXTRA: First Passenger of Etihad’s A380 “The Residences” Gino Bertuccio’s Trip Report 

The new Qatar Airways business class seat, also already installed onboard the 787, was very comfortable in the 1-2-1 configuration. The new seats offered a generous storage area, easy to operate seat controls, and an IFE console that was easy to reach and operate. The 17” screen offers excellent resolution. A pillow, blanket, duvet, pajamas, and a very nice leather amenity bag with some Armani products inside where at every seat.

The flight attendants served welcome drinks, dates, and Arabic Coffee, IMG_0463and at 7:40 AM, Mr. Al Baker, Qatar’s CEO, came aboard with his staff along with Mr. Fabrice Bregier, Airbus’ CEO, and at 7:50 AM the doors were closed; at 8:12 AM we took off.

As soon as seat belt sign was turned off, flight attendants started coming through the cabin distributing menus , a wine list , a letter from the captain, and a beautiful pen made with the same composite materials that make up a large part of the A350. The flight attendants also asked us what we would like to drink as well as what we would like for breakfast. I decided to partake in the fruit, cereal, and Arabic Breakfast.

It was not easy for the flight attendant to conduct the cabin service because everybody was up socializing and exploring the aircraft so the service was a bit slow. IMG_0470

The atmosphere of the cabin was very friendly and cheerful. At the bar, a few of us conversed with Al Baker about aspects of the airline: HIA expansion, A350 pilot training, and Qatar’s in-flight product versus its competitors. In person, Baker is famously very clear, direct, and determined in what he wants and how he want it for the best interests of the airline.

Due to turbulence in route the seat belt sign was temporarily illuminated and unfortunately, we had to return to our seats for probably 20 minutes.

EXTRA: Gino Bertuccio on the Final Singapore Airlines Airbus A340-500 Flight

IMG_0504When it was turned off again, I was surprised when  a flight attendant came to my seat with a glass of champagne and a chocolate cake that said: “Welcome On Board our A350 Mr. Gino Bertuccio.”  The cake was especially prepared for me , and I couldn’t believe it. I don’t know whom I have to thank for this amazing gesture , but to whomever was  responsible they have my gratitude.

At 11:25 AM, we started our descent into Frankfurt, and we touched down on runway 07L (the newest runway) at 12: 05 PM and arrived at the gate approximately 15 minutes later.IMG_0510

My Take: I have taken a number of Qatar inaugurals and while the service is always excellent, they didn’t commemorate even launches like the A380 with any especially noteworthy gate events or details onboard even at the A380 launch. In the launch of the world’s first Airbus A350, Qatar went all out. They really put on a show down to every last detail. Sometimes the service was a bit slow, but since it was the first flight, not everybody was familiar with the galley, so chalk that up to familiarization.

The new business class seats are very comfortable and offer generous space and better than many other business class seats (especially in comparison to their own A330 old business class seats).  In my opinion, saying that it tops other airline’s first class seat may be a bit too much of a boast. In comparison with any US airline or other smaller airlines, Qatar’s business class seat wins, but is is not comparable with other major European or Asian carriers first class seats.IMG_0505

Overall, it was a fantastic flight and a great experience! Unfortunately, it was the last inaugural flight for an all-new wide-body passenger aircraft (not a derivative)  for the next decade.

EXTRA: Qatar Airways Takes Delivery of World’s First Airbus A350 XWB

EXTRA: On-Board Qatar’s A350 XWB Media Flight

EXTRA: On-Board Qatar’s A350 Delivery Flight

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Contact: benet.wilson@airwaysnews.com

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AirTran Flies Final Flight: Onboard the Last Flights

By Benjamin Bearup, Chris Sloan, and Jack Harty  / Published December 29, 2014

ATLANTA, GA – After retracing the same route that ValuJet inaugurated service on in 1993, the final AirTran Airways flight blocked in at Tampa International Airport at 11:39 PM ET Sunday night. The completion of AirTran flight 1 signified the successful completion of integrating AirTran into Southwest as well as the end of the iconic AirTran brand.

The Origins of AirTran

AirTran dates back to 1993 when ValuJet commenced operations. It’s inaugural flight took place on October 26, 1993 between Atlanta and Tampa via Jacksonville. To commemorate the final AirTran flight, Southwest planned to retrace the inaugural route, but AirTran opted to fly directly to Tampa.valujet9409cover_23614

Initially, very few took ValuJet seriously; it had a cartoon character “Critter” painted on the fuselage of the old DC-9s it acquired from Delta, and its orange and yellow all coach seats were not really appealing. Plus, ValuJet decided to compete with Delta – who had dominated the Atlanta market since 1941 – in Atlanta.

EXTRA: A History of Air Tran

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A AirTran 717 pushes back from the gate in Atlanta on December 28, 2014. Photo by Jack Harty / AirwaysNews

ValuJet would win over the hearts of many, but it hit a major bump in 1996 when ValuJet flight 592 caught fire while departing Miami and crashed into the Everglades. Unfortunately, the crash killed all 110 people on-board. Weeks before the crash, the FAA launched an investigation to look into why ValuJet had more than 114 emergency landings in 17 months; after the crash, the FAA grounded the airline for four months, citing safety concerns.

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A AirTran 717 taxing to the gate in Baltimore. Photo by Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

ValuJet was in the middle of a PR crisis, even after it made sure to promote that safety was its number one priority. About a year later, ValuJet announced that it would acquire AirTran Corporation which was the holding company of Mesaba (one of the former Northwest Airlink operators) and new owner of Conquest Sun Airlines. ValuJet also announced that it would change its name to AirTran Airways, and it would go through a restructuring to turn the airline around. The inaugural AirTran flight was once again Atlanta to Tampa.

EXTRA: Vintage AirTran and ValuJet Timetables and Schedules

EXTRA: AirTran Douglas DC-9-30 Cabin, Cockpit, and Flight Decks during Scrapping

Over the next few years, AirTran won the hearts of many, particularly in Atlanta. It introduced the first 717 as well as a Business Class product to for business travelers. It also became the first U.S. airline to have an entire fleet of aircraft equipped with GoGo in-flight WiFi and XM Radio.

EXTRA: Inside AirTran’s 717s

Meanwhile, the airline continued to grow; it ordered more than 100 737-700s to reach new destinations further west and built hubs in Baltimore and Milwaukee.

The Southwest Merger

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Photo by JDL Multimedia

About four years ago, Southwest Airlines announced plans to buy AirTran Airways. One year later, it became official. AirTran would be merged into Southwest. About eight months after the marriage became official, Southwest received its single operating certificate in record time.

When the merger plans were announced in 2010, nobody was really sure this would work. AirTran and Southwest were different in many ways; AirTran offered two class service, operated with a hub/spoke system, and operated two aircraft types, but Southwest offered one class service, operated more point to point, and had a single aircraft type.

During the farewell ceremony in Atlanta, Gary Kelly, the CEO of Southwest Airlines, recapped what the AirTran merger did for Southwest. He remarked that “Everybody knows that it helped us finish out our domestic route network expansion and gave us access to key cities and airports such as Atlanta and Washington Reagan. It also helped us boost our position in key markets like Milwaukee, Orlando, and Baltimore. But, without a doubt, the most important thing that the AirTran merger has done for Southwest Airlines is the addition of you – the AirTran people.”atlanta-hartsfield-jackson-international-airport-aerials-of-concourses-c-d-2009_12073

In May, Southwest Airlines announced that it would phase out all AirTran flying by the end of the year (which was the goal since day one of the merger process). December 28 would be the final day of AirTran operations.

The Final Day of Operations

AirTran Airways operated close to 90 flights on December 28 to more than a dozen destinations. Although 90 is far from its peak of 750 daily flights, many tried to catch one final AirTran flight to say goodbye one more time.B59wgTJIIAAIIyq

Senior correspondent, Jack Harty, spent a few hours sitting at some of the AirTran gates on Sunday. Overall, there was not a lot of fanfare until the last AirTran flight; although, some stopped to take pictures when an AirTran aircraft taxied by, and many employees also took photos as they finished working their final AirTran flights which caused several passengers to question what was going on.

The Farewell Begins in Milwaukee

Early Sunday morning, we flew up to Milwaukee to start the AirTran farewell tour. This part of the celebration provided an up close look at Southwest’s growth in Milwaukee since integrating AirTran’s operations.

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AirTran and Southwest employees in Milwaukee on December 28, 2014. Photo by Benjamin Bearup / AirwaysNews

When entering the C concourse in MKE that morning, it became obvious that Southwest and former AirTran employees truly love the company they work for and the history it has with the city. The love and passion for the company could be felt when they described what it meant to see the four years of hard work that went into merging the two carriers be finally completed. Although some were sad, most saw this day as the next step in Southwest’s history, and one that would make the carrier more “simple” and “easier to manage”.

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AirTran 717 Sign in Milwaukee on December 28, 2014. Photo by Benjamin Bearup / AirwaysNews

AirTran named Milwaukee a hub in April 2010. At the time, Milwaukee would be AirTran’s third hub city, after Atlanta and Orlando. AirTran quickly grew to serve over twenty destinations with over 60 daily flights. When the airline was purchased by Southwest in 2010, it became clear that big changes were coming to Milwaukee.

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AirTran farewell party in Milwaukee on December 28, 2014. Photo by Benjamin Bearup / AirwaysNews

Over the course of four years, Southwest took over and preserved most of the routes formerly served by AirTran. “AirTran Airways laid a really solid foundation for Southwest to grow upon in Milwaukee,” said Dan Landson, a Southwest Airlines Spokesperson. “The brand was iconic in the city and region and we’re really looking forward to moving forward as one brand with one Customer Experience, and most importantly to be the airline of choice for Milwaukee travelers.”

As the final flight out of Milwaukee approached, the gate the flight would leave from began to receive a special makeover featuring that featured a banner and dozens of balloons. Employees were also sporting their best AirTran attire from the late 90s to the mid 2000s.

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An empty 717 cabin during the AirTran farewell party in Milwaukee on December 28, 2014. Photo by Benjamin Bearup / AirwaysNews

Around the same time, a special aircraft arrived; it was a former AirTran 737-700 that had recently been reconfigured and repainted in the new Southwest Heart Livery. It seemed like a symbolic “changing of the guard” in the former AirTran hub.

Several minutes later, N717JL-an AirTran 717-arrived from Atlanta. This would be our ride to Atlanta to continue the farewell celebration, but before we departed, a pre-depature party was held with two large cakes, pizza, drinks, and historic AirTran memorabilia. After a fun but short 20 minute celebration, the aircraft was ready for boarding. Several longtime and devoted AirTran employees and several members of the media were onboard the flight to Atlanta.

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AirTran farewell cake in Milwaukee on December 28, 2014. Photo by Benjamin Bearup / AirwaysNews

As the flight prepared for departure, dozens of Southwest and AirTran employees waved farewell from the ramp as the plane pushed back. After a short taxi, Airtran flight 351 was off to Atlanta, and a piece of Milwaukee and AirTran’s aviation history came to a close.

After completing most of the uneventful two hour flight, the flight attendants acknowledged the significance of the flight and asked for all passengers to participate in a group photo that eventually became a large selfie at 34,000 feet. AirTran souvenirs were passed out and before we knew it, we were on final into Atlanta. Shortly before landing the captain of N717JL thanked the passengers for their loyalty after all these years. Upon landing and arriving at our gate we were given forewarning that we would be welcomed by a large party to celebrate the final flight for AirTran Airways.

 

The Final Flight: AirTran 1 ATL-TPA

Pre-Departure Party

About an hour before flight 351 was set to arrive from Milwaukee, the party started at gate C3 in Atlanta. There were balloons, a DJ, and a lot of dancing at the gate. Just off the boarding area, a cake in the shape of a AirTran aircraft took center stage. 500-600 AirTran and Southwest employees sharing memories and a lot of laughs in what turned into a very lively party, the kind of which Southwest was famous for. The theme for the event was “One Family. One Love” commemorating the intergration finally coming to fruition.

A little more than an hour before boarding, a few executives made some remarks.

Southwest CEO Gary Kelly mostly spoke on what it meant to see the integration be finally complete and that he was happy to have the AirTran folks part of Southwest. Comparing this event to a commencement, Kelly remarked “It’s the end of something that was great, but now, it’s the start of something even better. This is a testimony to the soul of the people of AirTran.”

Bob Jordan, Southwest’s Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer, was also present at the event and on the final flight. As President, AirTran Airways since the merger began he played a significant roll in the integration. Jordan took over when Bob Fornaro stepped down as CEO of AirTran, when Southwest officially purchased AirTran in 2011. During his speech, he went over some key dates of the merger and expressed how happy he was to see the two airlines come together. His remarks were warmly received by the crowds “we didn’t want this to be like any other airline merger. We wanted this to be special and just like Southwest treats its employees.” He emphasized that “this was a party”. Any outstanding differences between the Southwest and AirTran teams, weren’t on show tonight. 

Then, he announced that he was going to stray away from his script. Jordan took a moment to recognize Fornaro for his leadership and passing on the torch. Fornaro, who was present at the event and on the final flight, received a big round of applause and several cheers. Many AirTran employees were very happy to see him again, mobbing him with requests for selfies. Next, Jordan expressed that “Tonight is bittersweet for AirTran employees, but many new things will come as a result of this merger. We know that you all truly loved your company and built something special. Now we are one family.”

To conclude the gate events in Atlanta, Kelly and Jordan signed a commemorative certificate signifying the final AirTran flight.

Boarding

Boarding was a bit chaotic. Boarding began as soon as the remarks were over, and since there were more than 800 listed on standby for the flight, the gate area was absolutely mobbed which caused some confusion on where boarding was taking place. The 1980s it song “Don’t You Forget About Me” by Simple Minds accompanied the boarding.

Kelly took the tickets for the final flight, and champagne was served to celebrate the end of an era, but the beginning of a new one. A 717 model was passed around to have the final AirTran passengers sign it, and at each seat, there was some fun AirTran memorabilia for every passenger.

The captain of the final flight was AirTran’s Director of flight operations – Floy Ponder – who has 19 years of experience. One of his favorite memories was the 2010 ice storm in Atlanta that shut down the airport. The first officer would be Janin Hutcheson who has been with the company since ValuJet and helped recruit many captains at AirTran. Like the remaining 717 flight crews, they are going on to training on the Southwest 737 fleet.

After our initial article ran, Helen Souders emailed us a fun fact about a special jumpseater in the cockpit on AirTran flight 1:

One man was there for it all, my father, Captain John E. Souders. He was in the cockpit last night. He is a decorated Marine aviator, Vietnam veteran (fighter pilot), retired Eastern Airlines Captain, and the first pilot ValuJet hired. He flew the inaugural flight in 1993. He served as their Chief Pilot and VP of Flight Operations. He stayed on after age 65 as a Check Airman with AirTran. He turned 71 two weeks ago. It is fitting that he ends his career as the Captain they chose to be on their first flight and their last! We are so proud of him and I believe this t human story ties it all together as AirTran says goodbye and a great man retires from the skies.

EXTRA: Five memorable AirTran commercials

Pushback

After boarding was complete, a large gathering of employees and a few members of the media took place on the ramp. Many employees posed for pictures one final time before the aircraft departed for Tampa.

While standing on the ramp, emotions were high as more than a hundred Southwest and AirTran employees posed for pictures and waved farewell to the AirTran 717 that once ruled concourses C and D in Atlanta.

As large groups employees took pictures with N717JL, firetrucks lined up to give Citrus one final wash before heading off to Tampa, and as the aircraft pushed back, everybody quickly followed N717JL toward the end of the gate to watch the salute it rightly deserved. AirTran 1 made an on-time departure.

