Boeing 747s flying away from SFO?

A United 747-400 enroute to Osaka (Photo: InSapphoWeTrust / Flickr)

A United 747-400 enroute to Osaka (Photo: InSapphoWeTrust / Flickr)

Do you love watching elegant Boeing 747s lumber over the Peninsula or the Bay as they approach SFO? Maybe you’ve been lucky enough to occasionally ride upstairs in “the bubble” in business class on the way to Asia or Europe?

Well, enjoy it while you can.  As more airlines worldwide opt to retire their 747s and replace them with 777s, SFO will see fewer of this iconic aircraft. The phasing out is already well underway…

Air China is the latest to delete the 747 from its SFO schedule. Last month it replaced the big bird with a 777 on the SFO-Beijing run. It now flies the 777 exclusively between China and the US.

Cathay Pacific has scheduled its last 747 flight between SFO and Hong Kong for August 31, to be replaced by three-class 777 service (economy, premium economy and business, but no first class).

Air New Zealand is scheduled to fly its last 747 from Auckland to SFO in September, having phased in the 777.

EVA Air's 747s flew away from SFO in 2012 (Photo: Danny Fritsche / Flickr)

EVA Air’s 747s flew away from SFO in 2012 (Photo: Danny Fritsche / Flickr)

EVA Air’s 747 flights flew away in November 2012. And of course, we lost QANTAS’ daily red tail 747 flight back in 2011 when the carrier moved the flight to Dallas Ft Worth.

United, whose SFO-based 747 fleet dominates other carriers’, is on a similar bandwagon. In 2012 the airline announced it would shift its 747 focus to SFO. However, after a year or so, it did an about-face and schedules show it replacing many Asia- and Australia-bound routes with other aircraft.

For example, a new 787 Dreamliner is coming to United’s SFO-Osaka run. On March 27 United will deploy newly refurbished three-cabin 777-200ERs on SFO-Sydney, replacing the 747s it currently uses. (Photos of 777-200 interiors here) The best news about having 777 on SFO-SYD is that coach passengers will soon have individual seatback screens for the 14-hour haul…something the 747 sorely lacked. For the time being, United will continue to fly 747s from SFO to: Beijing, Frankfurt (2x/day), Hong Kong, Shanghai, Seoul and Tokyo-Narita (2x/day).

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A couple of airlines are taking the opposite approach and going big. Lufthansa will fly the A380 from SFO beginning in April and plans to use it year-round…not just seasonally.

Previously the German carrier alternated between a 747 and A380 on the route.  And Air France will bring back the behemoth double-decker aircraft for seasonal service on SFO-Paris, April through October.

Business class up in the nose of a Boeing 747-400- coming to SFO this month! (Photo: KLM)

Business class up in the nose of a KLM Boeing 747-400- coming to SFO this month! (Photo: KLM)

But it’s not all bad news on the 747 front. KLM will replace its A330 and MD-11 jets on SFO-Amsterdam with a 747-400 later this month. The very best news is that the 747 will have KLM’s new lie-flat business class seat. A KLM spokesperson told The BAT that the 747 would remain on the route “until at least the end of the summer.”

By year’s end, it looks like SFO’s 747 flights will be limited to United, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Philippine Airlines and China Airlines.

The 777 is seen by airlines as being right-sized for Asia and west-bound markets from the Bay Area due to its combination of capacity, range and fuel efficiency. The 747 family seats 400-500 passengers, depending on airline configuration, while the 777 family’s capacity is in the 300-390 range. The 747, with its four engines, is a fuel hog, and airlines have found it’s more profitable to fly smaller aircraft like the twin-engine, fuel-efficient 777 more times per day if necessary, than a single mega-aircraft flight.

There are other factors to consider in the complex world of route/aircraft strategy, too. When a United route executive was asked why the company was not investing in the new 747-8 to update its 747 fleet, he noted (off the record) that the aircraft is so large that its resale market is limited. If the aircraft/route does not pan out, there is limited opportunity to unload the aircraft in the secondary market. (Likely the same reason United is not buying A380s.)

First class onboard on of Pan Am's first 747s (Photo: Tim Graham / Flickr)

First class onboard on of Pan Am’s first 747s (Photo: Tim Graham / Flickr)

Boeing’s 747 “Jumbo Jet” made history at its inception in 1970: it was the world’s first widebody aircraft. The manufacturer allowed Pan Am, its inaugural customer, to have significant input in the aircraft design, and the plane’s commercial debut was a Pan Am flight from New York to London Heathrow on January 22, 1970. Since then its distinctive design and upper deck have captured the imagination of passengers. Will Bay Area travelers lose access to this iconic aircraft? Only time will tell.

