After finding a pretty good fare, I took what was basically a mileage run to Hong Kong. I was excited to be able to route this via Denver, so I could get on the 787 Dreamliner to Tokyo Narita. It wouldn’t be my first 787 flight, but it would be my first time flying on United’s version, and the first time flying it longhaul.
A pre-departure photo of the 787 I took from Denver to Tokyo.
With a 2-stop routing to Hong Kong, I was a bit nervous about missed connections. To United’s credit, each flight on this itinerary arrived early. That’s certainly not typical in my experience, but I’m glad it worked out on this trip.
I headed down to the gate near boarding time, and despite a long flight ahead, I boarded relatively early. There weren’t too many other people in group one who walked past the business cabin as I did. That allowed me a few photos before the cabin filled up.
Forward economy cabin on the United 787
I was watching the seat map online like a hawk, hoping the middle seat next to me would stay open. Thankfully it did. For a while I had the whole row to myself, but not surprisingly, someone took the window seat within 24 hours of departure. My first impressions of the seat were that it was pretty thin, but relatively comfortable. The bigger issue was the width. It really felt narrow. I’m tall, but not very wide. Still, my shoulders are much wider than the seat. Having an open middle helped immensely, and when I wanted to doze off, I lifted the armrest, and gave myself a bit more space. Oddly, the armrests are spring loaded, so they don’t stay up.
Each seat had a pillow, a wrapped blanket and a deck of United 787 playing cards as a memento of United being the first North American airline to fly the Boeing 787.
High tech windows; they block light from coming in, but outside can still be seen
Legroom was fine, and I was glad to be in Economy Plus. 35 inches of pitch in E+ vs 32 inches certainly did help. I was also pretty impressed with the AVOD system. There was a wide array of choices, including movies, TV and audio. The touch screen was large and the interface was intuitive.
787 IFE screen and USB port. An AC plug is between seats.
As for meals, not surprisingly, the experience was nothing special. Granted, airplane food is not known for culinary excellence, but I’ve had some excellent meals in premium cabins. Given that I was in economy, my standards were a bit lower. A key reason for my disappointment was that although I had requested a special meal, I did not receive it on this leg. I did on the other legs of this trip. Oddly, the 787 flight showed “special meals not offered” when I viewed my itinerary online. Other passengers around me did receive special meals. I just missed out for some unknown reason.
Therefore meal choices predictably consisted of chicken or beef. I opted for the former. I did actually request a vegetarian meal, not because I don’t eat meat, but because I find them more tasty than standard options in flight. What if a strict vegetarian had the same issue I did? After tweeting United about my experience, they suggested I call or tweet to confirm special meal requests. Annoying, but I guess that’s not unexpected with United. I noticed someone nearby with a gluten allergy did not receive his special meal either, thankfully the flight attendant offered him some options, although it basically consisted of assorted snacks from business class.
On Trans-Pacific flights, beer and wine are complimentary; sake available to/from Japan.
After the main meal, I watched several movies to pass the time. I dozed off a bit, and once I woke up I was starting to get hungry. Thankfully, soon after a snack service was offered.
A cheese sandwich and some vanilla gelato.
More movies and napping, until about 90 minutes before arrival in Tokyo, when the arrival meal was served. Other than the Sake, this was the first time there was anything remotely Asian offered on the service. Although we were flying to Japan, one of the meal choices was “Shanghai Noodles”. I opted for this vs. the United standard cheese omelet. It was some stir fried noodles and a few dumplings. A carb-bomb!
In all, I was pretty happy with the 787 service. The Houston-based crew was fine. The 11+ hour flight didn’t seem exceedingly long. I would credit the open middle seat which helped a lot with comfort and the excellent in flight entertainment which helped pass the time. We arrived a few minutes early into Narita, where I had a few hours before my connecting flight to Hong Kong
The 787 is a modern way to fly. I didn’t notice a huge difference compared with other longhaul flights in terms of dehydration, but maybe it was a bit better. United’s economy seats lack a bit in the comfort department, but aren’t too bad, especially with no one sitting next to me. Please see Rocky’s review of his experience in business class on the United 787.
Edited to add:
The seats are narrow, although not that much different than other United aircraft, although even the 18″ width on my 777 I took home felt noticeably wider. The aisles on the 787 are really narrow. The service carts invariably smashed into seats multiple times on each trip up or down the aisle. Also, the seat belt sign remained on for nearly the entire flight. There was some forecast chop over the Rockies (no surprise), but other than a brief period after that, they sign remained on for nearly the entire flight. Ouch…Also, many announcements were automated, so other than a basic welcome and goodbye from the captain, there was almost no communication from the cockpit.