MIAMI — British Airways (BA) first introduced the Boeing 787 Dreamliner to their fleet in 2013 in a somewhat low-key way, shadowed by the Airbus A380 at a time when the Dreamliner was experiencing battery issues that had led to a worldwide grounding of the fleet.
Since that time, BA has used the aircraft to expand to new long/thin destinations. Austin (AUS), Nashville (BNA), New Orleans (MSY), and San Jose (SJC), were seen as the Dreamliner’s perfect fit because of its relatively small size, long range, and fuel efficiency.
BA has significantly expanded its Dreamliner fleet, with both the 787-8 and the longer 787-9 model, and recently celebrated the delivery of its 25th, a 787-8 registered G-ZBJI.
Airways went along for Juliet India’s ride on delivery from the Boeing factory in Everett, Washington to its new base at London Heathrow (LHR).
Following a tour of the Boeing widebody aircraft factory at Paine Field in Everett, Washington (where the 747, 767, 777 and 787s are built) on the afternoon of Thursday, September 28, 2017 we were bused to Boeing’s Delivery Center, adjacent to the flight line where all of the new widebody aircraft undergo testing.
We were ushered up a winding staircase, past a Boeing gift shop, into a large, glass-walled room where refreshments awaited us, along with the crew of our delivery flight.
Across the hallway, UPS was taking delivery of its first two 747-8 freighter aircraft, and it seemed to have quite the formal party going on, with tables bestowed with white linens and elaborate place settings at each seat. In contrast, our room was very casual, and there was not a formal delivery ceremony or ribbon cutting prior to boarding our flight.
Our whole travel entourage included only 27 people plus the flight crew. In addition to myself, the other passengers included five journalists — two from the US, three European — along with BA staff such as a maintenance tech who monitored the plane’s systems throughout the flight, and a sales team from the airline with some of their guests. Each passenger had a Club World seat.
Before Boarding Arrangements
Prior to boarding, each passenger had to be weighed along with all of their belongings. As it was explained to us, “We know exactly how much the plane weighs when it’s empty, but not when it’s only partially full.”
In my experience, that’s true. Airlines use an average passenger and bag weight in their weight and balance calculations, but a completely full plane is more predictable than a flight where everyone is up front in business class.
You may have experienced an instance where the flight attendants or pilots ask some economy passengers to move toward the back if the load is light.
Following the weigh-in, we were taken in small groups through security and passport control. Yes, the Boeing Delivery Center has a full security screening process, including baggage scanners and metal detectors.
Once we were screened, we went out to the plane, where a red carpet was placed before the stairs by which we boarded. The Delivery Center has two jet bridges like you’d see at an airport, but those were occupied by the UPS 747s I mentioned earlier.
Welcome on board!
Upon boarding, I was greeted by the pilots—who were both British Airways Captains—and a couple of the flight attendants, who directed me to my seat although I knew where it was. I was given seat 2A (window seat!) in Club World, which is what BA calls Business Class.
I made myself at home and unpacked a few of the things I would need for the flight such as my DSLR camera, GoPro, and iPhone charger. I attached the GoPro to one of my three accessible windows with a suction cup mount, then I put everything else in the overhead bin above my seat. Unfortunately, the video is backlit because my side of the plane faced the sun.
The flight wasn’t a typical British Airways flight at all, and I’ve flown several over the past few years. Before takeoff, Captain Stephen Riley welcomed us aboard for the special occasion and mentioned that he would be turning off the seatbelt signs earlier than normal, in order for us to be able to wander around the cabin to see some of the great views of the Pacific Northwest.
Indeed, we weren’t airborne for even 10 minutes before the signs went off. In addition to the ability to walk around, the flight attendants offered us beer and wine.
Delivery in-flight service
Speaking of drinks, the catering was atypical as well. No champagne or regular liquor—only beer and wine. Wine offerings included a Chardonnay and a Cabernet Sauvignon from Chateau Ste. Michelle. The beer choices included Red Hook IPA and Heineken.
Dinner offerings included a beef dish, a chicken dish, and a salmon dish. No menu, just verbal offerings.