Extra: Employees say farewell to AirTran

The Final Flight 1 to Tampa

At 10:30 PM EST, AirTran flight 1 began its quick 35 second took off roll to thunderous applause.

Once in-flight, the party continued with a lot of socializing and enjoying the AirTran service one last time. With 117 passengers on board consisting of current and former staff, it was a full house. With many having flown in from around the system to be on the last flight. Owing to the demand, a number of staffers actually purchased their seats just as they went on sale months ago. The three Flight attendants, cloaked in AirTran sashes, managed to pull off two services inflight even as the partying passengers crowded the aisle. They had a little help from others fellow employees to complete the service on this very short flight. Cocktails were on the house and there was even a champagne service onboard, not something normally seen on a AirTran or Southwest flight. During approach into Tampa, there was a quick toast to AirTran.

During final descent, the captain said “I can’t say see you on another AirTran flight but hopefully on another Southwest flight.” When the fasten seatbelt sign came on, passengers chanted for a go around, but unfortunately, they did not get their wish. It being near midnight, few would have seen it.

Extra: Final AirTran 717 Ferry Flights

Arrival

At 11:36 PM EST, AirTran flight 1 touched down in Tampa to a roar of applause. Three minutes later, it blocked into the gate. Unlike most flights, no one wanted to deplane.

Upon exiting the aircraft, there was a large party going on in the terminal – with “Let it Go” from the movie “Frozen” playing in the background. If anything this party, sponsored by the Tampa Airport Authority was even more lively then Atlanta with even more dancing and a DJ. Many AirTran employees drove to Tampa to celebrate and say farewell to AirTran. It was very emotional as there were lots of hugs and some tears, but many are excited for the bright future ahead. Citrus and the Critter may be gone, but they are anything but forgotten.

Extra: AirTran & ValueJet Timetables and Route Maps

Extra: A History of Air Tran

Extra: Employees say farewell to AirTran

Extra: Final AirTran 717 Ferry Flights

Extra: Vintage AirTran and ValuJet Timetables and Schedules

Listen to AirTran final flight 1 ATC departure from ATL and final arrival in TPA

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Disclosure: Southwest Airlines provided round trip tickets and hotel accommodations to AirwaysNews to cover the final AirTran flights.  Our opinions remain our own.

Benjamin Bearup contributed to this story from the final Milwaukee/Atlanta flight. Chris Sloan contributed to this story from the final AirTran Airways flight, and Jack Harty contributed to this story from Atlanta as well as the introduction and history.

You can contact jack.harty@airwaysnews.com.

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AirlineReporter.com: Taking the Inaugural Bangkok A380 Flight on Qatar

This story was originally published by David Parker Brown on AirlineReporter.com.

The more that I fly the Airbus A380, the more I like the aircraft — as a passenger, but I am not so sure as an AvGeek. It is so smooth during take-off and landing, one might not even realize that they happened. Turbulence is mostly absorbed by the jumbo jet, making the flight smooth. The windows and walls are so thick, the aircraft stays quiet and passengers are removed from the flying experience.DPB 1

As an AvGeek, these are some of the reasons why I am not a huge fan of the A380. I want to feel the take-off, I enjoy a little turbulence, and I want to stay connected to the entire flight experience. But this doesn’t mean I cannot enjoy an A380 flight, especially when it is on a Qatar Airways aircraft with an impressive on-board product.

One of the biggest disappointments I had regarding the flight was not being able to get an exterior shot of the A380. And believe it or not, that was partially due to both Bangkok and Doha airports being designed where photos are hard to get, and also because of the King of Thailand.DPB 2

Now, I want to be respectful of the King, even while being in America. In Thailand they have something called lèse majesté, where one cannot talk bad about the King. If you do, you get to go to jail. It sort of puts a damper on your travel experience.

You see, the day of the inaugural, December 5th, also happened to be the King’s birthday. It was cool to see all the decorations around Thailand, but one of the rules is that no one can try and upstage the King’s celebration. Included in this was not being able to celebrate an inaugural flight. This meant no balloons, no cupcakes, nothing more than a few signs around the airport that let anyone know that this was a special flight.DPB 4

Originally, I was set to get tarmac access to get photos of the A380, but that also was considered too much “celebrating” and was cancelled. So, indirectly because of the King of Thailand, I have no exterior photos of the A380 I flew on. At least there was enough eye-candy on the inside to keep me entertained.

Did the King interrupt anymore of David’s trip in the inaugural Bangkok Qatar A380 flight, and how was the flight on-board the Qatar A380? Continue reading “Taking the Inaugural Bangkok A380 Flight on Qatar” on AirlineReporter.com to find out.

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Meet Etihad’s First Residence Passenger

By Jack Harty / Published December 24, 2014

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Photo courtesy of Airbus

In three days, Etihad Airways will fly its inaugural Airbus A380 flight between Abu Dhabi and London Heathrow. It’s a flight for Etihad’s history books as it signifies the introduction of many brand new products that are all focused on improving the travel experience.

When announcing its seating plans for the A380, Etihad created a lot of buzz around the travel industry as the A380 would offer a very unique and exclusive product. Meet The Residence by Etihad™; it is a three-room private cabin that has a Living Room, a Double Bedroom, an Ensuite Shower Room, and its own on-call butler.

EXTRA: Etihad Airways Unveils New Uniforms, First 787, and First A380

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Mr. Bertuccio on-board the inaugural A380 flight.

Earlier this week, Etihad revealed the identity of the person who purchased the very first Residence ticket on the inaugural flight to London this Saturday.

Meet Miami-based businessman and aviation enthusiast Mr. Gino Bertuccio. He will be the first person ever to experience the world’s only private multi-room cabin on a commercial passenger aircraft.

Mr. Bertuccio who runs Ligi Import Corp said: “I have followed Etihad Airways and I have always admired the products the airline has launched. There are going to be many firsts on this inaugural flight – new amenities, services and other innovations to try. I am excited to experience them all, though I am particularly fascinated by the butler concept.”

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Sloan and Bertuccio on-board ANA’s Inaugural 787 flight

It’s clear that Mr. Bertuccio is truly passionate about aviation and is a connoisseur with a strong expertise in air travel; he has traveled on 22 inaugural and final flights, since his first inaugural flight 25 years ago, and he is an avid collector of airline memorabilia and model airplanes (with nearly 2000 in his collection). He also has albums filled with boarding passes, certificates and photos from past flights.

On the inaugural Airbus A380 flight in October 2007, AirwaysNews’ Editor and Chief, Chris Sloan, had the opportunity to meet Mr. Bertuccio where he learned about the “First to Fly Club.” It’s a small group of people who have made it their goal to fly on the first scheduled flight of significant airline services. Sloan and Bertuccio also had the opportunity to meet during the ANA 787 inaugural flight.

EXTRA: Mr. Bertuccio’s Trip Report From Qatar’s Inaugural A380 Flight

For Mr. Bertuccio, he likes to chase all of the A380 inaugurals as a member of the “First to Fly Club.” In a video interview that Etihad put together, Mr. Bertuccio explained that “being on inaugurals for an aviation enthusiast is about being part of the aviation history; it’s like a new adventure.

Peter Baumgartner, Etihad Airways’ Chief Commercial Officer, said: “We are delighted to welcome Mr. Bertuccio on board The Residence by Etihad. On December 27, he will become part of aviation history as the first member of an elite group of Etihad Airways guests to enjoy the world’s most luxurious and exclusive hospitality and service experience in the air.”

“For the first time in my flying experience, I really don’t know what to expect but I do know that flying in the Residence by Etihad will be a truly unique adventure, the top of luxury. I have huge expectations. My only wish is that the flight was longer,” said Mr. Bertuccio.

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Contact the author at Jack.Harty@AirwaysNews.com.

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In-Flight Review: Qatar’s A350 Delivery Flight to Doha

By Chris Sloan from Doha, Qatar  / Published December 23, 2014

DOHA, QATAR - At 9:28 PM LT on Tuesday, December 23, Qatar’s first A350 XWB landed in Doha–under the cover of darkness–with approximately 70 Qatar employees, VIP’s and members of the media from Toulouse, France.

Qatar's A350 XWB quietly sits at the gate waiting to head home to Doha. Photo By Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

Qatar’s A350 XWB quietly sits at the gate waiting to head home to Doha. Photo By Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

A day earlier, Airbus handed over the first A350 XWB to Qatar Airways, and shortly after taking delivery of the aircraft, the airline flew several executives and more than a hundred members of the media on a short demonstration flight over the Mediterranean.

EXTRA: Qatar Airways Takes Delivery of World’s First Airbus A350 XWB

EXTRA: On-Board Qatar’s A350 XWB Media Flight

After the big delivery ceremony Monday, it was time for the delivery flight to Doha which would be operated just like a normal scheduled commercial flight, but there would be fewer people on-board.

Business Class was full while approximately ten passengers–who were all employees of Qatar–would have the two economy cabins to themselves. 

As much as I anticipated experiencing the Airbus A350 XWB in a true commercial flight, I was equally curious to put Qatar’s renowned SkyTrax 5 star rated Business Class marketed and self-proclaimed as “World’s Best Business Class” to the test. Some of the burning questions I had included: Would it live up to all the hype and marketing expectations? Is it truly a First Class product at a Business Class price? Is the Airbus A350 XWB cabin truly an “eXtra Wide Body” experience?

Checking-In

Upon arrival, it was business as usual; we went through the standard and typical check-in, customs, and security screenings just like any other flight, but there were not lines.

Once arriving at the gate, the media had an opportunity to walk around the A350 while it was getting ready for its six hour journey to Doha, and there was even an opportunity to do a little shopping at the Airbus store.

Time to Board

Although it was just like a normal flight, there were no lines which made boarding very easy. We boarded through the L2 door which has a bar in the middle of the cabin. It is complete with a signature middle light on the roof with an Arabic frame around the light. As with many 787 operators, this provides an entry like a hotel and enhances the boarding processes.

Champagne, towels, newspapers, and magazines were offered before departure, and I quickly headed to my seat.

At every seat, there was a hardcover commemorative A350 delivery menu which stated “ahead of the curve” which is a homage to the A350′s curved wingtip. There was also a dye cut out matting in the shape of the A350 cockpit window, and inside, it listed the dining menu and the extensive wine list. Additionally, the phrase “You will never forget your first time on a Qatar A350″ emblazoned the wine menu.

Almost immediately upon boarding the A350, one notices the high flat sculptured ceilings and flat vertical side walls which are a signature of the A350 eXtraWideBody.

The panoramic windows are also noticeably larger then any Airbus product before. Although they are not as large as the 787, they allow a great deal of natural light into the cabin. The windows in Business Class utilize a pleasing dual shade electromechanical feature while Economy’s are conventional manual shades. Airbus made a point of going with a simpler system then the 787′s dimming feature.

The LED mood lighting also stands out, but they did not come on until the meal service was concluded.

Once it was time for pushback, Toulouse ground crew and executives turned out in mass to wish us Bon voyage. There were also plane spotters adjacent to the runway waiting to photograph our departure. The captain announced “welcome aboard the first A350 flight” making it one of just a few times that people would be aware they were on a very “special flight.”

Take Off

Qatar also took delivery of its fourth Airbus A380 on Monday, December 22, and it flew the aircraft back to Doha simultaneously with the A350. Below are some pictures of the two aircraft beginning their journey home to Doha from Toulouse.

At 1:22 PM, we began a very quiet 42 second take off roll, and at 1:50 PM we reached FL400 over the Swiss Alps, picking up a little light chop from mountain wave. The A350′s gust suppression system handled the wave with aplomb and we were avoided a breathtaking view in the process.

After take off, the flight attendants wasted no time in starting their service as we were offered a comfort bag complete with pajamas ten minutes.

Qatar’s A350 Business Class Cabin

Qatar’s A350 XWB Business Cabin is in a two-cabin configuration with 36 Business Class seats in a 1-2-1 configuration, featuring 80” fully flat beds and 17” HD in-flight entertainment screens. These very comfortable seats convert to a lie-flat bed. For privacy, the middle two seats boast a powered divider. Each Business Class cabin is separated by the semi-circular bar unit.

There is a flat screen Thales IFE in front of the seat with the seat controls just to the left. The remote control, electrical power for European and US standards and USB ports are all to the left. There is storage space in cubbies at the right armrest where noise canceling headphones are stored along with a bottle of water and to the left under the table. Another cubby is to the left just under the lacquered wood pull out table. Behind the seat to the right is a storage shelf. This hard product is similar to Qatar’s A380, 777, and 787s.

In Business Class, Qatar opted for power electromechanical window shades which scroll down in two screens to soften light and make opaque.

The windows in Business Class are very large. Photo by Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

The windows in Business Class are very large. Photo by Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

In economy, convention manual window shades are used. This is a much simpler system the the 787 electronically dimmer systems Airbus claims.

As on other Qatar aircraft, there is framed art work in this case the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha.

PSU

The PSU. Photo by Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

I was seated in 8A which affords excellent views of the A350′s signature swooping wingtip. I was able to store my bags in the overhead compartments which were very roomy. Plus, the compartments don’t swing down to interfere with service.

The Passenger Service Unit (PSU) has an LCD screen overhead which indicates WiFi, Phone Switch Off, and No Smoking. This was a first for me to see such a screen.

There is a fold out tray table in a lacquered wood finish, and one major benefit of the tray table is that it allows one to enter and exit the seat with the tray table in the down position.

The male amenity kit. Photo by Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

The male amenity kit. Photo by Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

An amenity kit by Giorgio Amani was already at the seat. Inside, it had pillows and douvet.

There are separate amenity kits for men and women. The male kit has cologne, moisturizer, tooth brush, and shaving cream, and all of the kits have the Qatar eyeshades.

 

Qatar’s A350 Economy Cabin

Economy Class has 247 seats split between two cabin. Each seat is 18-inches wide, in a 3-3-3 configuration, and has up to a 32-inch pitch. Each individual seat will feature a 10.6” in-flight entertainment screen. The extra width of the A350 cabin and flat sidewalls especially shine through in the rear two Y cabins.

Currently, Qatar does not offer a premium economy product.

The Lavatory

The lavatories are masterpieces in their own right. They are bathed in red colored light with a rose and a backlit mirror. There are touch sensitive controls to adjust water temperature. An elegant textured finish on the sink with an understated dark wood floor which are also in the galleys makes this room a show stopper. Plus, the lavatories have a sweet aromatic orange smell which is very pleasing. I could have stayed in here the whole flight, but I digress.

The In-Flight Meal

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Photo by Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

Qatar is famed for its wine list. There were 9 vintages of wine and champagne on offer, Graham’s Tawny Port from 1969, and a full complement of spirits. In fact the airline controls alcohol  distribution in the dry country of Qatar. Sauvignon Blanc Craggy Range 2012 was the perfect and rather frequent accompaniment for my palette.

The appetizers included: Classic Arabic mezzo; Smoked mackerel with green bean salad . My delicious choice was a melding of delicious textures and spices. Three types of breads were also in the dish. The dish had an exquisite presentation which almost prevented me from eating it as it was too gorgeous.

FOOD 1

Photo by Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

For the main course, there was the choice between: Tandoori paneer with mussalam sauce, Braised lamb shank with dried fruit couscous, and Marinated chicken beast with lentils. I went with the chicken and was not disappointed. The combination of lentils and walnuts – plus the juiciest chicken I have ever had in flight – translated into a dining experience that would be the envy of many at a gourmet restaurant. This airline is indeed a foodie paradise.

FOOD 3

Photo by Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

After the main course, there was a cheese plate with cheeses, grapes, and chutney.  For desert, there was the choice between: a selection of seasoned fruits, ice cream, and Lauduree Ispahan which is a rise flavored soft macaron biscuit, rose petals cream, raspberries and lychees. Again, the presentation on this desert compelled me to want to frame it rather then consume it. The Lauduree Ispahan tasted as good as it looked.

