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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
feet fit into a room cubbyhole- with a light
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??

 

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 United.com 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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United reveals routes for new Boeing 787 Dreamliner

You’ll be able to spot United’s new 787 by the serrated edge of its jet engines. (Photo: United Airlines)

But unfortunately, none of the new routes are to or from United’s big hub at San Francisco International.

Here’s the statement from United about where it’s positioning its shiny new bird:

United Airlines today announced the first international routes for the airline’s newest addition to its fleet, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. In addition to the previously-announced service from its Denver hub to Tokyo Narita, starting March 31, 2013, the airline will operate nonstop 787 service five days a week between its Houston hub and Lagos, Nigeria, beginning Jan. 7, 2013. United will also operate daily, nonstop 787 service between its Los Angeles hub and its Narita hub, beginning Jan. 3, 2013, and Los Angeles to Shanghai, beginning March 30, 2013.United will also operate daily, nonstop 787 service from its Houston hub to Amsterdam and London Heathrow on a temporary basis. Houston to Amsterdam service begins Dec. 4, 2012, and Houston to London Heathrow service begins Feb. 4, 2013.

Gosh, why do B.A.T.s (Bat Area Travelers) feel so left out? As it stands right now, SFO is not scheduled to get Dreamliner service from ANY airline as of today. As I reported here earlier this week, ANA has announced that it will bring the Boeing 787 Dreamliner to the Bay Area when it introduces new flights between San Jose and Tokyo Narita in January 2013.

When The BAT called United and asked, “Hey, what about SFO?” spokesperson Mary Ryan said, “Please keep in mind that today’s route announcement is only the first of several routes that will ultimately be flown using the 787. We also have yet to announce 787 domestic service…With 50 787s on order, United customers around the world can expect to see the aircraft on both existing and new long-haul routes in the future.”

Business class onboard United’s new Boeing 787 Dreamliner- note the “dimmer switch” under the window? (Photo: United Airlines)

Of course, most frequent travelers from the Bay Area would love to give the new bird a try. It’s got 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. However, after an overnight 787 flight in Asia a Wall Street Journal reporter wrote that the ride was “a modest improvement, not dramatic difference.”

In terms of size, the Boeing 787 is about the size of a Boeing 767…the plane only holds 219 passengers and is configured with 36 seats in BusinessFirst, 72 seats in Economy Plus and 111 seats in Economy. By comparison, United’s internationally configured Boeing 777 holds about 250 passengers. A big Boeing 747 holds 374.

For a detailed view of United’s rollout of its new B787 earlier this month, check out this slideshow from USA Today. 

What’s your favorite long haul aircraft? Why? Would you fly a United Boeing 787 Dreamliner from SFO? Please leave your comments below.