Does the 747 hold a special memory for you or a preferred experience? Please leave your comments below.

–Nancy Branka

BAT contributor Nancy Branka

BAT contributor Nancy Branka

We are pleased to welcome Nancy Branka as a contributor to The BAT! She’s covered the business travel beat for years as managing editor of Executive Travel magazine and is now turning her talents toward helping keep Bay Area Travelers informed.  Nancy lives in the East Bay and primarily flies out of Oakland International– we’ll rely on her to expand our coverage on that side of the Bay! Today she’s jetting across the country on American Airlines’ brand new A321T and will provide a report on her trip next week. -- Chris




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United biz class giveaway + New Chicago flight + MileagePlus deadline + Southwest overwater + Rocketmiles

First look inside United’s new terminal at SFO

New Year. New credit card?


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A look inside Singapore Air’s newest jet (SLIDESHOW)

First look at a brand new B777-300ER at Boeing's slick new delivery center (Chris McGinnis)

First look at a brand new B777-300ER at Boeing’s slick new delivery center (Chris McGinnis)

Last week Singapore Airlines (SIA) invited The BAT up to Seattle to a look inside its new Boeing 777-300ER as it rolled off the assembly line. In the airline industry, this is known as a “delivery.” And when an airline spends $200-$300 million on a new plane, Boeing makes sure that the delivery is a big deal. As a matter of fact, Boeing just opened a brand new, multi-million-dollar, 180,000 square foot “delivery center” for the sole purpose of showing off its jumbo birds at the moment the keys are turned over to its airline customers.

The Boeing name plate inside the front door of a brand new 777-300-ER (Chris McGinnis)

The Boeing name plate inside the front door of a brand new 777-300-ER (Chris McGinnis)

Singapore Airlines flew us up to see the first of eight new Boeing 777-300ERs that are outfitted with its new interiors– everything from seats, lights, lavs, seatback video screens, fabric and trim is “new generation.” Seeing this plane was especially exciting to this Bay Area Traveler (BAT!) because SFO is one of just two cities in the US served by Singapore’s fleet of 777s– the other being Houston. (Its other US gateways are served by A380s.) That means it’s likely that SFO will be the first airport in the US to see this posh new plane in service.

Alas, the beautiful bird I saw was bound for Singapore, and later this month deployed on the lucrative Singapore-London route. And although Singapore officials were coy about my direct questions regarding exactly when SFO will see a next-generation B777-300ER, my hopes are high that it will be sooner than later. Currently, Singapore has eight of the new planes on order, so we’ll see!

On Singapore Air’s B777-300ER there are eight first class seats, 42 business class seats, 228 economy seats, and 8 cozy sleeping berths in the crew rest area (see the slideshow for a peek at this hidden cabin!).

For a full look at this big bird, see the slideshow! 

Singapore Air's new first class seat in chocolate brown leather trimmed in bright pumpkin orange (Chris McGinnis)

Singapore Air’s new first class seat in chocolate brown leather trimmed in bright pumpkin orange (Chris McGinnis)

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Highlights of new first class:

When folded down into a bed, the new seat is a lengthy 82 inches long.

The new seat (designed by BMW Group/DesignworksUSA) is tricked out a sexy chocolate brown leather with a classy diamond-patterned stitching, which is brightened by pops of bright pumpkin orange in the trim, pillows, and inside the multiple cubbyholes used for storage of person items. I loved that!

Inflight entertainment screens seem impossibly large at 24 inches across. In first as well as other cabins, a new notification system is used to communicate flight info to passengers, reducing the need for intrusive onboard announcements.

For a full look at the seat, see the slideshow! 

BAT editor Chris McGinnis testing out Singapore's new business class seat

BAT editor Chris McGinnis testing out Singapore’s new business class seat

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Business class:

When folded down into a flat bed, the new seat is 78 inches long and 35 inches wide.

Inflight entertainment LCD screens are huge at 18″ across. A new feature on Singapore’s KrisWorld system is the ability to rate the movies you are watching, and see how other SIA passengers have rated them.

Each seat has power, USB, eXport and HDMI ports.

Key for long haul flights is the abundance of personal storage space in various areas in the seat area.

For a full look at the seat, see the slideshow! 

Economy class seats have 11.1 inch LCD screens (Chris McGinnis)

Economy class seats have 11.1 inch LCD screens (Chris McGinnis)

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Economy class:

The pitch in economy class is the standard 32″. (No premium economy seats.) Seats are made in cool fabric with adjustable leather headrests.

