I love visiting aircraft factories and this is why, when British Airways invited me to fly to Seattle and witness the delivery of a new 777-300ER airliner, I jumped at the chance. I fly a lot, both as a pilot and a passenger, and I really wanted to see how Boeing built them and what a new plane actually felt like.
I flew out with a few other invited guests (full disclosure: BA paid for my trip. Thanks, guys!) a couple of days before the delivery. This gave me the chance to visit the Concorde Lounge at Heathrow Terminal 5. Normally reserved for the elite of the elite frequent flyers, this isn’t your regular lounge. Waitress service, food at your seat or in a private dining room, vintage Bollinger on tap, private cabanas for a nap or shower – it’s more like a deluxe resort hotel.
We spent a day visiting the Museum of Flight and an afternoon in Seattle. It’s a fantastic museum for avianerds like me. Lots of planes to look at, inside and out, plus a a tour round an ex-Air Force One and a B-29 wrapped in plastic like a billionaire kid’s Christmas present.
In the evening we had dinner with the BA team who were taking delivery of the aircraft – engineers, pilots, crew and, of course, finance people to handle the multi-hundreds-of-millions-of-dollars transaction. And, no, they wouldn’t tell me how much the paid for the plane but they did let me hold the receipt!
We had a ground floor tour of the factory. It is the biggest building in the world and it’s amazing to see plane parts being moved around like they were were oranges in a basket. And the 747-8 and 777 production lines were very impressive with six aircraft at various stages. We also saw the 787 line but, at Boeing’s request, nobody took pictures.
Then, a massive birthday surprise, they invited me to cut the ribbon.
The plane was due to fly us back to Cardiff where it would undergo final checks and have the rest of its seats installed but it wasn’t like a regular flight. For one thing, there were only 20 or 30 people on board and so the captain could do a full power take off. I’ve only ever had this experience three times before, twice on Concorde where you can feel the power being applied, and once on a 767 departing out of John Wayne Airport. Basically, it’s a full throttle, maximum acceleration, maximum rate of climb departure and it *was* quick.
One of the Boeing staff filmed it:
Another big difference was the interior. The plane only had premium economy and economy seats so the First and Club World cabins were completely empty. It was very weird – everyone had this big grin on their face. I won’t say that we played football in there on the flight back but nobody can prove that we didn’t.
We also got to see the crew rest area, which is more like a submarine that anything else but I think it must be more comfortable than sitting in a chair for the whole flight.
The highlight of the flight back was the view of the Northern Lights over Greenland. I’ve never seen them before and it was an awesome experience in the true sense of the word. Unfortunately, my camera didn’t do a good job with it so all I can show you is the passengers all craning for a better view.
To cap the trip off, when we arrived at Cardiff, we had a tour of the BA Maintenance facility there. They had 747s stripped back to their bare metal for scheduled maintenance and at the end of the hangar were all the seats for our plane.
It’s very impressive and the guys there take a lot of pride in their work. Not least the staff in the canteen who provided us with a proper Welsh breakfast after our flight.
It’s an extraordinary experience being on a plane where you sort of know everyone there. It’s more like a party than a flight. I think everyone was very excited to be part of the inaugural flight of a brand new plane. And it was brand new. Everything was shiny and clean. All the seat belts were nicely folded. The screens and windows were unsmudged and there was no stale old coffee under the galley floor. If you’ve ever bought a new car, that’s what it was like. And yes, it did have that new plane smell.
PS One of the other guests on this trip has written up a great post about it. Check it out!