A frequent flyer’s perspective on United’s new 787 service

November 13, 2012


United 787 economy main 150x150 A frequent flyers perspective on Uniteds new 787 serviceThe 787 is a spectacular aircraft. From the moment you enter, you know you are flying on something different. The large cabin and much-touted LED lighting not only gives a sense of spaciousness, but lends a futuristic feel to the interior. As one passenger put it, “I feel like I’m on a spaceship.”

Unfortunately I was not able to fly United’s inaugural Houston-Chicago flight on 4 November, but I did get to fly on the Los Angeles-Houston segment later in the day. The following day I few home on United flight 1243, another 787 leg.

The boarding process seemed to go much faster than I’ve come to expect on other aircraft. I’m not sure why, but with every seat occupied, we were ready for pushback well ahead of the allotted time.

Not everything ran smoothly on this United 787 flight, though some issues were likely a result of opening day jitters. Despite boarding in what seemed like record time, the aircraft was delayed for maintenance issues. Also, one could not hear the PA announcements. It’s not as though the pilots or flight attendants didn’t speak clearly, it was a volume issue. United needs to pump up the volume for these announcements to be heard.

United 787 business 300x223 A frequent flyers perspective on Uniteds new 787 serviceI was seated in United’s BusinessFirst cabin, seat 5A on the outbound flight. The seat was comfortable and I especially liked the fact that I could individually control the seat-back and footrest. I have a bad back and I enjoy having my feet raised while having the seat-back in the full and upright position, and the seat accommodates this position.

However, the cut-out for my feet was very small. My feet aren’t that large but I was unable to put both of my feet together in the cut-out. Other seats don’t have this issue and the United cabin systems and interiors supervisor who was also on my flight confirmed that the foot rest area might be an issue for some passengers.

I hope SeatGuru.com and RouteHappy will note these ‘limitations’ for us passengers who are 6ft and taller. My only other comment about the seat shell seems pretty thin and flexible. Whenever the guy in front of me moved, I could feel the seat flex against my feet, something I’m not accustomed to experiencing. I’m not sure if this would be bothersome on a long international flight.

As has been well reported, the 787 windows are very large and much appreciated for those of us who like to enjoy the view outside.  The automatic dimming control works well but I’m concerned it will not block out enough sun when its bright outside. (Both of my flights were in the late afternoon/evening and I really couldn’t tell how well this feature will work.) I’m also not sure how well these switches and technology will hold up over time. It seems like there are just too many things that could go wrong, but for now they are fun to play with.

The in-seat inflight entertainment (IFE) system worked well and there were many movies and other programmess to choose from, as well as an interactive map to track the progress of our flight.

The large screen was touch enabled, but it didn’t support multi-gesturing like your modern smart phone. As more and more of us are familiar with multi-gesturing, it’s a shame United wasn’t able to take advantage of this user interface (though we know there are reasons why it could not bring this technology to 787 passengers from the get-go).

Instead, you had to use your seat side control gismo (Nintendo-like game controller) to navigate the screen as well as your overhead light and other items.

Another really nice feature of the IFE system is its ability to individually reboot. When someone had an issue with their system, and on opening day it happened often, the flight attendant was able to reboot just their system. This was great because the rest of the cabin was completely unaffected by the reboot.

The overhead bins are very large and can accommodate carry-on bags differently than other bags. If you remember way back when, you had to position your roll aboard sideways. Then the airlines got smart and elongated the overhead bins and you could place the bags flat either wheels or handle first. On the 787 you should place your roll aboard on its side – handle or wheels first. The thinness of your bag and the oversized bins will accommodate more luggage. I see this as a training issue for the public and I’m sure the flight attendants will be repositioning a lot of bags until the flying public get properly ‘trained’ on the new position.

United says the airplane is pressurised to a lower altitude and there is a higher level of humidity in the air. There are also special air filters to keep the cabin air clean. The flight wasn’t long enough to really notice or benefit from any of these changes, but I did notice that my ears never popped during the flight. I did not experience the sense of pressure in my ears the way I do on other flights. I guess the lower pressure really is an added benefit!

The engines that power the 787 are new. They have been engineered to be very quiet and the interior was noticeably quieter than other aircraft. However, the start-up process will vibrate and shake the plane for about 30 seconds; then when they get up to speed the vibration goes away. This seems to be a feature of the engine.  Hopefully newer versions of the engine will resolve this issue.

Regarding onboard service, United did not make any friends with its selection of food for this flight. We had a choice of one snack option, although the flight was listed as dinner service. The Mediterranean salad was very interesting to say the least; it included a large bowl of hummus, a small plate of couscous and rice. Red peppers garnished the side of the plate along with a bag of Stacy’s Pita Chips.