New seatback video screens  are giant a 11.1 inches across, plus they are touch screens for easier entertainment selection and viewing. Economy class passengers have access to over 1,000 on demand entertainment options– the same choices found in business and first class. Nice!

Each economy seat has a thoughtful makeup mirror built into the tray table, and special nooks in the mesh seatback pocket for smartphones, tablets and water bottles.

For a full look at the seat, see the slideshow! 

While this new 777 was built for Singapore Airlines, it’s important to see because so many other major airlines take their design and comfort queues from SIA. So eventually what you see here is what you might see on other carriers in years to come…

I NEED YOUR FEEDBACK: Do you like the Google+ slideshows I have been posting recently? Is this a good way for me to deliver photos to you? Or would you rather have a standard embedded slideshow? Please let me know which one you prefer!

Chris McGinnis


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More 787 Dreamliners flock to Bay Area + Loss of LAN

Norwegian will fly a brand new Boeing 787 Dreamliner between Oakland, Oslo and Stockholm next year.

Norwegian will fly a brand new Boeing 787 Dreamliner between Oakland, Oslo and Stockholm next year.

The Bay Area has several Boeing 787 Dreamliners headed our way in coming months.

Today, Norwegian Air Shuttle, the Scandinavian low-fare juggernaut, announced that it would add nonstop Boeing 787 Dreamliner flights to Oakland from both Oslo and Stockholm starting next May.

Premium Economy seats on Norwegian

Premium Economy seats on Norwegian

Nonstops between Oakland and Oslo will run three times per week (Mon,Wed, Fri); Oakland-Stockholm flights will run two times per week (Tues, Sat).

Norwegian, the third largest low-fare carrier in Europe says that it can offer fares as low as $236 each way (all in) due to the lower operation costs of the new 787, eight of which it has on order from Boeing.

However, upon checking briefly for Oakland-Oslo flights in May 2014 at, I could only find the $236 economy fare for the Oakland-Oslo portion. The cheapest fare for the Oslo-Oakland run is $357.50, for a total of $600.50. Not bad, but not $236 each way as promoted in Norwegian’s press materials.

Economy class seating on Norwegian

Economy class seating on Norwegian

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Fares for summer travel (2014) are in the $1000 roundtrip range. Premium economy fares are around $975 each way, or about $2000 round trip.

On Norwegian’s new Dreamliner, premium economy (38 seats) is configured 2-3-2 with larger cradle style seats that recline, but do not go completely flat. All leather coach seats (259) are laid out 3-3-3, with individual seatback video, and touchscreen snack ordering, similar to what we’ve seen on Virgin America.

According to Seatguru, Norwegian’s premium economy seats are 19 inches wide with 46 inches of pitch. Economy class seats are narrow, at 17.2 inches with the standard 31-32 inches of pitch.

Features of the 787: The Boeing 787 Dreamliner has much larger electrochromatic windows that dim like sunglasses if there’s a glare… they can also be electronically blacked out if you want to sleep. There’s mod LED lighting. It also has larger overhead bins. Because of the Boeing’s use of composite materials, cabin pressure can be set at about 6000 feet– most other aircraft are only able to set cabin pressure at about 8000 feet– Boeing says that on those long hauls, the pressure difference along with better ventilation will help reduce passenger discomfort and jet lag.

More 787’s in the wings…

Japan Airlines 787 now touching down at SFO

Over Labor Day weekend, Japan Airlines launched new 787 flights between SFO and Tokyo’s close in and convenient Haneda Airport, located just 30 minutes south of the center of town. Narita is located 90 minutes to the east.

As you know from previous BAT posts, ANA has a 787 flying between San Jose and Tokyo-Narita.

Starting next April, United will fly a 787 between SFO and Osaka-Kansai.

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Have you flown on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner yet? What did you think? Please leave your comments below. 

LAN inaugural Boeing 767  gets a water cannon salute at SFO in 2010

Adios! LAN inaugural Boeing 767 gets a water cannon salute at SFO in 2010

LAN CANS SFO FLIGHTS. After a four-year run, LAN will suspend its nonstop Boeing 767 SFO-Lima flight on April 1, 2014. That’s too bad because the LAN flight was SFO’s only nonstop to South America. SF-based travelers hoping to stick with LAN can now connect with its flights from LAX. But I imagine most of us here in the Bay Area will likely fly United through Houston when headed to South America. Have you flown LAN to Lima or beyond? How was it? How do you get to South America? Please leave your comments below.