FOOD 4

Photo by Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

For light options during the flight, there was a selection of hot pastries and a grilled steak sandwich with balsamic onions and mustard mayonnaise on offer.

During the Flight

HE Al Baker, Qatar’s President and CEO, made several passes throughout aircraft personally inspecting the service and asking passengers if everything was OK service wise. Clearly as he walked around the cabin, he was inspecting every detail to make sure it was perfect. Crew and staff refer to him as “Chief”.CEO

The inflight the buffet / bar area became a common gathering point for conversation. It was unmanned, but it was stocked with Krug champagne, snacks, fresh fruit, and Godiva chocolates.  The two-piece unit itself is used for storing galley carts.

The A350 was of course very smooth and quiet. It’s easily possible to have a whisper like conversation on-board, and this trait came in handy as many people were sleeping during the flight. The A350 also has a sense of roominess which is what really gives the aircraft its edge. As mentioned before, the wide fuselage is a particular advantage in economy where Airbus is able to put to good effect the 18″ seat in a 3-3-3 configuration. Even with a 32″ pitch one can tell the difference especially at the window owing to the flat sidewalls. The wide-body cabin falls just short of the 777 diameter which is intentional to deter airlines from offering the dreaded ten abreast seating.

As our flight was a medium haul–six hours and twelve minutes from take off to touchdown–it wasn’t easy to detect the effect of the increased humidity and reduced pressurization levels. But  like is often the case, even with the jet lag I did notice that I felt more refreshed upon arrival. The air smelled very fresh and clean owing to the XWB’s zonal filtration system.

But as unique and special as the A350 XWB is, from a passenger experience, it is almost a secondary player to Qatar’s apex level of service. The plane itself doesn’t wow like an A380 with marketing gimmicks, but it certainly delights. Think of it this way, a Broadway play can have an amazing set and theater venue, but it is the story and actors that keep the audiences raving. In this case, Qatar is the story and the A350 is the set.

The On-Air WiFi was inoperative but that was a good thing as it left us with time to do old fashioned things like take in a movie, hang out at the bar, and convivially chat with other guests on the flight.

During the flight, I played with the IFE–dubbed Oryx  Thales TopSeries– and the remote control– dubbed TPMU Touch Passenger Media Unit — which control everything from IFE to window shades to lighting. Some basic functions on the IFE are controlled on screen, but most features are accessed by the remote control which is very useful when in recline position.

The IFE was one of my few complaints in that its not intuitive as to what is controlled on the screen and what’s controlled on the remote. The exhaustive list of entertainment options are time consuming, and at times, frustrating to scroll through on the remote’s small LCD screen. Qatar’s inflight entertainment catalog is a comprehensive, but fairly typical offering of movies, games, TV shows, and music in multiple languages, and there is of course the tail cam view with moving interactive map. Where the A380 has three cameras, the A350 settles for one camera but I am not complaining.

Following meal service, the cabin crew offered bedding turndown service. This service and pajamas are typically offered on ultra-long haul and night flights but Qatar wanted to demonstrate this to the press. Matters, duvet, and blanket were thoughtfully laid out by cabin crew. Unlike many carriers where the cabin crew then disappear to their bunks or the gallery, Qatar’s well coordinated inflight team continued to attend to us offering snacks, beverages, and conversation. It was evident that they were very proud of their airline.

About 25 minutes before arrival, the mood lighting transitioned to a soft, calming aqua, and just before landing, we were each personally thanked by the very hospitable crew for flying Qatar Airways and that they were looking forward to seeing us soon. Indeed, I hope I will see them all soon again as I did not want this flight to end. Luckily, I had six hours and twelve minutes to enjoy flying on Qatar’s A350.

JDL 6

Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / JDL Multimedia

Upon arrival into Doha Hamad International Airport, we were carried on individual golf carts through the gorgeous – but mammoth – new airport by a concierge to be escorted to retrieve our luggage by a bellman. The concierge and bellman escort you all the way to ground transportation. This is a VIP service available on request. After a long journey into a newly discovered destination late in the evening, this is a very welcome perk.

Conclusion

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Chris Sloan on-board the A350 Delivery Flight

Qatar’s A350 Business product lives up to its billing as a First Class product at a Business Class price. The hard product, soft product, and very attentive, gracious, and multi-cultural service makes this a stand out regardless of competition. Apart from a few announcements and the presence of the airline’s CEO, this felt just like any other Qatar flight, and I think that was the point.

At this level of service in Business, I can only imagine to what levels Qatar’s A380 First Class service ascends to. Certainly the historic and special nature of the A350 delivery flight was a highlight. What I didn’t expect was that Qatar’s everyday level of service would actually eclipse the aircraft as the star of the show. Without a doubt, this was the highest level of service I have ever experienced. When an airline makes such an audacious claim as “World’s Best Business Class”, they had better deliver and Qatar did.

EXTRA: Photos from the Delivery Event

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Qatar Airways provided accommodations and flights to and from Doha. Our opinions remain our own.

Cover photo and latest photos courtesy of Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / JDL Multimedia.

Contact jack.harty@airwaysnews.com

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On-Board Qatar’s A350 XWB Media Flight

By Chris Sloan in Toulouse and Jack Harty in Houston / Published December 22, 2014

TOULOUSE, FRANCE - This afternoon, Airbus and Qatar Airways took more than a hundred members of the media on-board Qatar’s first A350 XWB for a quick demonstration, after the first delivery earlier today.

Getting ready to depart on a demonstration flight. Photo by Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

Getting ready to depart on a demonstration flight. Photo by Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

EXTRA: Qatar Airways Takes Delivery of World’s First Airbus A350 XWB

EXTRA: Photos from the Delivery Event

At 1:30 PM members of the media as well as Qatar and Airbus executives all started boarding the A350 for a quick demonstration flight. As expected, it took a while to board as everybody wanted to explore the aircraft.

Qatar’s CEO, Al Baker, boarded the aircraft through the rear and did a walk through of the aircraft.

When stepping on-board for the first time, Chris Sloan writes that he “noticed that the A350 XWB boasts overwhelming high ceilings and that the windows are noticeably larger. Plus, Qatar’s A350 have a beautiful wood floor, and the 18” wide inch seats are noticeably much roomier, even with a seat pitch of 32” inches.”

At 2:03 PM, the aircraft pushed back from the delivery center, and taxied to runway 14R, and shortly after, it began a 26 second take off roll which was very quiet with the Trent XWB engines.  It felt very quick as the aircraft was very light. The aircraft hit V1 at 140 knots at a GTOW of 198,000 kilograms being lightly provisioned with little fuel and no cargo.

As the aircraft approached 22,000 feet, flight attendants began going through the cabin serving champagne and appetizers as they navigated around the media and executives as they explored the aircraft; nobody wanted to sit down during the flight because it was one giant airborne party.

Qatar’s A350 XWB is in a two-class configuration with 36 Business Class seats in a 1-2-1 configuration, featuring 80” fully flat beds and 17” HD in-flight entertainment screens. Economy Class has 247 seats, each 18-inches wide in a 3-3-3 configuration, with up to a 32-inch pitch. Each individual seat will feature a 10.6” in-flight entertainment screen.

When looking out the window, there was a nice view of the Mediterranean coast as well as the Pyrenees mountain prior to descent.

At 3:08 PM, the A350 XWB landed back in Toulouse, and the pilots executed a grease job of a landing, and seven minutes later, the aircraft blocked in at the delivery center again. Tuesday, we will be on the delivery flight to Doha. Stay with us for continuing coverage.

After the flight, AirwaysNews was able to take a quick peek inside the state-of-the-art cockpit.

The tail camera was active throughout all phases of the flight.

BONUS: Enjoy a few photos of the media demonstration flight from Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/JDL Multimedia:

EXTRA: The Airbus A350 Program Timeline

EXTRA: The Airbus A350 XWB: Being There At The Maiden Flight

EXTRA: Qatar Airways Takes Delivery of World’s First Airbus A350 XWB

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Airbus provided accommodations and flights to Toulouse. Our opinions remain our own.

Chris Sloan contributed to this story from Toulouse, and Jack Harty contributed to this story from Houston.

You can contact the editor at jack.harty@airwaysnews.com.

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Inflight Review: EVA Air LAX-TPE-HKG-LAX in First Class

By Brian Coleman / Published December 3rd, 2014

Editor’s note: Brian Coleman, the associate producer of the Airplane Geeks podcast, recently traveled to Hong Kong on EVA Air and shared this trip report with AirwaysNews.

I recently had the chance to fly on EVA Air out of Los Angeles International Airport to Hong Kong for a family trip. It was a trip of firsts for me, including:

  • Flying on EVA Air;
  • Departing from the newly remodeled Tom Bradley International Airport at LAX;
  • Flying on a Boeing 777-300;
  • Meeting my wife’s family;
  • Fying on a Hello Kitty aircraft; and
  • Flying on an Airbus A330.
LAX's Tom Bradley International Airport. All Images Courtesy of Brian Coleman

LAX’s Tom Bradley International Airport. All Images Courtesy of Brian Coleman

Knowing the flight was going to depart from the Tom Bradley International Terminal, I got to the airport early so I could check out the new facilities and hang out in the new Star Alliance lounge.

I arrived at the airport so early the EVA Airlines check-in counter was not open, but it gave me a chance to walk around the new spacious facility. Aside from check-in counters, there were not many services available in the departure area.

Inside, the counters were large, well-spaced and ready for the onslaught of soon-to-be-departing international passengers waiting to check in. At the EVA Airlines counter, I was greeted by a smiling agent who seemed very happy to be there performing her job. Within a minute, I had my boarding pass, instructions on how to proceed through security and I made my way to the Star Alliance lounge.

On the other side of security, there was the normal compliment of high-end shops, as well as the obligatory duty-free stores. Not needing anything, I went to the Star Alliance Lounge.

The outdoor observation deck in the LAX Star Alliance lounge.

The outdoor observation deck in the LAX Star Alliance lounge.

I was very surprised to see how nice, modern and clean the lounge looked. There is an inside and outside bar, along with an observation deck that offers runway views, complete with a fire pit. It is the perfect place to do some planespotting while enjoying a beverage or your favorite snack. At the bar, in addition to the standards, the bartender was happy to make a Singapore Sling, Mojito or any other specialty drink you wanted. It did not seem like anything was out of his range, which was a very nice surprise compared to every other airport lounge bar I’ve experienced.

We had access to a large selection of buffet-style offerings for breakfast and lunch. There was also a build-your-own pho station, which was one of the best I have ever eaten.

The food buffet in the LAX Star Alliance lounge.

The food buffet in the LAX Star Alliance lounge.

If you forgot your iPad, you can borrow one while you are at the lounge. It also offers fast and free Internet access, and most of the chairs in the lounge come with AC outlets as well as USB power.

With my belly full and having spent an hour or so watching planes take off and land from the north runways, it was time to make my way to the gate for boarding. A short walk away was the gate and a slew of TSA agents performing what appeared to be a random check.

Upon boarding the plane, I was escorted to my seat in business class, given help stowing my bags, offered a blanket, pajamas, amenity kit and asked to choose a welcome aboard beverage. I asked for a glass of champagne and was told, “I’m sorry Mr. Coleman, for boarding we only have sparkling wine. Once we are in the air, I’ll be very pleased to bring you a glass of champagne.”  And as promised, a glass of Veuve Cliquot La Grande Dame 2004 was served when we reached a safe altitude.

As for the seat, the first thing I noticed is the angle of the herringbone — which is much more dramatic than other carriers — and the seat width. Not only was I sitting at about a 35-degree angle, I was in a seat that felt like it was only 20 inches wide. Yes, there was more space in the foot well below than on other business class seats I have experienced. However, I found the seat angle uncomfortable.

In addition, due to the configuration of the seat, it is virtually impossible to see your seatmate, which is great on flights where you want to be left alone. However, if you are traveling with someone, you could not make eye contact with your traveling companion unless you lean forward to look around the seat. Other nice amenities include in-seat power and lots of storage. Noise-canceling headphones were provided.

A starter on EVA Airlines.

A starter on EVA Airlines.

When it was time for dinner, I found the seat tray table to be a bit strange. It pulled out from the center section and then unfolded outwards, towards the seat in front of me. The table was very large, but if I were an oversized American, besides finding the seat to be very narrow, I doubt I’d be able to extend the tray for dinner.

It seemed like there were 15 flight attendants in the cabin catering to every wish and desire of the passengers. They scurried up and down the aisles multiple times and because there were so many of them, it seemed a bit disorganized.

However, when it came time for meal services, everything was cooked to perfection and the meal was very tasty and enjoyable. I had a French red wine (2010, Chateau Lilian Ladouys) to accompany my Braised Pork Spare Ribs Wu Shi Style. After dinner, we were served cheese, fruit and Haagen-Dazs ice cream with a choice of port, coffee or tea.

Wanting to get try out the 180-degree lay-flat seat, I pressed the button and my pod converted into my bed for the next six hours or so. I did not realize how comfortable sleeping with a down pillow and comfortable could be on a flight, but having missed the mid-flight snack, I assure you, it was comfortable enough.

An EAV Airlines Hello Kitty-branded jet.

An EVA Airlines Hello Kitty-branded jet.

With breakfast trays cleared, it was not long before we were on the ground, taxing to the gate and headed through immigration. There were no issues with immigration and I was in the arrivals lounge about 15 minutes after touchdown.

Part II: TPE – HKG – LAX

The next part of my journey was a week later when I boarded an EVA Airlines Hello Kitty-branded plane headed for Hong Kong. This experience starts before you get to the airport, where you can select a Hello Kitty flight. At the airport, there are Hello Kitty self-check-in kiosks and a branded kids play area. And there’s a gift shop featuring nothing but Hello Kitty paraphernalia.

On board the aircraft, pretty much everything that can be branded is branded. These items include the seat pillow, the art on the walls, the boarding music, the menu (which I tried to take as a souvenir but wasn’t allowed), the food, the flight attendant aprons, kids coloring books and even the toilet paper.

The service was the same as the crossing from the United States to Taipei. The seat was similar to a domestic first class seat, but the pitch was much larger.

A Hello Kitty-branded seat.

A Hello Kitty-branded seat.

After landing at Hong Kong International, I was able to enjoy the Virgin Atlantic Lounge. I found it to be spacious and well-appointed, but missing some of the luxury features I heard about in other lounges. The décor was modern, and therefore slightly uncomfortable to me. However, I was greeted by a very enthusiastic host who was offering to take care of any requirement I might have. He presented me with a food and beverage menu. Again, no request seemed too small for them.

I placed an order for pork short ribs and beef noodle soup and a glass of sparkling water. Within a few minutes the ribs and water arrived along with an apology that the soup would take another minute.

Having thoroughly enjoyed my ribs and beef noodle soup, it was time to see if I could gain access to the United Club lounge. Much to my surprise, I was granted access. The lounge was full and bustling with travelers.

I grabbed a beer from the self-service cooler and made my way to a seating area that overlooked the boarding gates below. In Hong Kong, all the lounges are a level above the departing gates. I collected my things and made the short journey to my gate.

The boarding process commenced about two minutes after I arrived in a very orderly fashion. I was again escorted to my seat by a flight attendant and asked if I needed help getting settled or if I required a beverage. Sad to see this wasn’t another Hello Kitty flight, I made myself comfortable and immediately feel asleep for the duration of the short flight back to Taipei.

The flight from TPE to LAX was basically the same as the one going over to Taiwan. The service and plane were the same, which is to say, very good.

One thing to note was the maps that were displayed on the IFE. I’ve never seen the views like what were displayed on the EVA flights. It was nice to see something so different with fairly precise GPS.

