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.

Meeting “Munchen”

This afternoon, Star Mega DOs 1 & 2 came full circle with a visit to the “Munchen,” a.k.a D-AIMB, the Lufthansa Airbus A380 we last saw a year ago on the assembly line in Toulouse. (And if that wasn’t enough, we caught a glimpse of last year’s charter, the Condor 757 D-ABON, as we were leaving the hangar area). Lufthansa’s second A380 (of three so far, with the fourth set to follow shortly) the Munchen had arrived from NRT earlier this morning and was being prepped for its NRT return flight the following day.

Splitting into small groups upon arrival, FlyerTalkers literally kicked the tires (rated to 235 mph and costing $16,000 a piece) and stroked the fuselage and found the orange waterspouts where the water you washed your hands with exits the aircraft. Our tour guide, a retired 747 captain named Ulrich Fuchs (who led tours of that plane a year ago) explained how the landing gear folds up in upon itself and told the story of the stowaway found frozen on one of his runs between FRA and Accra, Ghana. “Boeing likes to boast the 747 is made of 6 million parts,” Fuchs said at one point. “Well, 3 million of those are rivets. The A380 has 6.5 million parts, but you hardly see any rivets.”

On board, the Mega DOers politely milled about in Economy for awhile (“Look around,” Tommy said, “This is your first and last time on the lower deck!”) before being led upstairs to the new First Class. Designed in a typically restrained Teutonic style in grays and blacks, most of the amenities on display were expected (lie-flat beds, pajamas, humidifiers, his-and-hers kits by Porsche Design) and a few surprises (instead of overhead bins, personal lockers; instead of showers, bathrooms with full sinks, leather benches, and cabinets stocked with razors, toothpaste, and makeup remover).

We skipped business class considering many of us flew in the same product the night before, but the Lufthansa execs on board were quick to defend the absence of a refresh. When LH was finalizing its A380 layout in 2004 in expectation of a 2007 rollout, the nearly-flat beds were still in the top tier. But the endless series of supposedly minor delays hamstrung their ability to rethink the product in time. (Although the first row of seats in business class can be made full lie-flat if you know which levers to manually push. Ask your purser; she’ll know how.)

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