Chris McGinnis


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United shifting some 747s away from SFO

United 747-400s departing Sydney's Kingsford-Smith airport (Aero Icarus)

United 747-400s departing Sydney’s Kingsford-Smith airport (Aero Icarus)

United could be watering down its strategy of making SFO its Boeing 747 hub, based on summer 2014 schedules released earlier this month.

For example, starting April 1, 2014, United will switch out its aging 747-400s on the SFO to Sydney and Melbourne flight and deploy newly refurbished, three-cabin 777-200ER’s on the route. It’s also taking the 747 off the SFO-London Heathrow route and will use only 777s. And it’s replacing the 747 on the SFO-Osaka route with SFO’s first scheduled United 787 Dreamliner.

Economy class on United's refurbished 777 configured 3-3-3 (Chris McGinnis)

New economy class Recaro seats on United’s refurbished 777 configured 3-3-3 (Chris McGinnis)

AUSTRALIA: The switcheroo on the Australia flights is good news for economy class passengers who suffer through the 14-hour odyssey to Oz at the back of the plane on United’ old 747’s from both SFO and LAX. The newly refurbished 777’s are more comfortable at the back with a 3-3-3 configuration (vs the 747′s 3-4-3), and individual seatback video screens. United says that the 777s will offer its new satellite-based wi-fi and in-seat power outlets, too.  (See this BAT post for a slideshow of the refurb and updated 777 interiors.)

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For those flying in business and first class, the switchover will not be as dramatic– the flatbed seating on the 777 is similar to the 747.  But it will be sad lose those nice biz class seats upstairs in the bubble of the 747. That’s one nice ride up there, especially for long overnight flights.

Which aircraft would you prefer for the long flight down under… the 777 or the 747? Why? Please leave your comments below…

Upstairs in biz class on United's 747 (Transworld Productions)

Upstairs in biz class on United’s 747 (Transworld Productions)

The move represents a significant reduction in capacity on the route—those big ole 747s hold 374 passengers, while the 777s only carry 269, with eight in first class, 40 in business, 117 in Economy Plus and 104 in economy.

With Qantas gone, and United reducing capacity, brace for some painful price hikes for nonstops from SFO to Sydney and Melbourne. Currently, roundtrip economy fares on SFO-SYD are in the $1,500 range, business class is running close to $9,000 and first is around $17,000. Fares typically run cheaper if you are willing to stop in LAX on the way down.

Where are those 747’s going to go? Well, some are going back to Chicago, where United will run the big birds nonstop from O’Hare to Frankfurt, Shanghai, Tokyo-Narita starting next spring. United will also deploy two 747s per day on the SFO-Tokyo (Narita) run. (H/T to Routes Online)

What does this mean for United’s recently announced strategy to make SFO its 747 hub? That seems a little murky at the moment. When The BAT asked, a spokesperson would only say: “Most of our 747 flights will continue to operate to and from SFO,” but would not comment on whether these moves represent a shift away from the 747 hub strategy.

Which aircraft would you prefer for the long flight down under… the 777 or the 747? Why? Please leave your comments below…

Chris McGinnis


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787 issues affecting United SFO flight plans

United's  Boeing 787 Dreamliner (Photo: United Airlines)

United’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner (Photo: United Airlines)

The ongoing technical issues and grounding of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner are having multiple repercussions for Bay Area Travelers (BATs).

In addition to the cancellation of ANA’s flights between San Jose and Tokyo (currently through at least May 31), United is having to alter its plans to add new transoceanic nonstops from San Francisco International (SFO) this spring due to the grounding of its six 787s.

Last year, United announced that it would add new nonstop flights between SFO and both Paris and Taipei this spring. Initially, its Boeing 777-200ER nonstops to Taipei were to have started on April 9. Nonstops to Paris (using a 767-300ER) were to have started April 11.

Since the aircraft United was planning to use on those routes are being used to plug holes in its flight schedule due to the 787 grounding, those dates have been pushed back to April 26 for Paris, and June 6 for Taipei.

In a statement to The BAT, United said, “While the grounding of Boeing 787 aircraft worldwide is delaying the launch of United’s service from San Francisco to Paris and Taipei as we reallocate aircraft, we remain committed to that service and believe they will both be successful when they launch on April 26 and June 6, respectively. We will work to offer alternate flight options to ticketed customers.”

Currently, the period to take advantage of United’s 50%-100% Mileage Plus bonus offers on these new flights reflects the original start dates…United has not yet made any changes to effective dates on the promotional pages, but told The BAT:  ”We will be adjusting the promotions and will accommodate those that have already registered accordingly.” Keep an eye on that here:  Paris bonus page.   Taipei bonus page.