As for all the firsts I experienced on this trip:

  • I would definitely fly EVA Airlines again, even a Hello Kitty flight;
  • Los Angeles World Airports did a nice job on remodeling the Tom Bradley building;
  • I didn’t notice anything substantially different on the 777-300 versus the -200; and
  • The A330 was larger than what I was expecting and a pleasure to fly on.

—–

Contact the editor at benet.wilson@airwaysnews.com

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Flying KLM’s MD-11 Farewell Flight

By Ben Wang / Published November 15, 2014

KLM has a long history with Douglas. IMG_8703 copyThe strong relationship between the two companies formed 80 years ago when KLM flew its first DC-2 in 1934. KLM is the only airline to operate every Douglas model beginning with the DC-2, capping off the exhaustive list with McDonnell Douglas’ ultimate widebody, the MD-11.

KLM received its first of ten MD-11s in July of 1993. Unfortunately, the elegant trijet with its distinctive winglets was not a commercial success. Only 200 aircraft were built between 1990 and 2001.  Performance issues during initial entry into service, exasperated by late entry to market, followed by competitors introducing more fuel-efficient twin-engined aircraft such as the Boeing 777 and the Airbus A330, sealed the MD-11′s fate.

The MD-11 did find its niche, however with cargo carriers such as FedEx, UPS and Lufthansa Cargo, which received the last MD-11 built. KLM stuck through and kept their reliable MDs in service until the bitter end thus becoming the last airline flying the passenger model.

Setting the Stage

When KLM announced that 2014 would be the last year of service for the MD-11, I had a great interest in flying on the last flight. It was well known via the reservation system that the last scheduled flight was on October 25 from Montreal to Amsterdam.  However, rumors of a final commemorative flight persisted.

On Sep 15th, KLM announced via social media that they would sell seats on three “farewell flights”, appropriately on November 11th, appropriately priced at 111 Euros. Flights would be one-hour sightseeing trips around Holland. Knowing the Dutch, ever mindful of their place in aviation history, would give an appropriate send off for such a historic occasion, I did not hesitate on getting a ticket on the farewell flight.  Since those flights would be the last flights where you can actually buy a ticket, I considered them to be the more historically significant “last” flight to take.

Tickets went on sale at 1:11 pm Central European Time onMD11 farewell flight EUR111 Sept 17th.  After setting my alarm for 2 am Pacific Time on the early morning of Sept 17th, I managed to secure one ticket on a flight. Demand was overwhelming. 592 tickets were sold out in mere minutes.  During the sale, KLM’s site was slow to respond (I later heard it almost went down) and I was only able to confirm that I got a seat because my credit card was charged. KLM later send out confirmation emails indicating which of the three flights you would be randomly assigned to; I got the second of the three. In addition, seats would be randomly assigned as well.

Preflight

A beautiful sunrise on Nov 11th hinted a glorious day ahead. IMG_8709 copyAt Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, I checked in at a special check in counter that KLM had set aside for the Farewell Flights.

I arrived well ahead of the designated 11 am arrival for my 1:00 pm departure.  The first flight has already boarded so the counter was quiet, save a few of us that got there early. At check in, I received my assigned seat 25C. I also received a MD-11 booklet and a sheet noting the “house rules” for the flight.

I tried to switch to a window seat, however, the request was denied. The agent noted that the seats were previously assigned at random. Since it was a sightseeing enthusiast flight, everyone would want a window anyway, so they could not take seat requests.

The house rules described the procedures for the flight. IMG_8701 copyWe would be taken by bus to a remote stand where another MD-11 and a DC-3 would be on display. Boarding would be via stairs according to the color code on the boarding pass. Orange would board via the forward stairs and green would board via the rear.

The sheet noted that plenty of time and opportunity would be allowed on the ramp for photo ops. Wow – an airline that actually caters to the enthusiasts – I was impressed!

I went up to the Panoramic Terrace above the terminal trying to spot the first flight. The fog had rolled in and the weather had changed drastically. It was cold, windy, and misty. After awaiting o the Terrace in the bitter cold along with hundreds of other spectators, I came up empty. I decided to instead head to my gate, C22.

Extra: Onboard the Final KLM MD-11 Commercial Flight 

Inside the gate area, there was an aura of excitement.  Stacks of goodie bags with “I Fly MD-11″ on one side and “I Flew MD-11″ on the other awaited us at the boarding door. Unfortunately, announcements were made in Dutch only – frustrating many (myself included).

Finally, well past the pre-described boarding time of 12 pm, the the orange group consisting of Business Class and forward cabin passengers boarded the first set of buses. I boarded a few minutes later with the green group.

On board the bus, after staring at the goodie bags for the past 45 minutes or so, everyone was eagerly wanting to know what was in the bag. It consisted of sandwich squares on a stick, bottled water, a KLM lanyard, a small bottle of gummy bears (with the MD-11 logo), two KLM barf bags, and most important piece, a MD-11 safety card in clean and pristine condition.

We pulled into the special sectioned off area located next to the cargo ramp. There, MD-11 “Maria Montessori”, registered PH-KCB, and Dutch Dakota Associations’ DC-3 “Princess Amalia”, registered PH-PBA, were on display.  The star of our show “Florence Nightingale”, registered PH-KCD, was already receiving her passengers. Both -KCB and -KCD had special decals applied on them: “KLM – Douglas Aviation History” along the fuselage top and a listing of all Douglas aircraft flown along the fuselage bottom (which is all of them), concluding with a large MD-11 logo.  By now, the fog had retreated and sun had come back out. As we boarded the aircraft, everyone stopped to take photos and of course, the obligatory selfie.

Extra: McDonnell Douglas MD-11 Sales Brochures from 1995

At the door, two flight attendants greeted the excited passengers aboard. Inside, the all-familiar KLM blue dominated. All the seats had the new MD-11 book “The Last KLM McDonnell Douglas Farewell” as well as special MD-11 headrest covers.

It was nice that buses loaded each group in waves. Because this allowed for time to take photos on board before departure. The cabin crew were enthusiastically asking whether anyone wanted their photos taken (“yes please!”).

My seat-mate joked, “I wonder which movie I am going to watch?”.  I actually was hoping the IFE would be in operations so I can see the flight map, but it was dark for the entire flight.

 

Legroom.  Really can’t say much about it.  I was not in my seat all that long!IMG_8743 copy

Welcome messages were given over the PA, initially mostly in Dutch,but later rectified. One of the pilots who authored the MD-11 book would narrate the flight.

As flight attendants gave their safety briefing, it was clear that they were having fun too.  At one point, our steward remarked it was funny cameras were on him recording his safety brief, which brought laugher and more lens pointed his way.

The Flight

KL 9897, Amsterdam (AMS) – Amsterdam (AMS)

Aircraft:  McDonnell Douglas MD-11

Registration:  PH-KCD “Florence Nightingale”

msn/ln:  48558/573

Delivered:  Sept, 1994

Scheduled Departure – Arrival:  1:00 pm – 2:30 pm

Actual Departure – Arrival:  12:57 pm – 2:19 pm

Takeoff Runway 18L:  1:10 pm

Landing Runway 18R:  2:06 pm

Flightaware flight track

We pushed back from the stand four minutes ahead of the scheduled 1 pm departure. We were photographed from a hydraulic lift; it was the first of many photographers during our taxi. The funniest was vans chasing our plane trying to get ahead of us for photos.

Someone pointed out the center overhead bins were rocking and flexing as bumped around on the taxiway.  Since we also sat over the main center gear strut, we could also hear the brakes squeal.  Someone joked, those brakes are probably the first thing they are going to retire.

After taxing past the large crowd atop of the Terrace, we took position on Runway 18L.  It was announced that we would be using 90% power for takeoff (helpful translation courtesy from our seat mate).

Even though we had a full load of passengers, our aircraft was without cargo and baggage in the belly.  As a result, the takeoff was quite a rush.  We quickly accelerated as the whiny roar of the General Electric engines came to power.  Laughter and “woahs” can be heard around the cabin as we made a roller coaster style rotation some 35 seconds later.  We then made a very sharp right turn to the west.  It was clear that the pilots wanted everyone to have a memorable flight.

Only a couple minutes later, we leveled off at about 2000 feet and the seat belt sign went off.  Everyone at first thought it was in error and chuckled.  But after some hesitation, wow, it was real!  So people started moving about, trying to get views of the landscape below from available windows and touring the cabin.

Extra: Folded Wings – The Last Passenger DC-10 Flight Ever

People soon occupied every available floor space.  The cabin crew attempted to start service with beverage carts, but the fans made their job difficult.  As people noticed that we were being served petite fours and small bottles of wine both adorned with the MD-11 logo, that was encouragement enough to sit everyone back down so the carts can move through.

I quickly ate my petit four (you may call it “small cake”) so I can continue 5D3_5959 copyto explore the cabin.  By not having a window seat, I really couldn’t take in the view while an excellent tour was being announced over the PA anyway.  The narration also gave us status of the flight itself.  We had to depart 2500 feet and climb to 3500 and ultimately 5000 feet due to air traffic control.  As we toured Holland, the aircraft made sharp turns making walking extremely difficult.  We all had to hang on tight as the aircraft maneuvered about.

Windows around rows 10 to 12 gave excellent views of the engine and winglet, making it a popular photo spot.

All the galleys were decked out in party mode.

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Extra: Delta Air Lines 1991 MD-11 Launch Sales Brochure

Purser’s station – which I have never seen nor did I realize existed.  It reminded me of the loadmaster’s station on the C-17.

5D3_5964 copy

Airways magazine editor Enrique Perrella took a moment of solitude while reviewing the MD-11 book.

Do you play the KLM MD-11 Challenge trying to win tickets on the farewell flight?

KL had a contest where players had to correctly answer 11 very difficult questions about the MD-11 for a chance to win daily prizes and a ticket on the last MD-11 flight.

So did you think the questions were pretty technical and esoteric?  I certainly did.  I had to take notes!  Well, I met the person that designed the site and came up with the questions.  He and a pilot purposefully made the questions challenging but interesting because they knew the enthusiasts would know most of the answers already.

As we neared the conclusion of our one-hour flight, people broke out their permanent markers and left messages on the overhead bin.  There was a quite bit of enthusiasm as the precious few markers got passed around.

As we made our approach to Runway 18R, the excellent flight narration informed us of the direction and altitude of our landing.  Final approach speed would be at 155 knots.

The seat belt light became illuminated pretty late into the approach process.  After everyone finally made their way back to their seats, the back of the plane – obviously the rowdy section – tried multiple times to start the wave.  They were unsuccessful.  Then they started chanting “go around, go around, go round”.  Alas there was no go around.  Fifty-six minutes after takeoff, after a loop around Holland, we made a perfect landing on Runway 18R to the applause of everyone on board.  Over the PA, the purser thanked us for flying on the last MD-11 and hoped to see us on another KLM airplane in the future.

As we made the long taxi back to the ramp, once again, like our departure, our arrival was met by photographers and service vehicles.  At 2:19 pm, we were once again back at our remote stand alongside the DC-3 and the other MD-11 to the applause to everyone on board.

We were told to quickly disembark so the crew can prepare for the next flight.  Surprisingly enough, deplaning was quick and orderly, absent of the congestion experienced during the flight.  I asked a flight attendant for a cockpit visit so the pilots could sign items I had brought with me.  Unfortunately, the request was denied.  Given there was a large interest for the same from almost everyone on board, it would not have been possible to accommodate all requests.  Disappointed, I made my way to the stairs at the aft door, savoring my last moments with the last wide body passenger trijet in service.  And yes, I was among the last people to leave the ramp, boarding the last bus back to the terminal.

 

Final Farewell Flight

Here are views of the final MD-11 farewell flight (KL 9899) taken from the Panoramic Terrace.

PH-KCD lining up on Runway 24.

5D3_6118 copy

 

One hour later, PH-KCD approached Runway 27, and then did a Kai Tak style bank while on short final and struck Runway 24 with heavy tire smoke one last time.

5D3_6158 copy

 

A fitting end.  Led by service vehicles, DC-3 PH-PBA and MD-11 PH-KCD performed a victory lap around the Amsterdam Schiphol Airport.

5D3_6161 copy

Contact the editor at benet.wilson@airwaysnews.com

Photos by the author.

Extra: Onboard the Final KLM MD-11 Commercial Flight 

Extra: McDonnell Douglas MD-11 Sales Brochures from 1995

Extra: Delta Air Lines 1991 MD-11 Launch Sales Brochure

Extra: TriJet Twilight – Inflight Review on One of the world’s last MD-11′s

Extra: Folded Wings – The Last Passenger DC-10 Flight Ever

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December 2014 Airways: LAN Airlines, Heathrow Airport, the De Havilland 84 and Delta BusinessElite


Available for sale worldwide through our online store and selected newsstands is the December issue of Airways Magazine.


FC_Airways_December14_FINAL


 

This month, a whole new set of features cover the latest in the commercial aviation industry, tackling historic airlines such as Transocean, and reviewing current operations such as LAN Airlines and Philippine Airlines.

Get yours today via our online store. Don’t risk missing a single issue of Airways!

 


In every issue

Airways Photo News • Departing Shot • Mailbag • Cover Wars

Left-Seat Chronicles • Airways Literature • Arriving Shot


Airways Feature

Cover 2 ​LAN Airlines – America’s Rising Star

JEFF KRIENDLER reviews South America’s biggest carrier since its inception. The LATAM Group is on the rise after the merger between LAN and Brazil’s TAM was announced in 2012.

“From its modest roots in 1929, the Linea Aerea Nacional (LAN) de Chile has pieced together a powerful mosaic across the South American continent through national investments in a handful of strategically-positioned airlines, instilling in each a common philosophy of service excellence and financial discipline.”


Airport Review

Heathrow, the new Terminal 2A, airside departure lounge, November 2013.

Heathrow Reinvented

London-Heathrow unveils its refurbished Terminal 2. ANDREAS SPAETH visits the stunning “Queen’s Terminal” and reports on its modernistic and efficient infrastructure.

​”THE OPENING OF THE ULTRA-MODERN Terminal 2 ushers in a new era at London’s main airport, but the issues presented by the lack of a third runway remain.”


Airline Review

PIX 18 B777-38N

Philippines Airlines

Asia’s oldest airline, Philippine Airlines, commemorated its 73rd anniversary this year after a very difficult past. Join MURRAY KIRKUS on a comprehensive Airline Review.

IN MARCH THIS YEAR, Asia’s oldest airline, Philippine Airlines (PAL) commemorated its 73rd anniversary at a time during which the carrier appears to be on a path toward re-establishing itself after having been considered by any within the industry to be on the brink of extinction. Re-energized with a new equity partner––the San Miguel Corporation, one of the country’s largest and richest conglomerates––PAL seems to be making a comeback, positioning itself to challenge the numerous domestic Low Cost Carriers that have emerged since deregulation. At the same time, the airline looks again to compete significantly on long-haul international routes.


Airways Special

I1

Aer Lingus DHC84

Hop on board a flying relic in Germany. ANDREAS ROHDE reports this unique experience as he flew a 1934 De Havilland 84, owned by the Aer Lingus Charitable Foundation.


​”Over the small, grass Tannheim airfield in southern Germany, at precisely the appointed time, the silhouette of a vintage, twin-engine biplane appeared. As the aircraft turned into a northerly downwind, the sun reflected against the silver fuselage before the aircraft revealed its identity. It was the de Havilland DH 84 Dragon EI-ABI, operated by the Aer Lingus Charitable Foundation, proudly bearing the name Iolar, after the first aircraft to fly for the iconic Irish airline.”


 

The Airchive

Taloa L1049 N1880 (Authors Collection - origin unknown)

Transocean

MAURICE WICKSTEAD reviews America’s quintessential post-war charter airline, Transocean Air Lines, as our monthly Airchive story.