Prior to receiving my salmon, I was served a salad with both Ranch and Thousand Island in packets, and bread. All food was served on plasticware, including the utensils.
This was not what you’d find in Club World on a regular BA flight, of course—the catering was by Boeing.
Shortly after receiving my entree, Captain Riley came on the PA system and announced that we would be able to view the Northern Lights for the next 20-30 minutes. I quickly wolfed down my entree and made my way to the economy cabin, which the cabin crew had darkened for our viewing pleasure.
Following the best viewing of the Northern Lights I had ever witnessed, I returned to my seat. Unlike the catering, the regular BA in-flight video and music library was already loaded for our flight. I watched “Rough Night,” a barely memorable “Hangover” knock-off with a female cast.
Other top new releases were available including “Alien: Covenant,” “Captain Underpants” and “Wonder Woman.”
By the time my movie was over, it was close to 5:00 AM in London, so I reclined my seat into the flat position, donned my earplugs and eye mask and tried to sleep, knowing I never sleep well on planes. BA’s Club World hard product is known by many to be somewhat outdated.
Even on this new Dreamliner, the seats were only a slight evolution from the previous generation, with minor changes including a hi-def screen at each seat. That being said, I found it quite comfortable.
The next thing I knew, I heard people stirring about the cabin, and the mood lighting was glowing orange, which meant it was almost time to eat. I looked at my watch and it was a little after 9:00 AM. There’s something about the 787 cabin that makes it easier to sleep.
Breakfast offerings included a cheese omelette or pancakes and scrambled eggs. I chose the omelette and English Breakfast tea, because after all, when in Britain…
Welcome to London
We landed at Heathrow and parked at 11:26 AM local time, after 8 hours, 57 minutes airborne and a distance of exactly 5,000 miles.
We parked at a hard stand, away from the main terminal. British Customs agents had to come aboard because when a new plane is delivered to another country, the airline has to declare the plane as an imported item.
The agents came up the stairs in uniforms and bright green safety vests while we were asked to remain in our seats. The agents walked through the cabin and went up to the flight deck, for the pilots to complete the paperwork.
There was no BA brass onboard. After about ten minutes, the agents disembarked and we followed shortly thereafter. A British Airways spokesperson told me, “The ‘declaration’ is all about registering the aircraft in the UK. Customs stamps the imported paperwork to register the aircraft.”
Overall, the trip was fantastic, and it’s always fun to participate in an experience that money or points can’t buy. As I mentioned, it wasn’t completely reflective of the typical British Airways Club World experience either.
Shortly after landing, we went to the Air Traffic Control (ATC) tower at Heathrow for a tour, which you’ll hear about soon. As we made our way to the tower, I realized how alert I felt, in spite of only four hours of sleep.
I credit this to the Dreamliner’s lower “cabin altitude” which helps reduce jet lag. Cabin altitude is the air pressure passengers experience while onboard. The 787 has the same pressure found at 6,000 feet above sea level, while most other planes are 8,000 feet.
Going from sea level to 8,000 feet lowers the oxygen content in your blood by four percent, while the 6,000-foot altitude has minimal effect, which reduces fatigue. The carbon fiber fuselage of the 787 allows higher cabin pressure because carbon fiber isn’t susceptible to metal fatigue.
The 25th British Airways Dreamliner was the ninth 787-8 to join the fleet. BA Also has sixteen 787-9s, which include their First Class. The airline will also get twelve of the stretched 787-10s, stating in 2020.
Their 787-8s have 35 Club World seats, arranged in a 2-3-2 yin-yang configuration, 25 reclining World Traveler Plus seats arranged 2-3-2 with 38″ pitch, and 154 standard World Traveler seats, in 3-3-3 rows with 31″ pitch.
Have you flown on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner? What did you think of its claim to reduce the effect of jet lag? Let us know in the comments below.
All photos and videos were taken by the author unless otherwise noted. Featured image courtesy of British Airways.
Editorial disclosure: British Airways invited the author on this celebratory trip and covered air transportation, hotel accommodations, and some meals. However, all accounts and opinions of the event are solely those of the author.