We also asked United if the start dates for this service could be pushed back again if the 787 is still not flying by late April or May– so far, no response.

Have you been inconvenienced by the grounding of the 787 yet? Please leave your experiences or comments below!

–Chris McGinnis



Boeing’s 787 grounded: My report from Tokyo

The view from the 47th floor of the Park Hyatt Tokyo (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The view from the 47th floor of the Park Hyatt Tokyo (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

(TOKYO, JAPAN) Here I sit at the Park Hyatt, Tokyo (the Lost in Translation hotel) watching the morning sun hit Mt Fuji, and watching the headlines and emails about the FAA’s grounding of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner spew forth from my laptop.

As you may know from previous posts, I flew to Tokyo last Saturday aboard one of the first Dreamliner flights to depart San Jose International airport. While there were operational issues with the aircraft at that time,  passengers I spoke with felt confident about flying the brand new 158-passenger bird across the Pacific. Our 10-hour flight to Tokyo was delightful and without incident.

I was traveling with a group of travel media, and during our interviews with ANA executives on Tuesday, we were assured that these were “teething issues” that fell within the band of normalcy for any new aircraft. They were still very excited about the aircraft with plans to buy several more.

While new at San Jose, ANA has been flying the 787 for a year and a half, with rave reviews from passengers, pilots and the media in general. We had heard US Transportation secretary Ray LaHood state a few days earlier that he’d feel confident flying on a 787.

Then, on Wednesday morning here in Tokyo, we heard that a Dreamliner had made an emergency landing at an airport in western Japan, and that all passengers had been evacuated. Apparently, an indicator light told pilots that there was a battery issue, and that there was an unusual odor in the cockpit. After that incident, ANA immediately grounded its fleet of 17 Dreamliners and launched an investigation into the cause. At that time in the US, the FAA said that it was looking into the incident.

Inspecting ANA's maintenance hangar at Haneda Airport on the day before the 787 was grounded. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Inspecting ANA’s maintenance hangar at Haneda Airport on the day before the 787 was grounded. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Half of our media group had reservations to fly out of Tokyo bound for San Jose on the 787 on Wednesday afternoon. However, thanks to the slower winter travel season and quick action on the part of ANA staff, there was enough room on Wednesday’s ANA flight to San Francisco to accommodate the group and they all got home safely. I was glad I had already booked my return trip to SFO on an ANA Boeing 777 (instead of the 787 into SJC) for later this week.

Last night, I pondered what all this meant as I sat having a meal in the Park Hyatt’s New York Grill & Bar, thinking about Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation drinking Suntory whiskey, listening to a “Sausalito”-like chanteuse croon while the Tokyo skyline twinkled 52 stories below.

I had a great night’s sleep (almost no jet lag on this trip…maybe due to the 787’s new cabin pressurization … or the Park Hyatt’s comfy beds?) and awoke to another bombshell: The US Federal Aviation Administration had grounded the 787 until it could determine the cause of the incident.

With sketchy information and investigations underway, it’s too early to conclude that the aircraft is fundamentally flawed. But the recent rash of incidents and media hype around them are certain to cause concern…

Here’s a list of what is swirling around in my head about this now. Conclusions will come later….

>First, I’m grateful to be safe and sound in a nice hotel in Tokyo, and not stuck at an airport due to a flight cancellation. I’m glad to have the chance to ride on the 787… and equally glad I have a reservation to get back to San Francisco an ANA 777.

>It’s tough to speculate on what this means for ANA’s new 787 flights between Tokyo and San Jose. The 158-passenger Dreamliner is perfect for a “long, thin” route like Tokyo-San Jose. I think it’s unlikely that ANA will substitute another aircraft on the route—such as a Boeing 777 or 767 because they are simply too big—there is not enough demand in the South Bay to keep a 200-300 seat aircraft full. (American Airlines used to have a 777 on the route, but discontinued the flight in 2006.) So if the grounding of the 787 is short term, the outlook for the route should be okay… is it’s a long-term affair, the future of the route is cloudy.

>ANA is handling cancellations on a day-to-day basis– for example, I’ve just learned that Friday’s flight between Tokyo and San Jose has been canceled, but no decision has been made for Saturday’s flight. On ANA alone, Dreamliner cancellations affect the plans of 4,800 passengers per day, according to a spokesperson.