“OVER A TIME SPAN of less than two decades Transocean developed into perhaps the quintessential example of a US post-war charter, or “irregular” airline. Against the odds, it accomplished much in a relatively short time period, not least in helping to establish airlines for a number of emerging nations after WWII. That it was able to do so was largely due to an energetic and imaginative United Air Lines (UAL) captain, Orvis Marcus Nelson, who together with a small group of fellow wartime transport pilots, had established the airline in 1946.”


Airways Traveler

IMG_2416

Delta’s Worldiner: Atlanta – London-Heathrow.

Premium traveler report on board Delta’s flagship, the Boeing 777-200LR. ENRIQUE PERRELLA travels to London-Heathrow in BusinessElite and reports his excellent experience.

“Flying from the United States’ East Coast to the capital city of the United Kingdom has become a subject of pride among American and British legacy carriers, with over 67 daily flights offered from Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Detroit, Miami, New York, Newark, Philadelphia, Washington and Raleigh-Durham.”


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Special Flashback: United Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner Inaugural, November 4, 2012

United's inaugural 787 at a Houston Intercontinental gate.  All photo courtesy of Chris Sloan / Airways News

United’s inaugural 787 at a Houston Intercontinental gate. All photo courtesy of Chris Sloan / Airways News

Editor’s note: today United Airlines celebrates two years of operating the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. In those two years, the Dreamliner has been through its own trials and tribulations, including a grounding that lasted from January 16, 2013 to April 19, 2013. Below is an exercpt from a story that originally appeared in the February 2013 issue of Airways magazine, covering the carrier’s first revenue flight.

At 5:00 a.m. on Sunday, November 4, 2012, the whisper-quiet ticketing hall of Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport’s Terminal E did not offer any clues to anything special happening that morning. But it was the day for the first revenue service of United Airlines’ Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner. The event was covered by Editor Chris Sloan and AirwaysNews Social Media Correspondent Jack Harty.

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EXTRA: Via Airchive, UA 787 First Airline in the US

EXTRAUnited Hits One Year Of 787 Operations

EXTRA: Onboard United Airlines’ 787 Route Inaugural Flight from Denver to Tokyo

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After foregoing a major development event, there is concern that this launch might be devoid of much of the pomp and circumstance of other launch flights does little to dampen our enthusiasm for the inauguration of the first Boeing 787 to be operated by a U.S. carrier. We are being escorted through security by United PR executive Rahsaan Johnson, himself a fellow enthusiast who is as giddy with excitement as we are, as we only have 10 minutes onboard to jockey for photographs before the brief 6:25AM ribbon-cutting ceremony with Jeff Smisek, United’s President and CEO, and crew. Rounding the concourse to Gate E5, we are pleasantly surprised. The gate is already buzzing with activity, a large press contingent, festooned with party decorations, and generous buffet breakfast. A hip pop soundtrack wakes up the crowd. The message is clear: this isn’t no ordinary flight and after weeks of seemingly downplaying the event, United wasn’t going to let this historic moment passed unnoticed.  

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We quickly board the United’s Dreamliner for our 10 minutes of photo opportunities before we are required to exit the plane, even though we would re-boarding in just a few minutes. As we emerge, Smisek and the flight crew are already on a stage emblazoned with a “Proud to Fly the 787” backdrop to make a brief, 5 minutes of remarks welcoming everyone to this historic morning. Poignantly, he first offers his best wishes to all the people and United employees affected by Hurricane Sandy and his appreciation for all they did in the face of the challenges of the previous week.

Switching to an optimistic note, the CEO’s main theme is “The 787 is worth the wait and all of our guests and members of the press are about to find out why. If you want to be the world’s leading airline, you need to have the world’s leading airplane. We have that today in the new Boeing 787”. Beyond all the usual groundbreaking features of the 787 normally mentioned: efficiency, lower cabin altitude, larger electronically-tinted windows, dynamic LED transforming lighting, cleaner air, gust suppression technology to smooth the ride, the humidified cabin, the ultra-quiet flight experience; Smisek gets some laughs when he says that “you will all be very impressed with the lavatories”. Any frustration with the delays, schedule changes, or talk of compensation are not present on this morning. 

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EXTRA: Dreamliner Grounding Timeline

EXTRA: Boeing 787 Dreamliner in the hot seat again after Heathrow fire

EXTRAThe 787, One Year After Grounding

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United’s global business class on the 787.

Embarking the Dreamliner, my impressions of the cabin are positive. Though lacking the capacious stand-up bar entry way of other airline’s 787s, the entry through door L2 and the gallery and is still a major improvement over other aircraft, particularly with United’s blue LED boarding lighting program on display. I settled into my spacious lay-flat seat, 6A in United BusinessFirst. United wanted to leave nothing to chance to ensure an on-time departure at 7:20AM. At 7:12AM the doors were closed and 6 minutes later at 7:18AM we pushed back as the twin GE-nX engines began their almost imperceptible spool-up. Strangely, there was no water cannon salute scheduled on the departure but the custom produced Boeing 787 promotional and safety video received huge applause. With the clicks of cameras, cheers, and waves from the ground crew, we were on our way. As we taxied out to runway 9 I thought to myself what a long, strange trip it has been for United and Boeing to get to this historic moment. 

EXTRA: United 787 Re-inaugural on May 20th

EXTRAUnited Re-Inaugurates 787 Flights

EXTRAUnited Unveils its Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner Seat Map

United 787 inaugural souvenir.

United 787 inaugural souvenir.

United’s first announced bookable 787 flight and new 787 exclusive route was the March 31, 2013 launch of Denver to Tokyo Narita, Japan. Today, November 4th marks the first significant operation of 787s in America by a North American carrier. United initially chose to go big: with a remarkable 8 flights scheduled on Day One involving 5 of United’s hubs: Houston Intercontinental, Newark Liberty, Chicago O’Hare, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. These flights were to use United’s first 2 Dreamliners operating from the 787’s Houston base. United’s planned to temporarily rotate the 787-8 through all of its domestic hubs with domestic promotional and familiarization flights before the 787 begins its shift to international operations on December 4th.  

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The journey to this day has been over 8 years in the making.  United’s merger partner, Continental, was the first airline in America to placed an order for the Dreamliner shortly after the airliner was first offered to the market. Continental ordered 10 787-8s powered by the GEnx-1B. The Dreamliner would allow Continental to open up new long-range/thin routes such as Houston-Auckland, New Zealand (which was subsequently cancelled before launch) and Houston to Lagos, Nigeria, as well as replace the airline’s elderly 767s and eventually the 757-300s. Continental was so bullish on the plane that it ordered additional 787-8s over the next few years: In 2007, Continental ordered 5 of the larger and longer-range 787-9s, and converted an additional 12 787-8s to the 787-9 model.

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United itself ordered its first 787s in December, 2009 when the Chicago based carrier placed a firm order for 25 Dreamliners (also powered by the GEnx-1B) and 25 of the larger Airbus A350-900s with deliveries of these scheduled to start in 2016 and continue to 2019. The 787-8s and 9s are pegged as 757 and 767 replacements. The Airbus A350-900s are Boeing 747-400, and in some cases 777-200 replacements. The A350-900′s range is 11% greater than the existing 747s and older A market 777s.

EXTRAOnboard United Airlines’ Inaugural Boeing 787-9 Flight

EXTRAUnited Starts LAX-Melbourne with 787-9, Launches 3 New Pacific Routes

United's first 787 on the Boeing assembly line.

United’s first 787 on the Boeing assembly line.

This morning, Sunday November 2nd there are 4 flights operating the inaugural day: Our flight, 1116, is the first scheduled to depart early at 7:20AM with an arrival into Chicago’s O’Hare at 9:51AM. This plane is scheduled to turn-around and return back to Houston as flight 1510 after less than 2 hours on the ground in Chicago. As noted previously, originally there were 8 flights scheduled, but now just 4 remain today: Houston-Los Angeles-Houston (IAH-LAX-IAH). United hubs at San Francisco, Newark, Cleveland, Denver, and Washington Dulles were scheduled to join the 787 Hub Tour throughout the month depending on the timing of the 2nd 787 truly service ready. These domestic revenue and familiarization flights are scheduled to continue into early 2013.  

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All too soon, the seatbelt sign came on as we descended into Chicago ORD. Captain Starley turned the 787 auto-pilot off at 4,000 feet and at 9:36AM CST executed a perfect “grease job” of a landing onto ORD’s runway 10, to cheers and clapping. We quickly exited the runway and as we taxied the first words heard over the PA, were  “It’s A Dream Come True”, and yes you guessed it: there was more applause. What’s an inaugural flight without the obligatory Grand Finale: “The Water Cannon Salute”? These salutatory moments never get old as our 787 was given a bath from both sides of the jet.  At United’s Gate C20, I deplaned right behind Jeff Smisek to a throng of United employees, spectators, and press and they were all applauding! Surprisingly Smisek revealed that this was his first flight aboard the Dreamliner. His remarks said it all: “It’s just awesome! Just Awesome!”

United CEO Jeff Smisek.

United CEO Jeff Smisek.

After a short arrival ceremony, The 200 or so passengers and I boarded United flight 1510 for its on-time departure to Houston. This more subdued and conventional flight would be nearly devoid of all the ceremony of the inaugural flight. In fact, apart from being on the newest airliner of the 21st Century, it felt utterly normal. After all, there were 3 more flights left that day and no let up in line service over the coming weeks. The dream immediately became not just reality, but routine, and that was the point. 

See the complete photo gallery from the day’s events here.

United Airlines currently has 13 Dreamliners in its fleet: 11 787-8s and two 787-9s. The second 787-9 was just delivered last week. The carrier has another 52 Dreamliners on order for a total of 65.  The first 787-9 was just launched on the new Los Angeles-Melbourne route. Other routes are: San Francisco-Chengdu; Denver-Narita; Houston Intercontinental-Heathrow; Houston-Lagos; San Francisco-Kansai; Los Angeles-Narita; and Los Angeles-Shanghai.

—–

Contact the editor at benet.wilson@airwaysnews.com

 

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InFlight Review: Lufthansa Airbus A380 Business Class

By Chris Sloan / Published October 29th, 2014
This article first appeared in Airways Magazine on May 2013

Editor’s note: since this story was written, Lufthansa has added the new Flying V Business Class cabin to its fleet of A380s. The German flag carrier has taken delivery of 12 of its 14 A380s since they entered service in 2010.

As a confirmed “AvGeek”, I have been fortunate enough to have a number of unique experiences involving the Airbus A380. In 2003-04 while a TV network executive at TLC, I oversaw a four-part documentary on the building of the Whale Jet and was able to procure John Travolta to host. In 2004, I paid a visit to the Airbus A380 Factory in Toulouse just as the giant jet was beginning final assembly.

In 2007, I was fortunate enough to be on the inaugural passenger flight with launch customer Singapore Airlines from Singapore to Sydney (Airways November, 2007). In 2011, when Lufthansa launched the first (and still only) A380 services to Miami, I was very involved in coordinating the event which featured a DC-3 and DC-7 flying in just in advance of the A380′s landing as kind of an airborne parade. Despite all this, I had only actually flown on an Airbus A380 one time, five years before, on that inaugural flight. Another VLA (Very Large Airplane) flight was on the Lufthansa Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental inaugural flight (Airways August, 2012). Comparing the two twenty-first century jumbos and experiencing Lufthansa’s A380 Business Product was too much to pass up, so when a business trip to Europe happened to fall on my birthday, I decided to gift myself a Business Class ticket on Lufthansa’s seasonal Airbus A380 Flight 463 from Miami to Frankfurt.

mia-terminal-j-17-b_25811As this was an international flight and I had requested to be onboard early to photograph the A380, I showed up two hours before the flight at Miami International’s world-class and newest terminal, South Terminal J, where Lufthansa and other Star Alliance carriers operate from. Even though the Business Cabin was checking in full, Lufthansa staffs their ticket counters and gates with a very efficient team to ensure a quick check-in.

With two hours before the flight, there were seven passengers in cue, but I waited no longer than five minutes to reach the check-in desk. The very friendly agent offered me a pass to the Club America Lounge, which Lufthansa shares with other airlines at Terminal J. Though far from opulent, it is quiet, well-appointed, and offers a full range of drinks and snacks. With only Lufthansa’s 1-2 flights per day at Miami, a dedicated lounge wouldn’t make sense. After enjoying a quick drink and the expansive view of the tarmac, I took the short stroll over to Gate J-17. This unique gate has three jet bridges and was built at a cost of more than $1.5 million just for Lufthansa’s Airbus A380 service. Typical of the German carrier, the flight was scheduled to depart on time at 4:20pm.

There would be no time to waste if I were to photograph the massive jet and get a behind-the-scenes tour of the cabin, flight deck, lower deck crew quarters, and flight deck crew quarters from Captain Roland Schmidt, who has flown virtually every aircraft in the Lufthansa fleet in his 30 years with the airline and Chief Purser Sybille Von Dewitz, who also has more than 30 years with the airline. Germans sometimes have an undeserved reputation for being “all business” but Captain Schmidt and Chief Pursor, and in fact the entire crew, couldn’t have been more welcoming and warm.

They had no idea I was a journalist — all they know was that I was an enthusiast who appreciated the A380. Captain Schmidt, who wore a bunch of bracelets commemorating his backstage passes to rock concerts, was very enthusiastic about the A380, declaring all other aircraft inferior to the A380, saying it is very easy to fly, yet still a “pilot’s airplane.” He was joined on the flight deck by two first officers for the long-haul flight across the Atlantic.

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The cabin crew consisted of 20 flight attendants under the direction of Chief Pursor Von Dewitz. I ascended the A380′s signature grand front staircase, more evocative of a cruise ship than a plane, to tour the ultra-exclusive first class cabin with its eight 19.7-inch wide seats with flat beds and 60-inch pitch, cavernous luxurious lavatories (the nicest part of the entire plane in my view), electric window shades (a first for me to see) in the classic Junkers-inspired finish and a beautiful buffet with an ice-bucket of champagne set out among orchids. This concept felt exclusive like a private jet, yet airy in contrast to the Singapore and Emirates First Class cabins with their enclosed suites.
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Jumping ahead for a moment, inflight I poked my head into first and can vouch that this is the quietest cabin I have ever heard, with its extra insulation and sealed curtain working miracles. I quickly toured the four economy-class cabins on the lower deck, which have a typical 10-abreast seating configuration with seat 31-inch wide and 31-inch pitch. Lufthansa just announced a Premium Economy Cabin to follow suit with many of its European competitors. One touch I’ve always liked is Lufthansa’s subdued signage and branding of each cabin.

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Typical of Lufthansa, they don’t resort to some of the amenities, like stand up bars, duty-free stores, or the showers of their competitors. Instead it prefers to use the space for additional seating and space, especially in the premium cabins. There were two very tasteful touches that I had not seen before on an A380: “the Loo with a View” window in the foreward Business Class lavatory and semi-transparent Lufthansa branded visors covering all the galley equipment during boarding. This was one of those “Why didn’t I think of that?” moments as I have always found the industrial ovens and storage containers very unwelcoming during boarding.

lh-a380-lower-deck-entry-1_25816I exited the A380 and went back out into the main gate area to participate in the boarding process. In contrast to other airlines, that split premium and economy business classes on a single deck, Lufthansa’s Premium eight First Class passengers and 98 Business Class passengers are all located on the upper deck and they board through one of the three jet ways, while the 420 Economy Class passengers, all situated on the lower-deck, board through the other two jetways. A side note: on the new Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental, Lufthansa’s First Class Cabin and one of the Business Class Cabin are located on the lower deck as those are the quietest parts on that aircraft. Boarding began promptly at 3:40 p.m. The boarding was accomplished in less than 30 minutes…amazing!

