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.

The Presidents Club Pub Crawl

Before we get too deep into today’s charter activities, a quick story: Faced with four hours to kill following the CO presentation Thursday afternoon, 15 of us decided on a pub crawl… through the Presidents Clubs. Exploiting the PC’s unique ability to issue gate passes for members and up to two guests, the group started at Terminal E and progressed through the alphabet in reverse, visiting Terminal C South, C North, B, and A in a state of increasing inebriation. Three of us — Scott, Marty and myself — snuck out to the KLM lounge for a bit, bringing the total group tally to six. By the time we caught up them again, the Clubs had begun calling ahead to warn of our group’s approach. “They’re coming,” the receptionist at C South informed her counterpart at C North. “All they want is a few pictures.”

“And drinks!”

At each stop, there were photos. First, it was a group shot outside the Club in Terminal E; then one in front of the counter at Terminal C South. By C North, we were behind the counter. In B, we were in the front of the bar. Finally, by the time we reached the Club in Terminal A — by which time the first (annual?) Presidents Club Margarita Contest was nearing its conclusion — we were behind the bar. (Photos below). As for the contest results:

1. Dina at Terminal B. The secret of her success? Adding a splash of amaretto to the mix.

2. Keri at Terminal A

3. Charles at Terminal C South

4. Veronica at Terminal E

5. Unknown at Terminal C North. “Definitely the strongest, though,” the judges ruled. “His goal was to get alcohol into you as quickly as possible.”

He succeeded.

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.

The Seat Guru

There are a few new faces on the second go-round of Star Mega DO, and one happens to belong to Matt Daimler, a.k.a Phatteus, who founded Seatguru.com nearly a decade ago. “It started in 2001 as one plane, with one map,” he says, and wasn’t much more than a hobby until revenue Google AdSense began turning it into a real business circa 2004. He sold the site to Expedia in 2007 (today his card says “Founder” and his role is effectively an evangelist) and his current wish is to see Seatguru’s maps incorporated into the most popular iPhone apps like Flight Tracker.

He still tells the story of learning how fare classes work. While traveling with a friend circa 1996, their flight was canceled and the airline was forced to rebook them on another carrier, issuing paper vouchers to do so. Seeing a “Y” written on the voucher, Matt’s friend asked what it meant. Informed “Y” meant coach and an “F” was required to be rebooked in first, his friend decided to fix that. Using a pen, he doctored the “Y” into an “F.” And it worked.

SMD vs. OMG

OK, today is unlike any other day. I mean, just how many days do you start out on a mileage run of sorts with 70+ members of that special secret society of frequent flyers? Anyway, I’m just bidding my time at the gate waiting for my next connection when I hear across the way a few young ladies exclaiming their joy over some topic that clearly brings interest and excitement to themselves. The chosen term—O-M-G. O-M-G in todays lexicon stands for Oh My God or Oh My Goodness, that being a statment of exclamation. Since an exclamation is an expression of feeling, the next words from my mouth will be—S-M-D. You know, an exclamation of feeling about the Star Mega Do. Say it, say it with emotion. We, ladies and gentlemen are getting ready to rumble in the skies—forward march to the airport gate that greets us later today. Let me say it again … S-M-D.

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