>The impact of the controversy is likely felt most acutely here in Japan– ANA has a fleet of 17 Dreamliners, most of which are used for domestic flying, so re-accommodating passengers is causing some pain. Japan Airlines has grounded seven 787s. In addition, the lithium ion batteries in question are made in Japan. It’s difficult to watch all this come down on the gentle, polite Japanese who feel deeply embarrassed and apologetic about the whole affair.

>The current FAA grounding will affect flights on United’s 6 Dreamliners, however, none of them now fly into the Bay Area, so the local impact is minimal. United is the only US carrier now operating the plane.

>For perspective, I think it’s important to look at a similar incident regarding the giant Airbus A380 last year. If you recall, serious structural and mechanical issues (cracks in wings and an engine fire) forced Australian authorities to ground the plane until remedies were in place. The grounding was temporary, and the A380 was quickly back in the skies. Hopefully, engineers will be able to find a similar fix for the Dreamliner’s lithium-ion batteries, which seem to be the cause of the jet’s most severe problems at the moment.

>Even if the 787 gets back in the skies quickly, some business travelers will likely book away from 787 flights out of fear that future groundings or reliability issues could foul their travel plans.

>Regarding how the airlines might get this fixed, Hudson Crossing aviation analyst Henry Harteveldt told The BAT: “It’s possible the correction may be a multi-step process — a short-term ‘tactical’ fix followed by more in-depth corrections, which may be more complex. Short-term, we may see the FAA recommend airlines limit the types of routes where they operate the 787 — for example, flights that last no longer than a certain number of hours, flights that operate only over land (or close to it), or both. Longer term, the FAA may recommend adding a fire suppression system to the battery bays, replacing the lithium-ion batteries, or something else.”

>The big question remains: Is this plane truly safe to fly? At this point, no one really knows. It’s going to be interesting to watch this pan out.

I’m firmly in the “wait and see” category when it comes to the idea of booking flights on the 787 in the near future. What about you? How do you feel about the 787? Do you trust the airlines, manufacturers and government regulators to keep you safe? Please leave your comments below.

–Chris McGinnis

Inflight: ANA’s Boeing 787 from San Jose to Tokyo [PHOTOS]

IMG_1158 IMG_1181 IMG_1224 IMG_1228 IMG_1327 IMG_1251 IMG_1291 IMG_1335 IMG_1232 IMG_1258 IMG_1273 IMG_1313 IMG_1303 IMG_1304 IMG_1346
Checking in at SJC-- 40 minutes south of SFO (without traffic)
Since the 787 holds only 168 passengers, check in is fast and easy
11:45 am departure from San Jose
First stop: SJC's new business class lounge
The lounge had Japanese newspaper and mags, but no miso soup for breakfast
Time to board the shiny new bird
Note the slight curvature of the wing's edge
46 of the plane's 168 seats are in business class-- all full on this flight
Pre-flight champagne or cold green tea
And we are off! Arcing out over Moffett Field, north over SFO and The City
Business class seats are staggered 1-2-1 or 1-1-1-- all on an aisle
If working, the center single seats are best-- look at all that space to spread out
Space is a little tighter on the center aisles in the 1-2-1 rows...but still...fine
This is a window-side aisle seat-- large workspace to the left, and then window
I had a center aisle seat-- with a shelf for in-flight parapernalia
tray tables fold out into enormous work spaces...
My tray table was large enough for my food tray and iPad
Plenty of storage space for reading material, menus, etc
Nice view from a window seat of the wing's elegant bow. See the Japanese red sun out there?
Here's the money shot: lav with a view! See the big Rolls-Royce engine out there?
Japanese-style toilet with seat warmer and sprayer (seriously!)
Sprayer controls! Front or back?
Economy class seats configured 2-4-2
Excellent inflight entertainment options and large screens
Economy seats get a generous 34" of pitch, compared to 31" or 32" on US carriers
In the middle of the middle in economy there are TWO armrests.
Back at the front of the plane, it's time for champagne.
3 types of sake on the menu
I chose a sake Hakkaisan Ginjo, from northern Japan
A nice starter-- chicken salad tart, melon wrapped in prosciutto
I chose from the Japanese menu-- seabream and octopus sashimi
assorted cold fish
excellent miso soup
European style cheese offering
With a robust Selene Cabernet Sauvignon
ice cream, too
All biz class passengers get Sony noise canceling headsets- leave the Bose at home
Plenty of power-- with outlets at every business class seat
For sleeping, seats recline into true lie-flat position
ANA's expansive true lie-flat business class seat on its Boeing 787 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)
Now that's one very flat surface.
I'm 6'1" and fit comfortably-- but found the seat cushion a little hard
Our flight path-- 10 hours in the air
My favorite course: mid-flight bowl of warm udon noodles
Tint can be adjusted electronically on oversized windows- like transitions lenses
Sweet note from flight attendants helping me with key Japanese phrases
Almost there!
Deplaning onto a tarmac bus offered a nice photo opp
Wow! What a flight. I did not want to get off the plane.