Our conveyance of the day was “City of Brussels” D-AIMJ (MSN073), which was then Lufthansa’s tenth A380 in the fleet. Lufthansa became the fifth operator of the A380 on June 11, 2010, with a flight from Frankfurt to Tokyo. I made my way to the upper deck forward Business Class cabin, located just behind First Class Cabin Galley.

lh-a380-business-cabin-1_25770The front Business Class cabin on the A380 with its 10 rows of six-abreast seating doesn’t feel as intimate as the eight rows of four-abreast seating on Lufthansa’s 747-8 Intercontinental, but it certainly felt roomy. The A380 upper deck basically is the same width of a Boeing 777. The upper deck is 19′ 5″ in contrasted to the 19′ 3″ in width of the 777 while the main deck measures 21′ 7″ in in width.

My seat, 15A afforded me an excellent view of the wing. The Business Class seating is the older 2006 era Business Class Product with the 168 degree angled reclining seat arranged in a 2-2-2 configuration. These 98 seats are located within two cabins and have a roomy and competitive 57-60″ pitch and 19.6″ width.

lh-a380-business-cabin-13_25766Cloaked in a blue fabric, they aren’t quite as comfortable as a flat-bed seat or attractive as Lufthansa’s world class new generation “Flying V” Business Cabin, but I found the current seats comfortable enough awake and while asleep. They also featured a USB port and AC power port requiring no adapters for U.S.

As these are new seats on a new aircraft, LH has yet to announce when the new “Flying V” Class will make it to the A380. The massage function, unnoticed by many, was certainly appreciated by me. I immediately put one of my favorite features of the A380 (and 747) to use: the dual sidewall storage bins unique to the upper deck of these aircraft. Meanwhile, champagne and water were offered, as is custom, during boarding.

lh-a380-upper-window-cruise-1_25731Lufthansa, famed for their punctuality, had been hit by a week of delays at their Frankfurt hub due to heavy snow, but with Frankfurt weather reporting fine, we would not be delayed today. At 4:20 p.m., we blocked out on time and taxied over to Miami International’s Runway 10,500 foot 26L where we were cleared for a direct easterly departure.

Our A380 was full in the premium cabins, but economy was only 2/3 sold. Coupled with a relatively light cargo and fuel load, we were only taking off at 476 gross tons payload out of a maximum of 560 tons. At 4:38 p.m., we commenced the quick and eerily quiet take-off roll. The A380 is still quieter than the 747-8I and the new Dreamliner on take-off and in cruise. V1 came on quickly at 140 mph, at 156 mph we rotated and overall in less than a minute we were airborne into the beautiful Miami skies.

lh-a380-ife-cameras-1_25718This gave me the first opportunity to watch the 3 cameras on the inflight entertainment system located on the belly, flight deck, and the amazing “tail cam” with its birds-eye view of the wings and forward fuselage. I was transfixed by these views as well as that of the A380′s flexing gull-like wing. The 747-8I doesn’t have the tail cam which is my favorite.

Lufthansa dubs their flight information system, moving maps air-show, and camera display Nice View and they weren’t kidding…well almost. The only issues I had with the entire flight centered on the IFE. The moving map air-show and flight information malfunctioned and my headphones had 1 speaker out. The high-fidelity Sennheiser headphones were quickly replaced and functioned well, but NiceView didn’t play “nice” the entire flight.

We were just 20 minutes in the air and the menus and hot towels were passed out. A bottle of water and the amenity kit consisting of eyeshades, booties, and toothbrush were already waiting for us in the nifty extra storage bin above the IFE monitor. Captain Schmidt came on to the PA as we climbed to our initial cursing altitude of 37,000 feet, a leisurely 37 minutes after take-off, and informed us that even with a powerful Atlantic headwind we would be looking at an 8:33 flight time, some 13 minutes longer than the typical scheduled time, eventually climbing to 41,000 feet two hours and 20 minutes into the flight.

Trying to avoid that headwind as best as we could, our southerly routing would take us over the Bahamas, the open Atlantic Ocean, then the Azores before coming ashore over Northern France and then into Frankfurt. Our captain warned that there might be a few light bumps along the way due to CAT (Clear Air Turbulence) around the Azores, yet turned the seat belt light off, which would remain off the entire flight.

Forty minutes after take-off ,we were each handed a small bag of cashews and the beverage service began. Highlights of the vast list included Champagne Jacquart Brut Mosaique from France and the two wines I decided to sample: a 2008 Chateau La Roqye de By, Medoc France and a 2009 Kamptal Zweigelt, Weingut Brundlmayer, Austria. I do not have a sommelier’s palette, so I won’t even attempt to describe the wines and champagne except that I enjoyed them. There was a full selection of spirits and liquors offered as well. I try to keep hydrated, especially during long-flights so I generally have no more than a glass or two of wine and stick to water.

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The highlight of any flight is often the meal service which began after 80 minutes in the air and this flight would prove to be no exception: Our appetizers were Tuna Carpaccio with Sarachi Aioli, pickled ginger and baby micro greens; salad of Plum, Watercress, and Ricotta with Apricot Puree; or my choice: the Seared Beef Tataki with green Papaya and Peanut sauce accompanied by slice of pretzel bread! The Tataki had a nice contrasty taste and texture, especially when it was accompanied by a 2011 Riesling Trocken Chardonnay from Germany.

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The unhurried, but cordial, meal service continued on to the main courses about 24 minutes later. Lufthansa made it difficult on the passengers with three tantalizing choice of mains: Tenderloin of Beef with Sweet Potato Hash and Plum Chutney; Fresh Water Prawns in Fennel Saffron Reduction with Fingerling Potato; Eggplant Cannelloni with Tomato Compote. I always try the steak as a sort of “acid test” of an airline’s catering, as we all know how difficult it is to prepare for and taste a steak at altitude.

The tenderloin was juicy and on par with other steaks I have tried in the air. The Sweet Potato Hash and Plum Chutney were off the charts delicious. I almost asked for seconds, I am embarrassed (only slightly) to say. I am a picky eater and wanted to really to make the best choice so kudos to the patience and generosity of the Lufthansa cabin team as I queried them and photographed the selections. They were pretty proud of the offerings so they seemed to welcome all my inquiries with a smile.

Airlines seem to excel at different aspects of the meal service and Lufthansa’s sweet spot (pardon the pun) is the dessert and cheese plate. The elaborate presentation on the trolley, worthy of a fine restaurant, was definitely the highlight of the meal service for me. The crew spared my having to make a choice and offered me a bit of all 3 items: Sage Derby, Gruyere and Cambozola Cheese, Apple Spice Cake with candied Almonds, and a Fruit Salad. How could I say no?

lh-a380-ife-24_25668After all the plates were cleared away, the coffee and liqueurs were offered, but I had to show some willpower so I decided to just skip those and begin sampling the inflight entertainment system (IFE). Lufthansa’s IFE is the Panasonic X2 system introduced on the Airbus A380 five years ago. I have used this exact system on other Lufthansa flights and always found it user-friendly, very comprehensive, and the perfect cure for long-haul boredom.

This time, however the IFE let me down. The 10.4″ screen displays a well-stocked variety of movies, TV shows, hundreds of CDs, 30 radio stations, games, books, Berlitz language courses, special destination information, and a special kids section with music, movies, books, and games. I really just wanted to watch the map and listen to music while doing some work.

This is where the IFE let me down. Besides the non-working Airshow, the CDs and radio stations kept randomly pausing inexplicably. The rest of the IFE’s offerings including the movies and TV shows worked fine however. Unlike on Lufthansa’s Boeing 747-400s and some of their other long-haul aircraft, the airline’s new, blazing fast and innovative SkyNet inflight internet product is not offered on the A380 (nor 747-8 I) yet but is coming. By the way, Lufthansa pioneered inflight internet back in 2006 with Boeing’s now expired Connexion.

lh-a380-inflight-1_25709The lights were gradually and gently turned down 3 hours and 20 minutes into the flight. Most passengers took advantage of the opportunity to sleep. I dozed off for a couple of hours in my angled-seat. The flight crew offered me a blanket and pillow when they saw I was uncovered which was very thoughtful.

During the next few hours, we intermittently encountered light to light-to-moderate chop. The “Whale Jet” A380 handles it with aplomb with its massive wings and gust suppression technology doing the trick. Even though the North Atlantic can be a turbulent place, especially during the winter, most passengers didn’t notice. If we were on a lesser plane, I am sure we all would’ve noticed the chop. On our flight, the seat-belt sign never came on again until initial descent.

Two hours before our arrival into Frankfurt, the cabin lights very gradually came on to bring us all out of the darkness. The considerate crew began a very quiet and unobtrusive breakfast service so as not to disturb those who wanted to sleep. A second hot towel came out as a prelude to the morning meal: fresh fruit plate; ham, turkey breast and cheddar cheese or cream cheese on croissant; and my thoroughly delicious choice the omelet with red Bliss Potato wedges, and grilled tomato.

Thirty-six minutes before arrival, the flight deck crew throttled the giant Rolls Royce Trent 900 engines back for our gradual descent into Frankfurt am Main Airport. The captain came on to announce that the weather was good, told us we would just be a minute late to the gate, and bid us adieu. The sunrise, descent, and landing were particularly dramatic on the “NiceView” cameras.

We touched down at 7:20AM CEST, and after flying 5,154 statute miles we were on the ground after 8 hours and 37 minutes of flying time. After a 10-minute taxi to the gate, the flight was over. I then experienced the easiest and quickest immigration from an international flight I have ever encountered. The famous FRAport baggage system didn’t disappoint and my luggage was already waiting for me after emerging from immigration.

lh-a380-business-cabin-11_25768In conclusion, Lufthansa offers the efficient service it has always been known for, but those who haven’t traveled with the airline before or often may be surprised at how much flair and warmth is a key part of this German carrier. The quality of the crew and service even out-showed the A380 which isn’t an easy thing to do.

As far as the inevitable A (Airbus A380) vs. B (Boeing 747-8I) comparison goes, for the moment this is only a Lufthansa comparison as LH is the world’s only operator of both (Korean Air will be second). I am very impressed with the new “Flying V” Business Cabin on their 747-8 I but this will come to the A380 eventually. The Boeing 747-8 I’s upper deck can’t be beat for its intimacy and exclusiveness for a Business Cabin. The A380 is somehow quieter, particularly in the First Class Cabin. Aesthetically (and this is really subjective) it’s advantage 747-8 Intercontinental but the A380 wing is a piece of sculpture. Choosing between both is a “high class” problem and I personally am just as happy on either aircraft.

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Contact the author at Chris.Sloan@airwaysnews.com

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End of an era: Onboard the Final Commercial Passenger Flight of the MD-11

By Seth Miller / Published October 26, 2014 / Photos by author

The era of widebody tri-jet commercial passenger service came to a close this weekend. Early Sunday morning KLM flight 672 touched down at Amsterdam’s Schipol airport, the final landing of the MD-11 type in scheduled operation. And with that landing – as well as the retirement earlier this year of Biman Bangladesh Airlines’ final DC-10 – the widebody tri-jet is history. KLM operated the flight from Montreal to Amsterdam as regular scheduled service so it was not only aviation junkies on board, though that group was certainly well represented amongst the passengers.

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The KLM MD-11 “Audrey Hepburn” arrives in Montreal on her penultimate flight

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KLM MD-11-2Perhaps too well represented, actually. KLM and the Montreal airport celebrated the final flight with a party at the departure gate. There were drinks and cupcakes for all the passengers plus a photo station providing pictures of passengers with the MD-11. And there were the scores of passengers on board solely to be part of the historic event. The crowd glued to the window as PH-KCE “Audrey Hepburn”, completed in September 1994, pulled in to the gate was a mix of crew and passengers alike. Of course, there were also the “other” passengers who had no idea what they were getting themselves into. Several of them came over to see what the commotion was about and quickly started to blend in with the aficionados while others simply enjoyed the cupcakes.

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My “golden ticket” to be a part of the final flight celebration

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The crew posing with “Audrey Hepburn” outside prior to the flight

The celebration continued throughout boarding (the Purser reminded everyone to pay special attention to the safety video “as this is the last time it will ever be shown”) and through to the in-flight service. Prior to the regular meal every passenger was offered a glass of Champagne and a petit four to keep the mood light and fun. During the service one of the flight attendants commented on the upbeat nature of the flight, “Normally we are so tired because it is the middle of the night. With the celebration everyone is so happy and awake. It is much more fun.”

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The flight attendants were chipper throughout the flight, even when reminding us to tone down the celebration

As for the AvGeek crew, there were plenty of familiar faces; about a dozen on board were also on the final commercial DC-10 flight with Biman Bangladesh Airlines earlier in the year. But this was a much larger crowd than that trip and attracted so many new faces as well. Most came from the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe but Americans were also well represented and at least one fan came from Taipei for the celebration. And some are far more dedicated to the craft than others. Rien Moerland is one of the passengers from Holland who made the journey over to Canada in order to be on the final MD-11 flight. He is perhaps the most committed of MD-11 fans; his left bicep bears a large tattoo of the aircraft in KLM colors.

Extra: Folded Wings Final DC-10 Passenger Flight

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Rien Moerland is one of the most dedicated MD-11 fans; that’s a tattoo of the plane on his left arm

Jose I. Soria was another of the AvGeek crowd, though rather different than the rest. Mostly because Jose is a month shy of his twelfth birthday. He and his mother made the trip from Spain to Montreal as a birthday present, including a side trip to do some planespotting in New York City. About half way through the flight he and I spoke (fortunately his English is spectacular because my Spanish is not) about his admittedly brief history of AvGeek-dom. It started with plane pictures while on holidays and has slowly expanded to a full-on AvGeek obsession earlier this year. He participates actively in online communities and seems to have a long future of AvGeek-dom yet to come.

The youngest AvGeek on board; he turns 12 next month

The rest of the in-flight experience was typical KLM. A full dinner was served and then the cabin lights were dimmed to allow passengers a short night’s rest. Unlike most transatlantic redeye flights this one saw many passengers not even bother to try to sleep. This was an AvGeek party and that attitude remained present even while the “normal” passengers dozed. And there were more than a few incidents where the party was a bit more rowdy than the typical in-flight experience such that the flight attendants intervened. Roughly 90 minutes before landing a small breakfast (muffin & yogurt) was served. Most of us hadn’t actually slept yet and it was only 12:30am back on the east coast of the USA and Canada so we were still going strong.

Extra: In-Flight Review KLM MD-11 from August, 2014

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Sweets and bubbles for everyone on board!

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The MD-11 arguably should never have really been flying. It was something of a copycat design mimicking and theoretically slightly improving on the DC-10 but far from a commercial success. It never quite delivered on the range or payload capacities originally promised and the manufacturing cycle was cut short well before enough were built for McDonnell Douglas to break even on the investment to build the type. Most of the aircraft were retired from passenger service well before they were 20 years old, far younger than most other aircraft types. Ironically, the MD-11 only lasted flew in passenger service from 1991-2014 as compared to its its DC-10 predecessor that flew from 1971-2014 in passenger service.

Extra: KLM Announces Final MD-11 Flight Schedules

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Some of the crew awaiting the arrival of our ride home; they were arguably more sentimental about the aircraft retirement than the AvGeeks on board

And yet the MD-11 is still somewhat beloved by passengers. Perhaps it is because of the distinctive silhouette it cuts with the tail-mounted engine. Or because the cabin is rather wide but still fitted in a 3-3-3 configuration which is rather comfortable, especially compared to the newer 777 layouts at 10-abreast or even their 9-abreast layouts. Of course, the higher operating costs not offset by such passenger adoration and KLM is now joining the rest of the industry in finally retiring the type after 20 years of service. And one spectacular farewell party at 37,000 feet. There will be a final short enthusiast flight on November 11th from Amsterdam Schipol, but after nearly 25 years in service for the type and 20 years for “Audrey Hepburn”, this really was the end.

