American Airlines 787 Inaugural Mega-Review

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to a very special flight.  You are aboard the first-ever revenue flight of our new Boeing 787 Dreamliner.”

It was music to my ears, although the captain got one word wrong in his announcement.  This wasn’t a flight.  It was a party!

But first, like with all my mega-reviews, some necessary build-up.

As I discussed in my article the morning of the inaugural, there were some keystone things I was looking to test.  I purchased a ticket for this flight and knew I’d have to walk a careful line: impartial travel blogger versus total and complete airplane dork.  American did their absolute best to bring out the latter and discourage the former by putting on an excellent show with a beautiful plane and wonderful staff.  It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, definitely.  So, let’s start at the beginning, which is a very good place to start.

The Event

Airlines usually make a big deal about inaugurals and this was no different.  This was the first new jet for the New American and they wanted to make it special.  And you know what that means: promotional signage and brief statements to the gathered press.

I got to DFW early the morning of the inaugural so I could snap some pictures before the hubbub got too crazy.  This made for a really early morning since the inaugural flight was scheduled for 7:20am!

(a quick note before we start going through these pics…many of the pictures in this post were shot through windows.  They make these really cool filters you can attach to your lens called polarizers.  Similar to polarizing sunglasses, they cut down on reflections.  I have a pretty high-quality polarizer…which I left at home, so I’m sorry about the reflections!)

american airlines 787 review

American’s new hotness

Our bird was parked at gate D25 and looked gorgeous.  The 787 is a sleek bird, no doubt, and the new American livery looks amazing on it.  Shortly after I took this picture the masses started arriving, including many fellow travel bloggers.  There was a promo sign that DFW Airport had put up that everyone lined up to take their picture in front of.

american airlines 787 review

Get it? Dreams take flight? It’s a plane (planes fly) and it’s called a DREAMliner. Oh sign, you funny.

They then set up a pretty nice breakfast spread for the passengers on the inaugural flight.  (Quick note: by “passengers on the inaugural flight” I mean “anyone who happened to be passing through Terminal D that early in the morning and could pull off a passable ‘boy do I like flying, yay planes amiright?’ to the person next to them as they grabbed a croissant”)

Fern Fernandez, American’s EVP of Marketing, said a few words, taking special care not to look at my camera during any of the 20 pictures I took.

american airlines 787 review

Fern Fernandez, American Airlines

The boarding hour approached and then they made the oh-so-coveted announcement: “glasdfhaslduhfapoisurhglsdfghdlfkhd”

Ok they probably said the typical “We’ll now begin boarding with First Class passengers” but nobody could hear them over the general melee of the morning.  In any case, we boarded through D25, which is one of the gates at DFW that’s famous for feeling like you’ve walked about halfway to your destination before ever getting on the plane.  The jetbridge delays were longer than usual as most people wanted to take pictures in the doorway of the jet.

The Plane (Economy)

American has a very reasonable configuration in the 787.  Both regular coach and Main Cabin Extra are 3-3-3 across (while I’d prefer an 8-abreast configuration, it’s just not reasonable anymore with how revenue-driven airlines are) and use the same types of seats as are found in the 777-300ER, with TVs and power outlets at every seat.  I’d much rather fly regular coach in a 787 than a 777-300ER (which seats 3-4-3 across and is brutal if you’re bigger than a medium-sized hamster).

The ticket I purchased was outbound in Economy and returning in First (it’s an internationally-configured Business cabin, but was classified as First since this was a domestic flight), so I turned right and made my way to my seat, walking through the Main Cabin Extra section.

american airlines 787 review

Main Cabin Extra bulkhead row

My seat was 19A, on the exit row against what I was hoping was the window.

american airlines 787 review

My seat. Not included: shoulder room

19A isn’t a great seat.  The window is next to your ear, so it’s not quite a window seat.  It’s an exit row with pretty much infinite legroom, but not really, since the door juts into it.  It wasn’t uncomfortable, but I wasn’t able to mess with the window dimmers as much as I would’ve wanted during the flight.