(Tokyo, Japan) Wow. I’ve just flown across the Pacific on the world’s most advanced commercial jet– the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. It is the  only 787 currently flying out of the Bay Area (United’s 787 to Houston was only temporary), and the only transoceanic flight out of San Jose International Airport. And despite the recent concerns about the 787, I felt completely safe on this plane, as did all other passengers I spoke with.

Now I’m sitting in a Tokyo hotel loading up some great slideshow photos of the trip and recounting the flight. Some thoughts:

>I live in San Francisco, so I imagined that the 45-60 minute drive (depending on traffic) down to San Jose would be a pain– however, the quick and easy check-in, security and boarding process at SJC made up for time I felt I’d lost on the trip down.

>The windows on the 787 really are bigger (by 20%)– it’s the first thing you notice when stepping on the plane. Instead pulling shades up and down, window seaters can adjust the tint electronically– sort of like Transitions Lenses.

>Lower pressure and higher humidity in the 787 cabin are detectable– for one thing, your eyes and lips don’t dry out as fast. I’m not sure how to describe the feeling other than to say that cabin air just felt softer. And I felt better when I got off the plane.

>I felt slightly more vibration from the engines on this flight, likely due to the plane’s composite structure. Also, seat cushions seemed harder than average.

>The plane exudes spaciousness with higher ceilings and a wider fuselage– there just feels like there is more space, even in economy class. The extra-large business class section (46 seats) seems to take up half the plane.

>Seatback inflight entertainment screens are big– 17 inches in business, 11 inches in economy. Both classes have 160 channels to choose from.

>In business class, the BEST seats are odd numbered window seats, and even numbered center seats– check out the slideshow and you will see how a center seat on this plane is like sitting at the helm of Starship Enterprise. If you can put up with the commotion around the galleys and lavatories, bulkhead seats are the best of the best seats on the plane in terms of personal space.

>Inflight dining in business class blew me away– the food and drink menu is 24 pages long (!), well suited to both western and Japanese palates. (I went native and ordered off the Japanese menu…See the slideshow above to learn which was my favorite dish. Oishii!)

>The Dreamliner is relatively small plane: Only 158 passengers (46 business, 112 economy), which makes it the right size for smaller markets like San Jose. Compare that to a Boeing 747 which holds 350-400 passengers. End result? Boarding is fast and easy– it feels like a less crowded domestic flight.

>ANA’s roundtrip coach fares between SJC and NRT are about $1,500… Business class fares are in the $4,000 range,  pretty much the same as Tokyo fares out of SFO. ANA is a Star Alliance partner, which means opportunities for earning and burning Mileage Plus miles on these flights.

>Finally, there’s a window in the lavatory– and the Toto toilet has a heated seat with sprayer–  you’ve got to flip through the slideshow above to see it!

So whaddya think? Would you be willing to drive down to San Jose to give ANA’s 787 a try? If you live in the South Bay, will you be able to break out of your habit of driving to SFO to fly to Asia? Would you consider flying ANA to points beyond Tokyo? Please leave your comments below! 

Disclosure: ANA covered the cost of my trip to Tokyo.


ANA’s B-787 Dreamliner at San Jose Airport [PHOTOS]

A water cannon salute for the arrival of ANA’s first flight from Tokyo (Photo: San Jose Int’l Airport)

ANA’s B787 Dreamliner unloading at San Jose International Airport. (Photo: San Jose Int’l Airport)

ANA’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner prepares for takeoff as media look on. (Photo: San Jose Int’l Airport)

Sayonara to ANA’s first departure from San Jose at 11:45 am. Plane arrives Tokyo tomorrow at 4:10 pm. (Photo: San Jose International Airport)

Here’s the press release from San Jose Airport about the arrival of ANA’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner today.

I’ll soon be on this big bird across the Pacific, and then return on an ANA Boeing 777  into SFO…and I’ll compare the ride. Which one do you think I’ll prefer??


More United 747′s coming to SFO

A United 747 (Photo: United Airlines)

Starting in April of 2013, United plans to turn its San Francisco International Airport base into a 747 hub of sorts.

