Pillow fights are more fun at 36,000 feet!

I don’t know who started it or why. But someone did, so as we started our descent into Paine Field on Friday a full-fledged pillow fight broke out. Suddenly the cabin was filled with pillows (and a blanket or two) flying back and forth. Quite entertaining to watch and participate in:

Click here to view the embedded video.

Goodbye, Adieu, Auf Wiedersehen…

Twenty-hour hours after departing Paine Field, it’s safe to say Star Mega DO2 is over. The charter has returned to Houston; the FlyerTalk moderators are in Seattle, and everyone else is scattering to the winds. (I finally had a chance this week to earn some miles on Delta. Yes, I’m that guy.)

On behalf of the official blogger-in-residence, I’d like to thank Tommy, Oliver and Reb for having me, Seth for writing the funny posts while I wrote the boring ones, everyone who came along for the journey, and all of our sponsors (especially Starwood, which prepared an awesome meal for 200 exhausted, euphoric fliers). I’ll see you all at the next Frequent Traveler Awards, if not before, and let the countdown to Star Mega DO3 begin… now.

CO Flight 1905 Arriving at Paine Field

Matt Cawby at the Paine Field blog has granted us permission to repost his photos of our arrival at PAE Friday, which we have gratefully done:

Inside ZA003: Another first for StarMegaDo

When I saw the original itinerary for today’s festivities I thought that landing at Paine Field in Everett, Washington was going to be the highlight of the day. It is an airport that doesn’t see commercial airline service and flying in on a jet is quite rare unless you’re a Boeing test pilot. As we were panicking trying to find the driver of the luggage delivery company (that’s a whole ‘nother story) I was also chatting with one of the Boeing organizers and she let me in on an additional detail of the itinerary: We were going to be inside one of the 787 Dreamliner test aircraft.

Boeing has taken a few 787s on tour over the past few months but they don’t really let just anyone on board to look around. Indeed, several of our tour guides today noted that they had never been inside one either. Still, somehow we managed to convince them that it was a good idea for us to get inside. And they were incredibly gracious in allowing us to do so.

We bounded up the stairs and into the cabin and, in that moment, became part of the record books. We were the first non-industry folks to be inside the plane. With our near 200 participants touring the aircraft we also significantly increased the total number of people who have toured it in general. We didn’t have full run of the aircraft like we did on the A380 in Frankfurt, mostly because it is still a test aircraft and still mostly being used for making sure that things are really working as expected so that the planes can be delivered. It wasn’t even fully fitted with an interior.

It did have enough bits installed, however, to make our walk-through truly memorable. We got to poke our heads into the cockpit. It is all glass and huge digital screens rather than traditional instruments. Quite a change from the Bonanza I was sitting in earlier in the day during my Phoenix visit. The whole main console is LCD screens and the electronic flight deck is integrated into the cockpit rather than in huge binders. The cockpit is also rather spacious, with a couple jump-seats and standing room for another person or two.

The crew rest area – installed into the space above the passenger cabin – was surprisingly large. I suppose had they cut it to three beds from two it would have been incredibly cramped. Instead they appeared quite spacious and comfortable.

The overhead bins are apparently spec’d to hold four bags each at 12”x16”x25”. That’s HUGE. It didn’t look to me like the 25” dimension was real but I didn’t have a tape measure handy and they wouldn’t let me crawl up in one to check it out (the guy running that part actually noted that he’d been warned about me and overhead bins when I asked about that).

Perhaps most significant was that the aircraft was fitted with a few rows of economy class seating in a 3-3-3 configuration. There has been much concern in the frequent flyer community as most airlines announced their intentions to go 9-abreast on the 787 rather than the 8-abreast that Boeing originally claimed the aircraft was designed for. Sitting in the seats today I was pleasantly surprised by just how comfortable the cabin felt. I know that there’s a lot more to it than just seat width, but things might not be quite as dire as feared.

And that was it. The visit was short – only about 15-20 minutes – but incredibly fun and truly an amazing experience. And yet another first for StarMegaDo.

No photos (from us) because of corporate security policies but their folks took a few of our group that I hope to post soon.

Field trip in First Class

I’m pretty sure that the first class service on today’s LH440 from Frankfurt to Houston was not typical. With eight people hanging out in two of the seats upstairs at one point it was much more reminiscent of a field trip than a flight. Even with the extra bodies up there is was a quite fun and pleasant experience.

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As we sat around sharing travel stories and canapés it was an opportunity to truly enjoy some of the best that air travel has to offer. At triple the normal capacity seated in the first class beds, it was still quite a bit more comfortable than my assigned seat in the economy cabin. And the food and beverage choices were definitely a few steps above.

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There was plenty of champagne to be had, as well as a few bottles of Baileys consumed, several beers and a glass or two of Johnnie Walker Blue, and that was just during the bit of the flight that I was invited up to visit.

The food spread was quite impressive, too. From finger sandwiches to fresh fruit to a quite impressive caviar presentation, everything I saw was top notch.

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Oh, and some fun with the amenity kits, too:

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It really did seem much more like summer camp or a field trip than a 10 hour flight across the Atlantic.

What You Missed (Or Only Remember Hazily) Last Year

With less than a week to go until the trans-Atlantic kick off of Star Mega DO, first-timers may be wondering exactly what they’re in for. So for your sake, here are links to two accounts from last year’s trip.

Scott McCartney’s “A Travel Junkie Field Trip,” published in the The Wall Street Journal offered a nice overview:

The Mega DO—which started in Chicago—gave the road warriors an education in how airlines work. At each stop, airline executives greeted them with singers and dancers, mechanics and pilots, ample food and drink and tours of engine shops, training facilities, airplanes and hangars.

Like kids on a school field trip, they filed through crew briefing rooms at UAL Corp.’s United Airlines in Chicago, quizzed maintenance experts at Continental’s engine shop in Newark, practiced flight-attendant skills at Lufthansa’s training center in Frankfurt and were photographed sitting in various aircraft cockpits opened for them at hangars.

They asked airline workers about snow plows at O’Hare, bird-strikes in engines, access to airport clubs and the environmental impact of deicing fluid. They learned how airlines cycle engines and airplanes through scheduled maintenance, how company workers assign gates and direct aircraft movement around terminals, how pilots prepare for long journeys and how Airbus puts together its giant double-deck plane.

My own “Triumph of the Air Warriors,” published in (American) Condé Nast Traveler, tried to be more philosophical about what it all means, as seen through the prism of Up in the Air:

“If you hate flying, you’re not doing it right,” says George Clooney as Ryan Bingham. Doing it right demands miles. Garner enough to hit the airlines’ targets and you’ll receive elite status with a bevy of perks: priority boarding, waived baggage fees, mileage bonuses, private lounge access.

They’re hackers, really, cracking fare codes and exploiting seams until they’ve twisted the airlines’ own bewildering rules inside out. FlyerTalkers get a kick out of this, and brag among themselves. They use the same freely available tools as travel agents do, peel off the lids of the reservations systems and peer inside, taking detailed notes on ways to fly well and practically for free.

At this point, you might be forgiven for wondering what these people do all day to have this much time on their hands. They are consultants, salesmen, CEOs. The old-school air warriors lived in hotels and first-class lounges—work demanded it. FlyerTalkers are a different breed, masters and captains of their own lives. Rebelling against being herded like sheep, they banded together to assert their flier rights—exploiting loopholes, pooling information, leading a jailbreak from coach to the front of the plane. They made the airlines sit up and return some of their passenger dignity.

The media (including me) is tagging along again this year. Who will be immortalized on the emergency slide this time around?

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