Living the DreAAm: An Avgeek’s trip report on the new American Airlines 787

To the flying public, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner represents the future of aviation with composite materials, the most advanced avionics, and new levels of comfort for all passengers. Indeed, the 787 defines the cutting edge with these features, but to avgeeks such as myself, this new airplane is a new family member. My hometown airline, American Airlines, finally introduced this family member into service with much fanfare on May 7, 2015. Having grown up in DFW and being raised as an “AAvgeek” by American pilots in the neighborhood, I was eager to try this plane out and greet the newest member of our aviation family. While I could not fly on the inaugural service, this article documents travel on 9 May to KORD and back (one leg in business class and the other in economy) before this magnificent airplane begins service to its intended markets: Beijing, Buenos Aires, and Shanghai. Needless to say, the Dreamliner did not disappoint.

KDFW-KORD Flight: AA2320

Departure Time: 0710L

Departure Gate: A23

Registration: N800AN (American’s first 787)

Seat: 2L

Rear facing business seat 2L with the window darkened.

Although the first passenger service occurred two days earlier, the atmosphere of excitement surrounding the 787 had anything but faded. In fact, I met another avgeek doing the same exact trip as myself (the massive camera gave him away while my Boeing 787 T-shirt made me anything but inconspicuous). Passengers on the flight included everyone from regular passengers just trying to get on with their day to frequent fliers and even a few American marketing executives checking out the plane for themselves. Upon entering the aircraft, that new plane smell greeted my nostrils. The flight attendants, usually glum these days, beamed with enthusiasm and pride for this new aircraft, a symbol of the new American. Indeed, American’s new look proved both very comfortable and refreshing. I got to my seat, 2L, and began soaking in the whole airplane. The business class had two sections (one forward of the 2L and 2R doors, and one aft). Each section had 4 lie flat seats across in a herringbone pattern with every other row facing backwards. The much talked about dimming windows were all set to the dark setting preventing any light from entering.

Before long it was time for departure out of a cloudy DFW. We pushed on time at 0710L and engines started not long after. Given the relatively light fuel and cargo load for the short hop to O’Hare, the airplane eased forward onto taxiway Kilo with no spool up of the engines. We taxied to runway 17R, and at 0725L, the General Electric engines roared to life in a sweet symphony.

Sun hits the fan blades as we turn northeast towards KORD.

 The aircraft lifted off quickly, the wings flexing as they bore the load of the airplane. Within a matter of minutes we reached our cruising altitude at flight level 410 and a speed of .88 mach or roughly 580 miles per hour. As advertised, the cabin remained quieter than older aircraft. 

As we turned northeast towards Chicago, the flight attendants began preparing the inflight meal, leaving me some time to explore. Features of note included a standup bar between the two cabins, not yet stocked because of the brevity of these local familiarization flights, and a massive lavatory with a full size mirror (guess AA hopes you’ll dress up to fly the Dreamliner). Mood lighting was on full display in the dawn color scheme with soft reds and blues. With regard to the seating, the rear facing seats (according to myself and my fellow avgeek, non-scientific poll) offered the best exterior views as they were closer to the windows than the forward facing seats. Additionally, forward facing seats required the wear of a chest strap, akin to a car seatbelt, for takeoff and landing. 

Seat reclined and mood lighting in full swing.

After approximately an hour and thirty five minutes, the Captain announced our descent into a cloudy and misty Chicago. To initiate the descent, the pilots had to not only pull the engines to idle, but also apply the speed brakes. Being such a smooth airplane, any sort of forward pitch caused the 787 to accelerate much more rapidly than older models. Coming down through the weather, we emerged about 1,000 ft AGL and landed smoothly on RWY 10C (formerly 10R). As we taxied to the gate, all eyes were on us, with some airport personnel stopping their cars to snap photos of the still new phenomenon that was AA 787 service.

Upon arrival at the gate, I was able to hop up and explore the real heart of the 787, its flight deck. The flight deck was a pilot’s dream with enough LCD screens to fill a sports bar. Without delving too much into the techy details, the 787 was without a doubt designed with pilots in mind. One tool in particular that impressed me was a radar that could show all vertical obstructions within 5 miles either side of the course and up to 1,200 miles away! All that being said, both pilots loved the airplane and were, like the flight attendants, beaming with pride. 

One hAAppy avgeek enjoying the best front office in the world. On the LCD screens (from viewer’s left to right) you can see the EADI (electronic attitude director indicator), the EHSI (electronic horizontal situation indicator) in arc mode, a backup EADI, and engine data display. Each pilot has a HUD (heads up display) that folds up. 

Tomorrow, we’ll post a report by Alexander as he reports on his return from Chicago O’Hare to Dallas/Fort Worth International.

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