In March 2019, I flew on WestJet’s inaugural Boeing 787 Dreamliner flight. WestJet is the third airline in the U.S. and Canada to fly the Dreamliner. I can proudly say that I have flown on the inaugural 787 flight on all three carriers!
In February 2019, I flew on Delta Air Line’s inaugural Airbus A220 flight. Delta was the first airline in North America to fly the A220, formerly known as the Bombardier C Series.
With a capacity of 100 to 150 seats, this plane is newly designed for short to medium haul missions. Airbus acquired the C Series from Bombardier in July 2018 which brought stability to an unknown product fraught with development troubles and a trade dispute. Airbus has since expanded its factory in Mobile, Alabama to supplement the existing Bombardier final assembly line in Mirabel, Quebec, Canada. A220 production at Mobile will begin in the third quarter in 2019 and will serve U.S. based airlines.
Delta ordered 75 C Series aircraft in 2016 and later expanded that order to 90. Order mix consist of 40 A220-100 (CS100) 109-seaters and 50 larger 130-seater A220-300 (CS300). Final delivery is expected in late 2023.
First A220/CS100 was delivered to Delta in October 2018. Service launch was scheduled on January 31, 2019 with flights originating from New York LaGuardia (LGA) and Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW). Due to the U.S. Federal government shutdown that went on for 35-days during December-January, the aircraft could not get certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in time for the start date. As a result, the inaugural flight was pushed one week to February 7.
I booked the inaugural flight on the original date when it first came on sale in October. When the flight moved, Delta was generous enough to refund my tickets without a penalty. On my new ticket, I booked the inaugural A220 departure from LaGuardia: a 6 am Delta Shuttle flight to Boston (BOS). After returning to LGA (not on the A220), I booked an afternoon A220 flight to DFW.
The evening before departure, I received an "First Flyers Club" email from Delta notifying the significance of the flight that I was about to embark. I was happy that the airline was planning something special for the day!
At 4:30 am, there was little traffic through the construction maze entering LGA. Single lane in most places, I can see how this could become a traffic nightmare during busy periods. My Lyft driver said the routing changes daily and he really has to stay alert.
Delta Shuttle has a dedicated check-in and gates at Terminal C. There was a special counter position for the inaugural A220 flights, but I didn’t really need it since I checked in on-line. I said “hi” to the ticket agent anyway and she took great interest in my A220 shirt purchased specifically for the occasion.
At gate C38, Delta had a stage set up with “First Flyers Club” logos and a huge spread of delicious breakfast items from Balthazar Bakery. Despite the early hour, there was plenty of energy from aviation enthusiasts who converged for two A220 departures on this early morning: the 6:00 am inaugural to BOS followed by the 7:45 am flight to DFW at the next gate.
N102DU to Boston
N104DU to Dallas-Ft Worth
Delta’s Vice President for New York and Sales, East Chuck Imhof and Managing Director-LGA Airport Operations Ginny Elliott spoke about significance of the A220 for Delta and the push to become New York’s Airline at the “New LaGuardia”.
Boarding for flight DL 744 to BOS began shortly before 5:30 am. Aircraft N102DU, delivered to Delta in December 2018, had the honors of making the inaugural flight with revenue passengers on board. Stepping on board ship 8102, I was greeted with a vestige its Canadian heritage - a floor plate at the door that proudly stated “C Series”.
Despite being a small class jet, the cabin had a wide-body feel: sculpted panels, high capacity overhead bins, large windows, mood lighting, and seat back monitors.
Delta configured this aircraft with 109-seats consisting of 12 First Class seats arranged 2-2 with 37-inch pitch,
15 Comfort+ seats with 34-inch pitch,
and 82 Main Cabin seats with 32-inch pitch. In the back, seats are 2-3 five abreast resembling the DC-9 family. Comfort+ and Main Cabin seats are 18.6-inches wide, making them the widest Main Cabin seats in Delta’s fleet.
At every seat, passengers found the only collectible given — a First Flight pin with a commemorative boarding pass.
Seat back contents with collectible 1st Flight pin
Before the door closed, the camera crew asked everyone to wave and cheer. It was early, people really didn’t get into it. We were asked to do it again, “this time with feeling”. And it was the second take that ended up on the Delta blog video.
Outside, the ramp was wet from light rain during this near-freezing winter morning. The windows were dotted with rain drops, making photo-taking a difficult proposition (granted it was still dark out).
