Is United’s 787 a Dream?

This week, courtesy of the StarMegaDo4, I had the chance to fly two segments on United’s new and much anticipated 787 Dreamliner. And I won early boarding, so I had a few minutes to run around the plane and check out all the cool things, including the cockpit!

I’d been reading about the 787’s features for months, so was interested to see how it measured up in reality:

Bigger windows with adjustable tint

The windows were definitely bigger which added to the cabins feeling spacious. The tint was cool looking at first and still allowed you to see out, but when most of the windows were tinted, it gave a strange look to the cabin of being underwater, etc. The tint is nice too because you can dim the light without giving up your view of having to play with how much light shows at the bottom of the shade.

Downsides:

  • The controls work for all windows “owned” by a seat. So if you want to dim the window casting too much sun on the person in front of you, you’re also dimming the window immediately at your elbow, which you might not want.
  • Dimming the window during the day increases the temperature of the window dramatically. If you’re leaning against the window to sleep, you’re going to feel it!

Dynamic LED lighting
It was subtle, but I did like the LED lighting in the cabin. The sunrise, sunset, blue sky feelings it created were much more restful than the cold or orange lighting of older planes.

Spacious storage bins
What’s not to love? It really did fit more overhead bags and fitted them easily. Having all trained ourselves to lay our bags flat in the overhead, we’re going to have to relearn our habits to store them sideways!

Better cabin pressure
Definitely a huge improvement! My ankles didn’t feel swollen, my ears didn’t pop, and I didn’t experience the internal compressed feeling I usually get on a plane. The other benefit was wildly obvious on the flight as well. As one person put it, “it’s the difference of being able to have 5 cocktails instead of 3.” I myself downed multiple glasses of wine without feeling them at all.

Cleaner healthier air
Not really something you can tell from such a short flight, but again, the ability for everyone to have multiple drinks without feeling dehydrated speaks volumes.

Anti-turbulence technology
I did feel some turbulence on the flight, but for the most part it was incredibly smooth.

Quieter Cabin
Takeoff and landing were incredibly smooth, if you weren’t waiting for the landing gear to be retracted, you’d definitely miss it. It was hard to tell if the cabin was quieter with all the MegaDoers were calling back and forth to each other, but I think the fact I could hear it all so clearly speaks to volume level. There definitely isn’t that faint roar I usually associate with being on a plane.

Better economy seats
Economy plus was definitely comfortable! The 36in pitch was great — there was enough space between rows that my seatmates could slide by without having me get up and without essentially sitting on my lap. There was so much room actually that I couldn’t get the tray table to extend far enough for me to eat my meal without leaning forward.

Walking back to economy, people still looked pretty packed in, but said they felt an improvement with the 32in pitch.

Supposedly the seats recline 6”, but I was lucky enough that the person in front of me did not subject me to that feature. United also added the touchscreen entertainment system I’d first experienced when I went to Singapore last fall. Having the extra movie, music, and game options help the flight go faster.

Another winning addition is 2 power plugs in each 3 seat row as well as a USB port in the entertainment system that allows you to play your own movies and music (though it will not charge your device.)

I didn’t notice a big difference with the LED reading lights or the increased air conditioning on my flight.

What I didn’t care for:

  • The seats felt narrow to me, and according to Seat Guru, they’re only 17.3” vs 18” you get with a 777. I like leg room, but also like not touching hips with the person next to me.
  • Removing the entertainment controls from the arm rest. So maybe this is petty, but I always liked having the controls on the arm of the seat because it gave you a reason to force someone not to hog the arm rest. If they’re taking up too much room, that’s a great time to ask them to move so you can adjust your volume, etc. And with Economy Plus, you also run the problem that the screen is farther away and requires effort to lean forward to touch.

Other less publicized features:

Automatic Flush Toilets
This isn’t something that’s made the news, but they’ve improved the bathrooms as well. They felt slightly more spacious and the toilets automatically flush.  This last feature is great, gone are the days of discovering the person before me forgot!

Call buttons
Apparently a fun MegaDo ritual on the flights are to “light up the tree” which means ring all the flight attendant call buttons at once. The buttons do look very cool in blue, but turns out United has several features to deter such activities. You can’t light up all the buttons on one side at once AND the flight attendants can mute the “ding” sound, which they did on the first flight J

No Internet
As Jeff Smisek acknowledged, no 787 is fitted of Wi-Fi because the 787 specs had already been finalized by the time Wi-Fi was becoming widespread. However, Boeing is working on it now and all planes will be retrofitted as soon as possible.

MegaDo features

Rimowa Amenity Kit
One of the perks of being on the MegaDo was a customized Rimowa amenity kit with Livestrong swag and snacks courtesy of PointsHound.

Sampling BusinessFirst meals
Most likely an experience I’ll never get in Economy Plus again, but United served us BusinessFirst meals on our flights. The food was quite tasty, likely because of the improvement in cabin pressure!

For dinner we had an appetizer of prosciutto and melon, fresh seasonal greens, and an entrée choice of grilled pork chops or spice-rubbed breast of chicken (I went with the chicken). A square of chocolate cake topped with a piece of chocolate was dessert.

For breakfast, there was the standard domestic option of herbed scrambled eggs and a new option of cinnamon swirl French toast. I wanted more protein so I picked the eggs, which I’ve always liked. The only weird part of the breakfast was that they served a plastic wrapped blueberry muffin with a jar of strawberry jam butter. I like muffins, but typically reserve jam for biscuits, toast, or croissants.

Get a video tour of the plane courtesy of Milepoint.TV! (Starts around the 3:00 min mark)

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Heels First is the travels and tribulations of two twenty-something frequent fliers jumping into the world of travel. Join Keri and Jeanne as they tackle mileage runs, elite status, and of course–the perfect travel accessories.

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