Extra: Delta Airlines MD-11 Launch Brochure from 1991

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Pre-flight cupcakes; that’s how you know it is a real party!

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 Note: The initial paragraph was updated to reflect that this is the end of widebody service on the tri-jets, not all 3-holer commercial operations

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Trip Report: Qatar Airways Inaugural Airbus A380 Flight

By Guest Contributor / Published October 14th, 2014

Editor’s note: Below is a trip report submitted by contributor Gino Bertuccio. Bertuccio has traveled the world on major airline inaugurals for the Airbus A380, the Boeing 787 and the 747-8. This is his first-person account of his adventures on the inaugural flight on Qatar Airways’ first A380, from Doha to London Heathrow.  Qatar Airways has 341 aircraft on order, including 12 A380s.

Qatar Airways at Hammad International Airport.

Qatar Airways at Hamad International Airport.

I was a little bit sad and disappointed when Qatar Airways’ original Airbus A380 inaugural, set for July 1 2014, was postponed indefinitely. On September 19, the first A380 landed at Doha’s Hamad International Airport. Then the date for the inaugural flight was set for October 10, when my reservation was made for seat 2K. On the magic day, I arrived at Hamad International Airport at 5:20 a.m. on October 10 in order not to miss any of the festivities.

Pre-Departure

It took less than three minutes to check in, from the comfortable first-class counters to the escort through immigration and security to Qatar Airways’ Business Class Lounge, since the First Class Lounge won’t open until spring 2015. The lounge was more spacious and elegant than any other. The inside restaurant on second floor is available. It had a very limited a-la-carte selection, but a generous selection from the buffet menu.

The gracious lady who escorted me told me to be ready to proceed to gate A3, a short walk from the lounge, at 7:00 a.m., but I preferred to leave the lounge at 6:45. Boarding time was set at 7: 05 a.m., with a scheduled departure time set for 7:55 a.m.

I was surprised and disappointed that nothing happened at the gate to commemorate Qatar’s first A380 flight. There was no celebration, no speech and no decoration, just Qatar Airways’ staff distributing red roses to business- and first-class passengers, along with a banner.

There were no giveaway, no formal certificates, no souvenir – nothing. At least for the inaugural Doha-Miami flight, I got a small souvenir. All we received was a simple letter informing and welcoming all passengers about the flight.

Inflight

The Qatar Airways A380 first-class seat.

The Qatar Airways A380 first-class seat.

At first glance, it appeared that there was not enough space for a carry-on under the companion seat, so the flight attendant took mine away and stored it in a closet. The seat was very comfortable, and the seat and IFE controls were very easy to use. My only difficulty was in pulling out the magazines stored in a very tiny space. The IFR, Oryx, was equipped with a 26-inch screen with great resolution. It offers a large assortment of movies, TV shows, documentaries, inflight shopping and flight information.

A small personal closet for clothes is located just beside the screen. Opening the door gives you a great surprise: Missoni slippers and a Giorgio Armani amenity kit. Missoni pajamas were also given out, and a welcome drink was offered to the eight of us sitting in first class.

Boarding was completed at 7:45 a.m., the doors closed immediately after and the A380 pushed back at 7:54 a.m. We took off at 8:08 a.m. just passing over Doha and heading north west toward London Heathrow.

A meal in Qatar Airways first class.

A meal in Qatar Airways first class.

At 8:16 a.m, the flight attendants started our meal service. Breakfast was served starting with drinks including fresh-squeezed orange or pineapple juice, a banana smoothie and a spicy tomato and celery health drink. Appetizers included fresh fruit with honey crème, Bircher Muesli, greek yogurt with honey and chopped pistachios and hazelnuts and salmon gravlax with dill crème.

The main meal was a choice of traditional Arabic breakfast , south Indian-style baked eggs with potatoes, create your own breakfast with a variety of eggs any style with 10 sides to choose from and cinnamon brioche french toast. My selection was very tasty, with generous portions and a superb cappuccino.

A bartender in the onboard first-class lounge.

Bertuccio in the onboard first-class lounge.

After the meal, I went to enjoy the lounge with other first-class passengers I met on other inaugurals, along with my great friend Isabelle. We all enjoyed cocktails and delicious chocolate cake was offered.

Post-flight

We landed at London Heathrow at 1:04. I was disappointed that there was no water cannon salute from the airport firefighters. We deplaned normally, without even a banner indicating the end of the inaugural flight. Only the captain made a mention of when welcoming passengers after we landed.

Having flown almost 20 inaugurals, most of them with the A380, and with that aircraft being the new Jewel of Qatar Airways fleet, I was expecting a lot more from them in terms of a celebration. Although the crew was attentive, the food was good and the IFE and seat comfort were extraordinary, it was not one of the best inaugural flight experiences. My next inaugural flight will be on December 27, on Etihad’s A380 Resident apartment.

IMG_8136 IMG_8139 IMG_8140 IMG_8146 IMG_8151 IMG_8152 IMG_8187 IMG_8195 IMG_8202 IMG_8206

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a complete list of Gino Bertuccio’s inaugural flights:

SR MD-11 CCS ZRH

CO 757 CCS IAH

CO 757 CCS EWR

SQ A380 SIN SYD

SQ A380 SYD SIN

SQ A380 SIN LHR

SQ A380 SIN NRT

SQ A380 NRT SIN

SQ A380 SIN CDG

SQ A380 SIN FRA-JFK

SQ A380 SIN -NRT -LAX

SQ A380 SIN HKG SFO

NH 787 NRT HKG

NH 787 HKG NRT

LX A340 ZRH SIN

LX A340 SIN ZRH

QR 777 DOH MIA

LH A380 FRA MIA

LH 747-8 FRA MIA

A380 Image Courtesy of Qatar Airways. Inflight Images Courtesy of Gino Bertuccio.

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Contact the editor at benet.wilson@airwaysnews.com

 

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In-Flight Review: LAN Airlines Boeing 787-8 Part 2 – Business Class

By Luis Linares / Published October 3, 2014

LAN 787 J Class - LFL

LAN Airlines Boeing 787-8 business class

After an initial flight to Punta Cana from Miami in economy class, I upgraded myself to “Premium Business” for the return leg.  This gave me an opportunity to finish the trip by experiencing every aspect of LAN’s 787.

Business Class – Punta Cana to Miami

After enjoying a few hours beachside, I showed up at the airport two hours before the scheduled departure time of 5:50 PM.  LAN’s website offered two different one-way business class prices.  The fully-flexible one was $322, and the restricted one $204, so I opted for the latter. That afternoon, I  went online to track the inbound flight from Santiago, which departed 30 minutes behind schedule and our departure time from Punta Cana was adjusted to 6:50 PM.  Check-in was very crowded, since there was also a LAN (Peru) flight ahead of us, with one counter dedicated to business customers and elite frequent flyers from LAN and partner airlines. The process was quick, and a member of the LAN ground staff took my passport and boarding pass and walked me through security and immigration in dedicated lines. I passed a walkway consisting of various duty free shops and then proceeded to the food court which offers nice open-air views of the ramp. This particular evening, the ramp had various aircraft from the U.S. and Europe, the main highlight being a Jetairfly 787. Planespotting in Punta Cana must be a real treat during high tourist season, given the variety of mainline and charter carriers that frequent the airport. A new terminal with jetbridges will open in November, so the nostalgic experience of walking up to your aircraft and using the stairs will become a thing of the past.

EXTRA:  Airways News gallery of Punta Cana International Airport

LAN 787 Boarding at PUJ - LFL

Boarding at sunset

Boarding commenced at 6:20 PM.  One line was dedicated to premium and elite customers, while the other one was dedicated to economy.  Passengers from Santiago had to deplane and were holding yellow transition cards, and they were allowed to board first.  Soon it was my turn, and I boarded the bus to the 787.  Along the way, I got close-up pictures of a White Airways (Portugese charter company) A310-300 and a British Airways 777-200ER.  Our boarding time was during sunset, so I was able to get some shots of our 787 before going up the stairs. I walked up to the Captain, who was greeting us, and asked if I could get a picture of the flight deck. He showed me the way, and I greeted the other two pilots who were finishing up the preflight procedures. When I sat down again, the flight attendant offered me a welcome drink and nuts, and I chose a traditional pisco sour, which consists of a brandy, lemon juice, syrup, and egg whites.  A bit of friendly advice:  if you encounter a Chilean and a Peruvian, do not ask them which of the two countries invented the pisco sour, unless you want to revive a lively regional rivalry.

Check-in at PUJ - LFL Boarding Gate at PUJ - LFL LAN 787 Entryway - LFL LAN 787 Flightdeck - LFL  Check-in counter, boarding gate, arched entryway, and flightcrew

In the evening hours, the warm orange LED lighting created a very pleasant visual atmosphere in the cabin. In business class, the IFE screen in larger but farther away because the seat converts to a bed, and the screen is on the back of the seat in front.  The selections are identical to those of economy, so the only key differences are the screen size and the availability of noise-cancelling headsets.

We were quickly airborne for the two hours back to Miami.  I was going through the wine list, but noticed there was no dinner menu.  Soon the attendant came to offer only a snack service consisting of sanwiches.  Having experienced LAN’s fantastic meal service in the past, I was a bit disappointed, as I had figured it would not be too difficult to provide a full business class quality meal service in less than 90 minutes.  Despite the lack of a quality dinner, the crew did not miss a beat when it came to friendliness and attentiveness.  For the remainder of the flight the mood lighting changed to a dim blue color that made the cabin almost entirely dark.  I played with the seat settings and switched to the fully flat position. LAN did not opt for any staggered or herringbone configuration, which means all window customers will have to step over their sleeping neighbor, should they need to get up. I thought the bed position was very wide and comfortable, but the length is exactly six feet.  I am five feet, eleven inches tall and could immediately tell that anyone taller will not be able to fully stretch their body when sleeping.  There is also a stowable partition between seats.

LAN 787 J Seat - LFL LAN 787 J Class Bed - LFL
Business seat in upright and bed modes

Before I knew it, the captain announced the start of descent into Miami.  We were on the ground after an uneventful flight, which was about half-full, but I was still very impressed with the level of innovation and comfort of the 787.  We arrived in Miami around 9 PM, and there were no other international flights arriving in Concourse J.  Since I belong to the Global Entry program, customs and immigration took a matter of seconds, and since I had no checked bags, I was soon in my car.  It was actually longer to walk the length of the concourse than to go through the arrival formalities.

LAN 787 Mood Lighting - Bright LAN 787 Mood Lighting Dark - LFL
Different settings of LED mood lighting

Bottom Line

I will definitely have to experience LAN’s long-haul international economy or business service on the 787 in the future, based on the two very pleasant segments I flew.  I checked the 787 off on my AvGeek bucket list, and I look forward to flying it many other times, as more and more aircraft roll out.  American Airlines dominates Miami to Latin America service, but in my frequent travels from the U.S. to the region, I have always opted for LAN over American, when they serve the same city, not just because they are in the same alliance for frequent flier mile accrual, but simply because of the overall quality of service.  American is catching up by reconfiguring its fleet with the latest onboard technology and will have a leg up on LAN with Wi-Fi access on international flights, but LAN’s  level of comfort and meal service, especially for economy travelers, are still superior. American will also start to roll-out its 787s later this year, and this will allow for an even better comparison.  In the meantime, I strongly recommend LAN for anyone who has not experienced this great airline!

LAN Business Class Welcome Drink - LFL

Chilean (or Peruvian?) pisco sour welcome drink; cheers to LAN on their 787!

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Contact the author at luis.linares@airwaysnews.com

Contact the editor at vinay.bhaskara@airwaysnews.com

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In-Flight Review: LAN Airlines Boeing 787-8 Part 1 – Economy Class

By Luis Linares / Published October 2, 2014 

LAN 787 Y Class - LFL

LAN Airlines Boeing 787-8 economy class

In August, LAN Airlines became the first airline to serve Miami with the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, adding nonstop service to its hub in Santiago, Chile. The route is served daily, consisting of an evening departure and dawn arrival in both directions.  However, to maximize utilization, LAN added two weekly triangular routes, which means the aircraft does not stay parked at MIA during the day.  On Saturdays, it connects the 787 in both directions through Cancun, Mexico and on Sundays through Punta Cana.  Both resort cities are very popular with Chilean tourists, especially in the high vacation seasons of June, July, December and January.

SCL-MIA-PUJ Triangle - GC Map

LAN’s 787 Sunday circuit covering Miami, Punta Cana, and Santiago:  Image generated by Great Circle Mapper

With a busy schedule and no immediate vacation plans, I decided to book a Sunday day trip from Miami to Punta Cana and back, especially since I had never flown on the 787.  I first experienced LAN in 2002, when I was working in South America.  As a 24-year member of American Airlines’s Advantage frequent flier program, it was very convenient for me to use LAN since both airlines are part of the Oneworld Alliance, and during my three years in South America, I experienced short, medium, and long-haul service in economy and business class with LAN.  In my opinion, my experience with LAN has been among the best, especially when it comes to customer service.

Economy Class – Miami to Punta Cana

I booked my outbound leg on a deeply-discounted economy one-way fare of $102.  In addition to change penalties and no refunds, this fare did not allow me to choose my seat until 48 hours before departure, when check-in opens.  When I went to the LAN mobile app to check-in, I noticed the flight was virtually empty, so I was able to choose a window seat in the front of the economy section, though bulkhead and exit seats could only be requested at the counter on the day of the flight.  Since this was an international flight, I was still required to show my passport at the counter to get a boarding pass so I arrived at the airport a couple of hours before our scheduled 7:50 AM departure.  As a lifetime Gold member on American, I was able to use the business class check in line, which meant limited waits.  Also since it was early in the morning, there were no significant security lines and I was comfortably seated at Gate J18 less than ten minutes after getting my boarding pass.  Our aircraft arrived from Santiago 90 minutes before departure.  Thirty minutes before scheduled departure, instead of boarding, the pushback time was delayed to 8:20 AM without any explanation. Perhaps the explanation lies in the 787′s operational challenges. As of June, the 787 has a 98.5% dispatch reliability, compared to the 777’s 99.3%, and Boeing continues to work with airlines to improve it.  I did not see any maintenance crew at the gate or around the aircraft, so I was confident the teething pains were a thing of the past.  Any concerns quickly disappeared once boarding started.  Our flight included some passengers who originated in Santiago and those of us who boarded in Miami.  Overall, I estimate that the flight was 30% full.  While it’s nice to be able to fly the 787 on this two-hour route, I doubt LAN can sustain it with such a low load during low vacation season, unless a significant number of passengers are being picked up at Punta Cana to continue to Santiago.

LAN 787-8 - MIA - LFL

Our ride to Punta Cana at MIA shortly after arriving from Santiago

We boarded through entry door 2L, and the first noticeable feature was the arched ceiling with LED mood lighting on the entryway.  I quickly found my way to window seat 15L.  I took some pictures and then examined the inflight entertainment (IFE) touchscreen on the seatback, which offers 115 movies, 120 TV shows, over 1,000 music albums, and 24 video games.  Other options include a moving map display, duty free shopping, and onboard cuisine information.  The screen also has a USB port to keep mobile devices charged.  Furthermore, the seats have power ports near the floor to connect larger devices, such as laptops. I also tried the window dimming control that is unique to all 787s and replaced the traditional movable shade.  It definitely comes in handy when the sun is hitting you, or when there is too much glare on the IFE screen.