On engine start, it became apparent that whenever the Pratt&Whitney PW1500G geared turbofan engines throttled up, they made a grinding sound. Initially startling, we later just looked at each other and laughed whenever that happened.
The seat back monitor was large and responsive. Since the In-Flight Entertainment system was driven by the onboard wifi, there is no utility box encroaching on your under seat space. Nice!
I spy CS100!
It was a long 20-minute taxi to Runway 13. Upon reaching, we made an immediate takeoff. We made a powerful and steep takeoff run. On rotation, I got a bit of the roller coaster feeling in my stomach. We quickly punched through the cloud deck and made a sharp bank to the left for Boston. Upon climb out, there were some grinding vibrations from the engines.
We spent less than 10 minutes at a relatively low 21,000 feet cruising altitude, during which a long line to the lavatory formed. Apparently, everyone wanted to see the restroom with the window. Flight attendant made an announcement that the unique lavatory was in the back of the plane, on the captain side (followed by, “I never thought I would make an announcement like this!”).
Due to the line blocking the aisle and the short flight, the service cart couldn’t quite make it through to where I was seated. Fortunately, another flight attendant stationed at the aft galley handed out beverage and snack choices on foot. Kudos to the crew for making best of the situation.
With traces of sunlight just peeking on the horizon, we started our descend to BOS from the south. Breaking through the overcast at 700 feet, we were greeted with gloomy sky and steady rain.
Approaching Runway 04R, we flew over the industrial port area of Boston. With condensation on the wings, we made a smooth touchdown to the applause of all on board.
Total flying time was 32 minutes at distance of 201 miles.
Once again, it was another long (16-minute) taxi before we arrived at gate A8 at 7:08 am, 18 minutes early. At the gate, the mood was equally celebratory with excited passengers munching on free Dunkin Donuts. No rest for the weary, ship 8102 would immediately start earning its keep by flying back to LGA as the 8 am shuttle flight.
Bonus! You made it this far, here is the video trip report of my second flight, from LGA to DFW where we experienced a touch-and-go landing!
In 2018, United Airlines also celebrated their 50th anniversary in Micronesia. Predecessor airline Air Micronesia – known affectionally by its radio callsign “Air Mike” – was founded in May 1968. The Island Hopper is still a critical backbone for United’s Guam operations. The airline produced this nice video about the Island Hopper, featuring Capt Katz, one of the pilots on board my flight!
Big Metal Bird Episode 8: Island Hopper - YouTube
Finally, my written trip report was published in print in the December 2018 issue of Airways magazine.
On November 7, 2017, United Airlines flew its last passenger 747 flight after 47 years of service. As an aviation enthusiast in San Francisco (SFO), it was a sad day. The iconic Jumbo had been a staple at SFO ever since I started plane spotting there.
I saw her evolve from the ugly gray Battleship scheme:
To my favorite, Rising Blue scheme:
Finally ending her service on the uninspiring UniCon Globe scheme:
Every morning, the entire fleet it seemed, would arrive from Asia. By midday, they'd make their turn and return to the Far East. A few stragglers would remain in the afternoon to Europe. Those on maintenance or spares lined up at the Super Bay. Every spotting session at SFO would be the same: United 747s everywhere.
By 2017, despite the fact the Queen was near retirement, you'd never know it at SFO. In her last summer of service, scenes like this were still typical:
But I knew the end was near. I wanted to say goodbye. Fortunately, United went all out and made it special for everyone - from employees to enthusiasts alike. It was great to have an airline in your hometown to acknowledge its heritage and embrace the fanbase.
Let's start with the end. I flew on United's final 747 passenger flight on November 7th. Flight UA 747 was a retro flight - a throwback to 1970 - when United first flew the 747 from SFO to Honolulu (HNL). Between flight attendants dressed up in 1970s uniforms to the low fly-by over the Golden Gate Bridge, it was one of the most memorable flights in my life!
One week before United retired the 747 from regular service, I made a trip around the world, flying only on the 747, of course! It was a simple three-flight itinerary: SFO to Frankfurt (FRA) on United, FRA to Seoul (ICN) on Lufthansa, and ICN back to SFO on United. That last flight back home was United's last international 747 flight. It was also United's last 747 landing at SFO with passengers on board.
Segment 3 Trip Report: ICN-SFO United's last international 747 flight. United's last 747 landing at SFO with passengers.
It is an end of an era. After almost 50 years, there is no longer any United 747s at its Pacific Hub in San Francisco. However, whenever I look across to the Super Bay, I will always think of this scene: