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Bringing A Boeing Home – British Airways 777-300ER G-STBF Delivery Flight

by Continental Club on March 7, 2012  |  6 comments • Tagged as: , ,

A customer walks into a car dealership. No, not a joke, just an analogy. So, a customer walks into a car dealership and orders a new car. Of course, these days they may not even walk into a dealership; they might just sit down at a laptop and type an order online. Or pull out an iPad and configure the specification with a few sweeps of the screen. Well, assuming that the website isn’t written with Flash.

But I digress.

The customer chooses the model and the colour and all the extras, and does a little dealing on the price. If they’re lucky, they get floormats and mudflaps, a tank of fuel and six months’ tax thrown in.

A couple of days or weeks later, the shiny new motor is transportered to the dealer, or sometimes even right to the customer’s front door; payment is confirmed and everything’s good to go.

It’s not a lot like that with a Boeing.

First of all, there’s no dealership. Secondly, their products take a while to build. Thirdly, you usually have to go and get them from the factory yourself. And fourthly, when you do rock up to collect a new one, the model and the colour will be spot-on, but you’re probably going to need to fit some of those optional extras yourself.

Of course, you could just buy a standard version; something that everyone else has got and drive it straight to work. But if you’ve got the chance to personalise it, the chance to do something a bit different, then why wouldn’t you?

Which brings us to Seattle. Or should I say Everett. And by us I mean eight of us; bloggers, writers, travellers, passengers: customers – strangers to each other nearly-all. And British Airways, our hosts, whose Boeing we’d come to coo over.

We eight checked-in at Heathrow, and it didn’t take long for the passion for travel to spill forth. By boarding time, any casual observer would assume that they’d stumbled upon a regular reunion, not a minutes-old introduction. Experience, opinion and impressions flowed, from Executive Club Blue members to Premiers and vice versa, through Silvers and Golds between, such that the flight West was over before we knew it – as if our Queen of The Skies had had her skirts picked up by Concorde, and her stateliness sent supersonic.

The Pacific Northwest brought no respite from the buzz. Iconic planes aplenty at The Museum of Flight. Emerald-filmed freighters on the 747-8 production line. Dreamliners by the dozen inching towards hangar doors the size of football pitches. And now forty more folks to share our awe, drawn from every corner of BA. From offices to operations. From desks to decks. From headquarters to hangars.  Recognised for exceptional performance for those usually behind-the-scenes; for the highest customer satisfaction scores for those on-stage and front-of-house. To schedule, to serve. To maintain, to serve. To procure, to serve. To Fly, To Serve.

We boarded a bus and rolled in the rain between factory and the Future of Flight. Looking across the aisle, past seatbacks embroidered with Boeing logos, through water-beaded windows, rows of almost unreconcileable technological achievement stood ready to soar skyward.

And inside this aviation delivery room, itself a vast space but one still dwarfed by the production facilities across Paine Field, tables and chairs were set out in front of a bolted, rivetted and crimped Pan Am 737 cross-section. Next to it, a similarly-sliced 787 fuselage was by contrast smoothly-fused, and warm to the touch.

But all eyes were on British Airways and Boeing representatives, emerging with the signed Birth Certificate and ready to commence the delivery room speech. Thirty-foot high black drapes behind them parted to reveal grey but drying skies, and beneath them the newborn – the glossy, gleaming, factory-fresh Triple Seven.

The scarlet-painted stairs we’d ascend were in place, with the bowed red ribbon ready to cut. And under the flight deck window, the name ‘Irene’ was stencilled in royal blue on to the fresh white paint in honour of the most VIP of our assembled throng – one of the operating flight crew’s 75 year old Mum – along for the ride as a special surprise birthday present.

The official scissors were wielded by the winner of a ballot the night before, with the crew and Irene looking on. Four dozen cameras were passed around to record the moment. The man from Boeing snapped from every angle. Then we retreated inside for final preparations to board.

Luggage (mostly spotter-goodies procured only moments before from the Boeing Store next door) was meticulously X-rayed and bodies scanned through the arch. Passports checked and bon voyages issued, we climbed the claret stairway to 777, and the ‘new plane smell’ wafted over us as we crossed the threshold.

Sole seats aboard were in World Traveller and World Traveller Plus cabins, the latest products to fly with British Airways and three at least for each excited passenger. Carry-ons were soon gulped-up into the vast overhead bins.

With forty five minutes to departure, there was time to tour – starting with a one-at-a-time glimpse of the dashboard; 21st century displays on a flight deck as spacious as a Stratocruiser. Acres of brown plastic last seen in Cagney & Lacey’s Dodge Diplomat. The office with the best views of the World.

Next, the Cabin Service Director’s (or Customer Service Manager’s) station, just aft of the cockpit door. Nerve-centre for delivery of onboard operations.

Then to the First Class galley, an empty honeycomb of cart bays and stowage racks; oven voids and chiller fans; switches and buttons to control the yet-to-be-slotted-in kit. But one appliance was already there, primed to dispense the rocketfuel that will wake thousands of slumberers in the years to come.

We walked onward, to the First Class cabin, a hybrid of fully-finished BA bulkheads, curtains and brushed steel skirting, atop factory contract flooring and ex-works wall panels. Like a gallery waiting for its artworks to be installed. For here, in a few short weeks, will be leather-trimmed mini-suites, deep pile carpets and blue-washed blinds.

Behind the gallery, a Business Class ballroom, once more skirted and bulkheaded as she’ll continue to be, but yet to receive the lampshades and Speedmarque, seatbeds and carpets that will complete Club World.

And in the absence of those fittings, along the cabin’s port side, a special grab rope in case of turbulence should crew be caught when passing through.