As I was about to sit down, I had to find a place for my carry-on, including the swAAg bAAg they gave each passenger as they boarded.  The 787 has Boeing’s new concept for overhead storage bins, where passengers can fit more bags into each compartment by putting them on their side instead of flat.  It worked very well.

american airlines 787 review

New luggage bins

Sorry, I said flight again.  Earlier, I said this wasn’t a flight but a party.  I’ve never heard so many people whooping and clapping as a plane took off!  I would estimate probably 80-90% of people were on that flight specifically for the inaugural, with a poor few random souls who just happened to book a Thursday morning flight to Chicago and were bewildered at everything going on.

As we climbed up to our cruising altitude of 39000 feet, the seatbelt sign was turned off and what felt like everyone on the plane got up and chatted with everyone around them and other people they knew on the flight.  Everybody was having a blast except for the poor flight attendants who had to try and get a beverage service done amidst the people in the aisles.  I went up to First to see some friends (which is normally never allowed) and it looked like they were having a great time.  I then walked alllll the way to the back of the plane to see what was going on back there.

I made a pitstop at my seat and grabbed a picture of the unique 787 wing against the blue sky of the morning.

american airlines 787 review

Boeing 787-8 wing

On the way to the back, American had a video crew interviewing passengers about the experience.

american airlines 787 review

American video crew

At the (surprisingly spacious) aft galley, the flight attendants were chatting away with the passengers, enjoying the experience as much as we were!

american airlines 787 review

Aft galley

I then heard a flight attendant ask some passengers “would you like to see the crew rest area?”  which I invitedmyselfingly responded that I would.  We took turns going up the ladder/staircase to snap a quick pick or two of the crew rest area that’s used during long-haul flights.

american airlines 787 review

Crew Rest Area

I made my way back to my seat, as the seatbelt sign had turned on during a bit of chop.

american airlines 787 review

Main Cabin Extra section (with the face blurred to protect the identity of an 8th grader who was skipping school for the inaugural)

We started our descent into Chicago and became thankful for my wide-angle lens, which I could stick near the window and get a great panoramic view.

For those of you who’ve flown into O’Hare Airport in Chicago, you know the typical approach is to shoot past the airport and make a big turn over Lake Michigan to begin final approach.  Our pilots, some of the best at American, made what I thought (and some other passengers too, judging by the reactions) was a rather sporty/sharp turn over the lake, which was AWESOME.  We then leveled off for final approach.

american airlines 787 review

The wing during our “sporty” turn

I was waiting for the Chicago skyline to come into view under the wing for what I hoped would be a great picture, and I’m really happy how this one turned out!

american airlines 787 review

Wing Over Chicago, by Andy Luten

(haha, I just noticed something.  Any picture that I think is really good I put my name after.  No idea why)

We had a funny landing, in that it was a little more Smack The Ground than anyone expected.  Everyone then broke out into Nerd Applause, and just like that the first revenue flight was over.  Luckily for me I had a ticket back to Dallas in First!

The plane (domestic First/international Business Class)

american airlines 787 review

Our bird at ORD gate L10

Some friends and I went to the Admiral’s Club for a bit to catch up and also annoy everyone else in the club since we were rather loud.  We stayed in the club for an hour or so then made our way back to gate L10 for the return flight to Dallas.  This is the leg I was excited about, First class!

It was great seeing the flight crew again and hearing them chuckle as they said “welcome back!”  They loved that we were flying just to fly.

Turning left was definitely more fun than turning right upon entry to the aircraft through door 2L.  I dropped my stuff off at my seat and noticed some folks were taking pictures of the cockpit, so I joined them.  Definitely rare to get to do this.

american airlines 787 review

Boeing 787 cockpit

(as an aside, I always crack myself up when I see cockpit pictures by imagining the flight crew is saying to each other “I wonder what this button does?”  In this case, the guys in the back are critiquing, saying to each other “Ha, I can’t believe they don’t know what that button does.”  Be here all week folks)

Anyway, back to my seat.  AA’s 787 has both forward-facing and rear-facing seats.  I sat in both during the flight and didn’t realize a significant difference either way, but some say taking off facing the rear is kind of weird.  If you’re next to the window, the even-numbered seats face the rear.  If you’re in the middle section, odd-numbered seats face the rear.

american airlines 787 review

First/Business main cabin

american airlines 787 review

My seat, 3A

Every seat has aisle access and a lie-flat bed.  The cabin is spacious and the seats are plenty big.  Some say they’re a bit narrow in the shoulders when in lie-flat position, so I made a note to test that out for everyone.

american airlines 787 review

My seat, 3A (again)

The seats had a decent amount of storage space and four power outlets, which is just fantastic (2 plugs and 2 USBs).  The rear-facing seats have more working space if you need to get some work done during the flight.

The screen folds out from the side of the seat in front of you and is certified to be folded out during takeoff, which was nice.

american airlines 787 review

Screen aboard the 787

The seat is controlled by a touchscreen monitor that looks like an iPhone.

american airlines 787 review

Seat controls

During the taxi to the runway we were given a water-cannon salute by ORD’s Fire Department.

american airlines 787 review

Water cannon salute

The takeoff and climb out was just as smooth and quiet as the first flight.  One of the captains said they only used 55% of the 787’s power for takeoff!  As we leveled off and the seatbelt sign was turned off, I decided to see what each seating position looked like.

I found the seat comfortable in all positions.  Granted, this was a 2-hour flight to Dallas.  American will fly the 787 on a 16-hour flight to Beijing, but I still think I’d be comfortable, even on that long of a flight.

A great friend and excellent blogger came up to First to chit-chat for a bit, and we both lamented that we were so busy that we only saw each other on flights (which is bad considering we work across a highway from each other in Dallas!).  We caught up on life while the meal service took place, which for me was gross a kale and ricotta ravioli (I just can’t stand kale).  I got down what I could and closed my eyes for a little bit as Jen went back to her seat in Main Cabin Extra.  I heard a flight attendant say “dessert” and instantly awoke with arms outstretched.  They had either a cookie or chocolate cheesecake.  The CrossFit in me screamed not to do it but I instead justified it to myself by saying “some people got both, I’ll only get one!” #paleo

Yes, the cheesecake was delicious.

american airlines 787 review

Chocolate cheesecake dessert

As we started our descent into DFW, I looked back on what was seriously one of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had.  The friends I was with were what made it so special as throughout the entire cabin there was laughter, clinking of glasses, and a general joviality that few have probably ever experienced on a plane.  My specific thoughts about the 787 will come in a later post, but American nailed it yesterday.  This was about as good as flying could ever be on a domestic carrier.

I was lucky enough to get a commemorative coin to celebrate the inaugural.  It’s something I’ll always treasure and that’s the picture with which I’ll leave you.  It was literally a perfect day of flying.  I’ve flown Cathay Pacific in First, Qantas in First, heck even Singapore’s Suites twice, but today was the best flying day of my life.

Put simply: If this is the new American, I’m in.

american airlines 787 review

Commemorative Inaugural Coin

16 Comments

  1. As I said on Facebook, the storytelling here was the best I’ve read by you. I don’t consider myself to be a great judge of photography, but I also really like the composition of the final shot.

    Also, I heard that sugar is 20% less detrimental to #gainz in first class.

    Reply
    • Thanks Jason!

      Reply
  2. Wow, really sharp images! Would you mind sharing what camera you used? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Thanks! I used my Sony a7 for these with the majority taken with the Sony/Zeiss 16-35mm wide angle lens

      Reply
      • Thanks!

        Reply
  3. Thanks for a great story. It must have been outstanding.
    I look forward to more like this!

    Reply
    • Thanks for reading! It was truly amazing.

      Reply
  4. Photos are all beautifully taken! Thanks so much for the report!!!

    Reply
    • Thanks so much, it was a pleasure to write!

      Reply
  5. Looks like an amazing experience! Great job on the writeup and photos.

    Going to submit that wing/Chicago photo to American Way?

    Reply
    • Totally, they already have a copy of it in fact.

      Reply
  6. Great photos. I was glad to be on the flight as well. What type of lens did you use.

    Reply
    • Thanks Michael! I used a 16-35mm wide angle for most of these shots

      Reply
  7. The bulkhead row pictured — is that row 20?

    I am trying to decide whether to keep my aisle seat in row 20 or move to MCE closer to the front of the plane. Appreciate any advice.

    Reply
  8. Is the MCE bulkhead row pictured row 20?

    Trying to decide whether to stay in 20 aisle or move farther forward for upcoming NRT-ORD long-haul. Thanks!

    Reply
    • I’d move farther forward. The seat in my picture is 19A, 20 is the row behind it. The MCE seat is really good for long-haul, I’ve sat in the same seat on the 777-300ER from DFW-HKG multiple times this year and found it relatively comfortable (for coach).

      Reply

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