LAN 787 IFE Main - LFL LAN 787 IFE Movies - LFL LAN 787 IFE TV - LFL LAN 787 IFE Map - LFL      IFE options, including main menu, music choices, movie selections, and moving map

We pushed back and taxied to runway 8R.  Since I was seated next to the right engine, I was looking forward to experiencing the reduced engine noise firsthand.  The roar of the Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines when take-off thrust was set was definitely quieter than anything I have experienced.  I have not flown on the Airbus A380, which is supposedly even quieter, but this was very impressive regardless.  With a light load and a two-hour flight, the aircraft climbed to 41,000 feet.  The 787 boasts more humidity during cruise since the composite fuselage is less prone to corrosion, compared to the older aluminum types.  I was wearing a sports watch with an altimeter that showed that translated our 41,000-foot cruise altitude to 6,000 feet above sea level.  On any other airliner, this figure would be closer to 8,000 feet above sea level.  However, since this was a short flight, it was hard to tell if this made a difference in terms of comfort, but I have no doubt passengers will feel the improvement on the long flights the aircraft was designed for.

LAN 787 Y Class Bulkhead - LFL LAN 787 Windows - LFL
Roomier bulkhead space in economy and “every seat is a window seat”

The quick snack service consisted of a complimentary sandwich and accompanying beverage.  After eating, I got up to explore the 3-3-3 seat configured economy section.  I went to the last rows to get a good look at the impressive wing flex from the window.  The last window rows are reserved for flight attendants to rest and include a curtain for their down time.  Since the flight was virtually empty, I moved to bulkhead seat 12L.  The economy pitch is already very generous with 32 inches of pitch and 17.3 inches of width, and the bulkhead row has at least a couple of more extra inches for even more comfort.  Others took advantage of the lack of passengers by lying down open rows of three seats to get some sleep.

LAN’s mood lighting cycle consists of warm colors during boarding and deboarding and cooler ones during cruise.  Boeing introduced curved overhead bins 20 years ago with the 777, and the 787 retains the same features, which create a sense of extra space.  One of the 787’s sales pitches is that “every seat is a window seat”, given the larger size of the windows.  Looking across the seats to the other side, this is very evident and further enhances the extra sense of space.

LAN 787 Y Class Snack - LFL LAN 787 Wing View - LFL
Economy class snack service and wing view

Soon we were descending into Dominican airspace.  The ride had been very clear and smooth with many Caribbean islands visible during cruise.  We ran into some rainclouds during approach.  Typically these cause some bumpiness, and they gave me a chance to see if the gust alleviation system on the 787 lived up to the hype.  There was some movement when we crossed these clouds, and it was definitely less noticeable than on other aircraft.  After touchdown in Punta Cana, the aircraft parked in the ramp and exited using stairs.  This was a real treat since it gave me chance to take close-up pictures of the outside of the aircraft.  The flightline also had other visitors, which included a Nordwind Airlines (Russian charter airline) 777-200ER and two Canadian 737-800s belonging to charter carriers Air Transat and Sunwing Airlines.  A bus took us to the main terminal.  A unique feature of the airport is the open-air terminal covered in palm leaves.  It was a very warm day, so the interior of the terminal is not very comfortable.  Passport control and customs lines were short and quick.  I had eight hours on the ground before my return flight to Miami, so I headed to a beachside restaurant to enjoy some tropical drinks and seafood.

EXTRA:  Airways News gallery of Punta Cana International Airport

Arrival at PUJ - LFL

Arriving at Punta Cana

I had not flown on LAN since 2005 and was happy to see the overall good quality of service had been maintained.  Crews are very attentive and friendly, and even before the 787, the other widebodies that consist of the A340-300 and the 767-300ER, have had a very comfortable configuration in economy with enough IFE to make longer flights more enjoyable.

Over the last two years, I have been reading about the great inflight experience the 787 offers.  I finally got my opportunity, and can confidently say the aircraft lives up to the hype in terms of modernity, innovation, and passenger comfort.  LAN does a very good job with its economy class configuration, which is nice to have on those long-haul flights.  Stay tuned for the evening flight back to Miami, where I experienced LAN’s “Premium Business” class product on the 787.

LAN 787 Deaboarding at PUJ - LFL

Deplaning at Punta Cana

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Contact the author at luis.linares@airwaysnews.com

Contact the editor at vinay.bhaskara@airwaysnews.com

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Onboard United Airlines’ Inaugural Boeing 787-9 Flight

By Seth Miller / Published September 23rd, 2014

The Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner entered service with United Airlines Monday, making the Chicago-based carrier the third airline in the world to offer service on the type. The first flight operated from Houston to Los Angeles, a route the carrier has used for 787 training and proving runs since taking delivery of its first 787-8 two years ago. After a short period of domestic flights, the aircraft will enter international service this fall. The first route the 787-9 will serve is Los Angeles – Melbourne, which will be the longest 787 route in the world when it launches in late October. Airways News was a guest of United’s on the inaugural flight.

United's 787-9 parked at the gate as a 787-8 taxis in next door

United’s 787-9 parked at the gate as a 787-8 taxis in next door

IMG_8218

For most passengers (and the airline) this was business as usual; just another flight from Houston to Los Angeles. There was no special reception at either end, no balloons and nary a cupcake to be seen. Yet there was still a bit of excitement in the air. For some passengers it was just about flying on a Dreamliner. For others being on the inaugural was a specific goal. Neil Gamrod was up at 4am Eastern to make his way down to Houston for the inaugural flight. Like others he studied the airline schedules and adjusted his plans a few times, just to make it on board. And by the time we wrapped up the day with a celebratory dinner at the In-n-Out adjacent to LAX he was absolutely convinced it was a worthwhile trip, even if he was exhausted. Like many other 787 passengers Gamrod noted the more comfortable cabin comfort and the quieter ride as just a couple of the advantages the Dreamliner brings to the skies.

Neil Gamrod was one of several AvGeeks taking photos prior to the flight and also on board for the inaugural

Neil Gamrod was one of several AvGeeks taking photos prior to the flight and also on board for the inaugural

 

Those in-cabin benefits – higher air pressure and higher humidity being two of the most significant – are a large part of the draw for the 787 Dreamliner. The 787-9 is no different from the 787-8 in this regard, but it is 20 feet longer which means more passengers will get to enjoy those comforts on every flight. The 787–9 also has larger fuel tanks and engines with higher thrust ratings allowing for greater range even while carrying more cargo and passengers. In United’s configuration the aircraft includes 48 BusinessFirst flatbed seats in a 2-2-2 layout plus 204 economy class seats in a 3-3-3 layout. Of those 88 are in the Economy Plus section offering approximately four inches of extra legroom for passengers. This compares with 219 seats on the 787–8. From a passenger comfort perspective the good news is that nearly all of the additional seats are either in the EconomyPlus cabin (18 seats) or the BusinessFirst cabin (12 seats).

The forward BusinessFirst cabin of the 787-9

The forward BusinessFirst cabin of the 787-9

The seats are nearly identical to those in use on the 787-8 but both the economy and business class cabins have minor differences. In business class the main difference comes in the seat and in-flight entertainment controls. The IFE controller is now a touch-screen LCD offering the ability not only to control the larger display in front of the passenger but also a second screen where certain other features, such as the in-flight map, are available.  The movie collection is still approximately 150 titles with many – but far from all – offering multiple languages and subtitles. Beyond the control differences the business class seat is nearly identical to the version United has had in service for several years now on the pre-merger Continental widebody fleet. This includes subtle differences in the foot-well areas which can make seat choice particularly important for taller passengers.

Showing off the new touch-screen IFE controller with different content than the main screen

Showing off the new touch-screen IFE controller with different content than the main screen

In economy class the design of the seats has changed, particularly with respect to the recline function. The airline has limited the amount seats can recline a small bit versus the –8 version of the plane. Additionally the seat pan is now an articulating recline meaning the bottom slides forward as the top goes back. For the passenger behind the one reclining this is often seen as a good thing, though for the passenger reclining it means a reduction in knee room as they recline. Given the recent spate of spats related to reclining seats perhaps United’s choice on this front will be a viable compromise in the seat reclining wars.

Note the articulating seat design in Economy

Note the articulating seat design in Economy

The new aircraft is also one of the first delivered by Boeing with in-flight wifi connectivity available directly as a line-fit solution. United’s version uses Panasonic’s eXconnect Ku-band satellite-based connectivity and, despite some concerns from the engineers accompanying us on the flight, the internet connection was available on the flight. It was priced at $6.99 for the trip, similar to the pricing United offers on other Panasonic-based systems serving the route. The connection was reliable save for the window of our flight path near White Sands, a limitation I understand to be related to US government policies, and the speed tests I ran offered results similar to other flights I’ve taken using the Panasonic eXconnect system. All future United 787 deliveries are expected to come with in-flight connectivity as a line-fit option; the timing for retrofitting the existing 787-8s without connectivity is not yet clear.

In keeping with the theme of “just another flight” the meal service on board was a typical mid-con lunch offer. United revamped its catering at the beginning of the month so our options were the Asian noodle salad with chicken or the ham sandwich on pretzel roll. I chose the salad which, to me, is much more like a bowl of cold noodles than a salad. It tasted exactly like it did during the taste-test of the new United menu I did on the ground which is a good thing for me as I happen to like that one quite a bit.

Lunch on the Houston - Los Angeles route. This is one of the items added during the menu refresh at the beginning of September.

Lunch on the Houston – Los Angeles route. This is one of the items added during the menu refresh at the beginning of September.

So, yes, this was just another flight for United Airlines. But it is also something of a new beginning for United. The carrier is taking on delivery of the new 787s at a reasonable pace and using them to open up routes which previously had not been considered economically viable. Combine that with the improved passenger comfort levels and lower operating costs for the airline and it is easy to see the appeal for the airline and its customers. Adding the 787-9 to the fleet increases the options available to the carrier and passengers. It is easy to get excited about that sort of development.

Electronically tinted windows mid-flight.

Electronically tinted windows mid-flight.

The crew celebrates a successful first trip

The crew celebrates a successful first trip

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Contact the editor at vinay.bhaskara@airwaysnews.com

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InFlight Review: KLM World Business Class: MD-11 Edition

By Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Published August 27, 2014 / Photos by author

KLM MD11 YYZ JDL

A KLM MD-11 in Toronto.

The journey, it is said, is half the fun.  Thus I found myself at Dubai International Airport very early on a Saturday morning, prepping to head back to Seattle – via Amsterdam and Paris. This unnecessary journey, hours out of the way, came about when it occurred to me that KLM flies the MD-11, an airplane quickly on its way out of service, from this desert oasis to Amsterdam. Realizing it might be the only shot I’d have to get on one, a ticket was booked (via Delta), and an adventure set to begin.

Dubai’s airport is enormous, but the check-in counters are separated from the departure/arrival terminals. The process was quick and easy thanks to being ticketed in World Class, KLM’s business class cabin. A checked bag disappeared down the belt,  my ticket printed, and off I went on the long walk to the lounge.

KLM’s Crown Lounge in Dubai is a relatively muted affair, consisting of a mid-sized room outfitted with comfy chairs, a modest food tray, and a few TVs. It was nice, in a cozy sense, though clearly not the signature lounges found in the carrier’s major hubs. Several glasses of water, a browse of my email on the free WiFi, and a few finger snacks later it was off to the gate.

Seat 5J, in fully reclined mode.

Seat 5J, in fully reclined mode.

Thanks to a World Class ticket, boarding took no time at all. I settled into seat 5J, located on the right-hand side of the airplane in the rear premium cabin. The location is enclosed by a bulkhead both fore and aft, and is misaligned between center rows 5 and 6, leading to a very private feel. The remainder of the cabin is a 2-3 setup, while the front cabin is 2-2-2. Bags found a quick place overhead while preflight glasses of water and orange juice were offered.

Departure was on time as the airplane rocketed, seemingly literally, out of a warm Dubai. A big left-hand turn set our direction to the northwest, towards Amsterdam, and off we went.

KLM MD11-28A breakfast service began shortly after departure. The choice was between pancakes with mixed berries, and poached eggs with Hollandaise sauce. Pancakes won out the day, complimented with pineapple compote, roll, fruit salad, and a selection of cheese and cold cuts. Unfortunately, hindsight quickly showed the eggs were likely the better choice. While the middle of the pancakes tasted great, the edges were tough and rubbery in texture, probably a product of a warming microwave. The rest of the meal was great, in particular the pineapple compote.

Settling in for the rest of the six hour, thirty minute flight, it was time to play with the seat. Two generations removed from its current flagship product, the pod-like seat shows its age. For one, it’s an angled lie flat, bottoming out at 150 degrees of recline and 60 degrees of pitch. The inflight entertainment system was on the small size, and its graphics a bit dated.

Yet appearances can be deceiving. While the seat might be getting along in age, it was perfectly clean and perfectly comfortable; essentially a flying, customizable Lazy-Boy. A working power port, something that seems to frequently fail on much newer premium products, worked flawlessly. And while the interface graphics and screen resolution on the IFE were less than impressive, it was well stocked and played movies (such as Argo) and TV shows without issue. An intuitive tethered remote controlled the system.

KLM MD11-26 KLM MD11-12

RELATED: Tri-Jet Twilight Inflight!

Following a movie I took the opportunity for a short nap before a light meal was served. The tray held a number of enticing items: baba-ghanooush, humus and red bell pepper stuffed with cheese, Waldorf salad, chicken teriyaki skewer and beef kibbeh, and a passion fruit mousse with blueberries. Unlike the earlier meal, which was a bit disappointing, this sampler-like meal was truly excellent.

Not long after the second meal service had wrapped up we were on final approach to Amsterdam. The airplane landed on time, followed by a long taxi not uncommon to the sprawling airport. I was off the plane in short order and ushered into the terminal, ready for my connection to Paris.

KLM MD11-30 KLM MD11-29

Bottom Line:

Overall, good, but not overly impressive. The food was tasty, though held back from above average only by the tough pancakes. The flight crew kept a close, but not imposing, eye on the cabin throughout the flight with a generally dispassionate disposition. The cute little Delft Canal house souvenirs make a wonderful parting gift, even if I somehow didn’t realize it was full of liquor until nearly six months later.

KLM MD11-12The product, however, was a bit long in the tooth.  The angled lie-flat product might have been top of the line when it came out several years back, but it’s long been replaced by generously-sized true lie flats on many airlines, including KLM. Likewise, the IFE system wasn’t top of the line either, occasionally showing its age in response times and graphics quality.

That isn’t to say that the experience with the product was bad (it certainly wasn’t); it was just noticeable that it wasn’t the carrier’s latest and greatest. For a day flight it really didn’t make any difference: comfortable enough for a good nap (like a Lazy-Boy), movies played fine, etc. A night flight would likely be different, with the lie-flat seats found on the carrier’s other widebodies probably being much preferred by frequent premium travelers. If you find yourself on it, seats  5G & J come highly recommend as both of occupy their own cloistered mini cabin. Seats 5 & 6E, being middles, should be avoided.

KLM MD11-4But let’s be honest, this was mostly about having an opportunity to fly aboard an MD-11 while the party lasts. To that end, it fit the bill perfectly. A robust departure with one seriously impressive attack angle, gazing out the enormous windows, a visit to the flight deck (on the ground), and even a free safety-card souvenir (crew-approved) made for a truly wonderful experience.

But as any av-geek knows the MD-11’s days are quickly drawing to a close. KLM plans to retire its four remaining jets, the last in the world, later this year. Get ‘em while you can; you won’t regret it.

As for World Class, we enjoyed it. But we think we’d enjoy the experience on one of the carrier’s Boeing 747s or 777s even more.

Have you flown it? Tell us about it in the comments!

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Contact the author at Jeremy.Lindgren@Airchive.com
Disclosure: KLM partner airline Delta provided the flight to Airchive at no charge. Our opinions remain our own.

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