Through another curtain and it was familar and yet new. The latest wide-backed World Traveller Plus seats, their casings bathed blue with Speedmarque screensavers. Dark navy upholstery and smart carpeting.

British Airways Boeing 777-336ER World Traveller Plus Cabin

Still further we roamed, to equally-new World Traveller seats, with their hammock headrests, glowing screens, USB ports and RCA jacks.

Reversible remote controls for TV and audio, games and messaging, call buttons and lights; more brushed metal for the coathook trayclamp.

Then to the very tail of the bird, to an even bigger honeycomb than that at the nose. Slots and voids hungry to swallow half a day’s sustenance for two hundred or more.

Ranks of tea and coffee makers waited to welcome their stainless steel vessels.

More buttons, more switches; more knobs and more dials – a miniature flightdeck for feeding.

And did you miss it? That door? The one that would be a loo but there’s no ‘Vacant’ or ‘Occupied’ sign glowing. Look carefully: it wasn’t a cupboard. But remember too: only one per bunk.

High above the passengers, atop a tight half-turn staircase, were eight pullman berths with bedbelts and reading lights; dimmer and call-light, the latter for when the rester must return to the workplace below.

And back down there by that rearmost left hand door, Extension 15 of the onboard switchboard.

It was time to fly though, so we settled into our spaced-out places and each took a just-printed safety card, slipped from its cellophane wrap. Our operating captain took the handset of Extension 24 and delivered his welcome in person; each line of the UK Civil Aviation Authority-mandated announcement explained. We knew before that BA9176E was to be operated by British Airways. We learnt then that it’s the law to remind us.

Our cabin crew took over for the demonstration; word-perfect and live. No Lynn West. Beaming smiles. They were clearly enjoying it as much as we were, but they still had a job to do. Belts and backrests were checked. Big wheelies in the overheads? Good. Little wheelies all the way under the seats in front. Electronics away. Mugplugs out. Pointless a crew shouting Brace, Brace and Come This Way if we were all wired into The Best of The Grateful Dead.

Were the seatbacks on parade? Standing to attention to mark their first passenger flight? The GE90s spooled, each the diameter of a 737 cabin and, outside in the rain, one of those waving Future of Flight volunteers, in his Hi-Viz jacket, filmed our taxi, our roll, our full-power ascent from the Snohomish County tarmac into the evening sky.

 

 

It was bumpy. Very bumpy. We were light and we were bouncy. Seatbelt lights above us stayed on until long after we’d breached the cloudtops and we were heading higher through the jetstreams.

Buckle lights chimed off at last, and World Traveller Plus was designated the dining room. There was an ante room in the first row behind too, for the latecomers loathe to leave their windows.

It was a magical mystery tour for the crew as they liberated the Boeing catering. Pacific North West beer; Washington wines. Shrimp, salmon and crab claws; salad, and to finish: cheesecake. Who knew that there was chicken or beef too? And who wasn’t already too full to eat it?

Conversation flowed as the night wrapped itself around us; passengers swapping seats and stories, meeting those we’d not yet spoken to and learning all about them. The Aurora Borealis danced greens and blues across the Northern skies as we knelt in the First Class gallery, watching the live artshow framed by the port side windows.

The crew found mini tubs of ice cream, and we sat around the dancefloor in that Business Class ballroom, chatting to those with whom we’d still not been acquainted – talking fuel and freight, ramps and repairs, catering and customers.

When we could talk no more, the lights were dimmed in the World Traveller bedroom, armrests were lifted and Mr Sandman lulled the excited but exhausted to sleep.

But some couldn’t rest for long and the shadows of the half light brought new sights to see. The bulk of the doors with their slides smoothly-encased, curving away into a dusky cabin….

 

Crew service panels glowing blue in softly-lit corners.

Landing lights of seatback screens beneath a cerulean sky….

Waves of sculptured bins in the ballroom….

Unique icons where Ying and Yang will soon waltz….

And lowered eyelids in the scalloped sockets of gallery walls….

When resistance became futile, even the most awed slippedaway to dream, but as the light returned we were descending towards Wales and our day-old Boeing’s Cardiff maternity ward.

The GEs coasted as we approach the cloud tops, reflecting our vantage point alongside.

Their softly-rounded profile disguised their scale, with their pylons appearing like slender forearms to lightly grasp them.

The vortices around them invisible in the transparency of clear air….

…. and only the central swirl and the up-tick of the wing tip giving something away of the forces at play.

And those forces weren’t just at altitude, for as we apprached the runway, a crosswind would be welcoming our half-furnished ‘plane without bulk luggage or cargo; light of fuel and passengers, and with a three-storey vertical stabiliser to catch the breeze. Our flight crew requested that we all be seated in the first rows of the dining room to minimise the additional lateral forces once earthbound again.

We shimmied as we settled on the suspension stops, but the snaking was checked and with the nosewheel planted we were dead ahead for deceleration.

Breakfast time in Cardiff looked a carbon copy of the Washington weather just left.

It wasn’t just us that had returned though; so had those gargantuan GEs, now scaled against the dimensions of the real world on an airport apron.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Irene had the Red Dragon flying from her flight deck, as we parted from the newest member of the family….

….and we took one last look back over our shoulders….

….and up at the wing that had carried us….

…before we handed Irene back to her midwives at British Airways Maintenance Cardiff; to dress her up and to discharge her, fresh and ready to head home for the first time to Heathrow.

And we boarded another bus, wondering whether Boeing had indeed chucked in a free tank of fuel and six months’ tax.

Continental Club travelled as a guest of British Airways and The Boeing Company.

For other excellent insights into this special trip, visit GolfHotelWhisky (or Forbes.com), and AirportSpottingBlog.

This article is winner of the FlyerTalk British Airways Executive Club Trip Report Of The Year 2012 Award.

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