Although I found the food tasty, many of my fellow passengers were very displeased with the choice. Some asked for a snack box from economy but were told they would have to purchase the box.

I asked a flight attendant about charging for snack boxes, especially when the food choice was so limited and potentially unappealing to some. She told me it is a new policy at United.

Flight attendants have been told they must charge business-class and first-class passengers for anything they bring forward from economy. Hopefully there will be a very loud public outcry and United will reverse this policy. If I’m paying for what to me is a small fortune for my ticket, the least United can do is spring for a snack when the main meal is so unappealing.

The lavatories are very clean and modern. One will appreciate any of the three ways to flush the toilet. You can do it the old fashion way by pressing a button, you can wave your hand in front of a motion sensor or you can simply close the lid. Yes, closing the lid will cause the toilet to flush!  I especially like this feature as I’ve entered other lavatories and got to see the results of my fellow passenger.

An automatic flush is a great and much appreciated addition.

The sink has a modern touch selector for water temperature. You press a button to make the water hotter or colder. You don’t have to worry about the water squirting out at an ungodly rate to splash the front of your pants either. As with the entire United fleet, the paper towels are super thin. They give onion paper a run for their money. I can’t wait for United to go back to the thicker paper towels. I can’t imagine the thinner towels saving the company any money as passengers simply use more of the thinner paper towels.

The lavatory to the left of the door from which you enter is huge. I was told all new aircraft have to have a handicap accessible lavatory. This lavatory is worth standing in line to use. The other lavatories on the plane are standard size. The only issue I see with this jumbo-sized room is that some passengers might decide to make it a room for two and join the mile high club… if you know what I mean.

United 787 cockpit 300x193 A frequent flyers perspective on Uniteds new 787 serviceI had the opportunity to view the pilot rest area, which is located behind the cockpit door. After a short walk up some steps, there are two single beds and a jump seat in the cabin. It seems like a very nice area for the pilots to get some rest on their long international flights. The crew rest area is similar in configuration but contains six beds. This is located at the rear of the plane.

On my two flights, there were four pilots on board each flight. Two flying the 787 and two continuing their education. As United has taken delivery of the second plane and will put it into service soon, this type of job experience is invaluable.  Simulators can only go so far and seeing how it handles first hand is great.

The cockpit is spacious and anyone who has been in one will notice the reductions of switches, levers and breakers. They have been replaced with glass cockpit instrumentation and a heads-up display.

The pilots I spoke with said the 787 was nicer to fly than their 777s but it’s more complicated. During my two flights, I was able to talk with five pilots who are certified to fly the 787. All of them are international 777 pilots and they averaged 27 years of flying experience.  They all said the 787 is a dream to fly and they are very much looking forward to getting the plane on International routes. (Right now the 787 is limited to domestic routes as they work out the kinks.)

All in all it was a great flight and the crew took very good care of us. They were all seasoned international 777 flight attendants and they were getting used to the short duration of a domestic flight. The flight from Houston to LAX as just under three hours.

The service United provides on International flights is different than the domestic service and it shows. For example the flight attendants were looking for table linens and cognac glasses, which are not provided on domestic flights. So we had to ‘suffer’ with our trays on bare tables and the consumption of cognac out of wine glasses.

For the privilege of flying on the 787, I’ll endure these hardships.

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About Brian Coleman

I’ve spent my entire working career in the computer industry, and have over 2 million miles on United alone. One year I held premier status on four different airlines. I never considered writing until last year when my father was diagnosed with brain cancer. I turned to writing as a form of therapy.

View all posts by Brian Coleman

8 Responses to “A frequent flyer’s perspective on United’s new 787 service”

  1. David Says:

    Poor taste of reporting with the comments focusing about the inappropriate use of lavs


  2. flashgirl Says:

    I appreciated Mr. Coleman’s passenger perspective on the new 787 aircraft. His article was detailed and I got the full passenger experience through his descriptive narrative on his journey. I found nothing inappropriate in his lavatory comment it made me chuckle. Sorry to hear the food choices haven’t gotten any better. Glad to hear the seats, entertainment and overhead bins might be improved on this plane. Thanks


  3. M.Carter Says:

    I find it unbelievable how spoiled passengers (usually Americans) are. You’re flying SAFELY in a metal tube with wings, 7 miles from the ground, close to the speed of sound, and you complain about footrests and lack of linens on a table? Have some perspective dude!


  4. Hyginia Says:

    Great info and can’t wait to experience it myself! Thank you.



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