In an internal memo obtained by The BAT, United tells employees it’s doing this to concentrate all the 747 parts, tools and spares at one hub, resulting in a more reliable 747 fleet. Maintenance for United’s internationally configured 767s and 777s will be consolidated at Chicago, O’Hare.

This means in addition to current 747 flights from SFO to places like Sydney, Hong Kong or Tokyo, it will soon be all-747s-all-the-time between SFO and Frankfurt, Heathrow, Osaka and Taipei (starting in Oct). United’s new flights to Paris, which begin April 11, will use a B767.

It also means using 747′s on its Honolulu-Tokyo NRT flight. The 747s on the LAX-Sydney route will remain in place.

Cozy, updated United business class upstairs on a 747. (Photo: TransWorldProductions / Flickr)

United has 26 747s in its fleet, with an average age of 17 years.

While some fliers may consider the 747 the “Queen of the Skies,” many airlines have begun to dump the plane recently in favor of the more fuel efficient Boeing 777 and 787. For example, Singapore Airlines, which at one time operated more 747′s (37) than any other airline, retired the big bird last Spring.

Japan Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Korean Air and Malaysian have already or will soon phase the 747 out of their fleets. British Airways is now the largest 747 operator, with 55 in its fleet. Among US carriers, only United and Delta operate the 747. Delta recently did a nice job re-doing interiors (business and coach) on its fleet of 16 747′s.

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At an average age of 17 years, United’s 747 fleet is getting a little long in the tooth. For business and first class passengers, seats have been upgraded to true lie-flat seats — and it does not get much better than a nice lie-flat seat upstairs on a 747 (see photo above).

Back of the plane on United’s 747-400′s (Photo: Flikr / Altair78)

But the situation is a bit different at the back of the plane– Unlike its revamped 777s and 767s, there is no seatback entertainment in economy or premium economy classes on United’s 747s. Even United CEO Jeff Smisek has said that economy class on United’s 747s is “unacceptable.”

Brett Snyder, who runs the Cranky Concierge service told The BAT: “The good news is that having the 747 operation focused on SFO where maintenance is will help improve reliability.  The 747 fleet isn’t exactly the best operational performer for United, and I assume that’s why they’re making this change.  The bad news is that coach still sucks.  They still have overhead video screens back there and the 3-4-3 configuration isn’t going to be a favorite for many.  They say they are putting in some wireless streaming video that people can use on their own devices, but good luck finding a device with a battery that will last all the way to Hong Kong.”

What do YOU think about United’s fleet of 747s? Is a 747 base at SFO a good thing…or not? What’s your preferred bird for transoceanic flights? Why? Please leave your comments below.


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SFO gets United Boeing 787 Dreamliner after all

United’s new baby: The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is coming to SFO! (Photo: United Airlines)

United will deploy its shiny new Boeing 787 Dreamliners on get-acquainted runs between domestic hubs and Houston for two months this fall, including one route to/from San Francisco International. Eventually, the planes will fly off on previously announced international routes. But in November and December, they’ll be making calls here at SFO.

From November 4 through December 2, a United Dreamliner will depart SFO at 12:15 am, arriving Houston at a painful 5:41 am five times per week. The return flight from Houston will depart at 5:45 pm, arriving SFO around 8 pm. From December 3 through January 3, the flights will be daily.

Yes, you read that correctly, United is positioning its shiniest, newest plane on a red-eye flight from SFO to Houston. Yuck. The upside is that there will be plenty of room in business class to lie flat and sleep (if you get upgraded to one of the 36 true lie flat seats). But if you are sitting in the back, looking out of those 30% larger windows, all you will see is the black of night. The same goes for the return flight from Houston… at that time of year, the sun has set by 5:45 pm.

A United spokesperson did not have a ready answer when I asked about this owly-bird scheduling for SFO flights. Dreamliner debut flights between Houston and Los Angeles (LAX), Chicago (ORD), Cleveland, Denver and Dulles are all during daylight hours, so it seems odd that SFO’s are all at night. Too bad. (United’s release does say that scheduling is subject to change, so maybe we’ll get lucky…)

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Nonetheless, the allure of the new 787 is definitely going to draw interest among die-hard aviation geeks. However, flying between SFO and Houston is not cheap– mid November round trip fares are currently running about $480. For those interested in booking a seat on the new bird, these 787 flights will go on display on starting September 1.

United has 50 Dreamliners on order– it will get five of them by the end of this year.

Below is an interesting infographic about United’s new bird.  Will you go out of your way to fly on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner? Please leave your comments below. 

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