May 18th 2012
Many models of commercial airliners have flown in the last 85 years, but few can be called game changers, aircraft that changed the way an industry operated or set a new standard in design, construction, performance, and comfort for passengers. The DC-3, Boeing 707, Boeing 747, and the Concorde all come to mind. Now they have been joined by the incredible Boeing 787 Dreamliner. After accepting an invitation from American Airlines, I was at DFW airport last Friday when the Dreamliner made its first visit to North Texas, it was quite an event!
I drove to DFW, arriving at American Airlines Maintenance Hangar 5. The 787 was a “guest” of American Airlines and would arrive there rather than at one of the terminals. It flew in as part of the Dreamliner Dream Tour, having spent the previous two days at Reagan National Airport in Washington.
What makes the Dreamliner special? It’s the first and only commercial airliner to be constructed primarily of carbon-fiber rather than aluminum and steel. Its engines are quieter, more fuel efficient, and produce less pollution than any other engine in use today. It has incredible range: it can fly from DFW to any other airport in the world, non-stop. That is just a very small part of the story of the 787, the Boeing website can give you a more complete description.
The Dreamliner was scheduled to arrive at 3 p.m., I was one of the first people to arrive at the hangar, getting there shortly before two. I was allowed into the building and saw signs all over the place saying that everyone should be wearing a badge or ID. I didn’t have either of those, but no one seemed to care. After I had been there for a half hour, hundreds of American Airlines employees arrived to be part of the festivities.
The plane was supposed to arrive at 3 p.m, but weather problems in Washington caused it to be more than one hour late. (I could make a joke about things being late because of Washington, but I won’t.) As we waited, the only thing we could do was stand around and talk.
I saw Tom Horton, the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of AMR Corporation and American Airlines walking through the crowd and wondered how he would be received. I had seen one very angry website hosted by a former AA employee that made me think Horton was one of the most hated men in America. On this day, nothing could have been further from the truth.
In a hangar full of AA employees, Horton was the unquestioned rock star. As he walked through the crowd employees came up to him, enthusiastically shaking his hand, talking to him, having their pictures taken with him. And these were not senior executive types in suits, many of these people were ground crew personnel yellow safety vests, the people that load your luggage onto the aircraft or help refuel it. They all seemed to be thrilled to see Mr. Horton. I’ve worked for companies where the employees really did hate senior management and I know what that looks like. That is not what I saw Friday. Other than the soon-to-arrive Dreamliner, Tom Horton was definitely the star of the day.
After an hour, the 787 Dreamliner finally arrived. It was worth the wait.
So many people were taking pictures of the 787 with their cellphone cameras and trying to tweet or email them that we crashed both the AT&T and Sprint networks. None of us could get a signal.
Once the plane was brought into the hangar, we could appreciate how large and majestic it is.
Once the plane had come to a stop, it was officially welcomed by several speakers. The first person to address the crowd was a senior executive of DFW Airport, who pointed out that the airport offered service to 43 foreign cities, and American Airlines flew to 42 of them.
Then the a Boeing executive spoke, describing the long relationship between Boeing and American Airlines. As he spoke, a shiny new 737 was towed into the hangar and parked behind the 787. AA had recently received this brand new 737, it would start service three days later.
Then it was time for AMR CEO Tom Horton to speak. He received a loud ovation, cheers and applause, as he made his way to the podium. The crowd was already excited by the 787’s arrival, Horton took them even higher while speaking of AA’s current situation and its future.
“Today, we’re getting another glimpse of our future—the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Boeing is a world-class partner, and this plane is a spectacular achievement.”
“We’re starting to show the world what they can expect from the new American…what we’re capable of.”
“Our greatest strength has been, and will always be, our people, who’ve risen to the challenge over the last five months and stepped up for our customers in a big way.”
“And make no mistake, our competitors are taking notice too. No one in the industry wants to compete with a renewed American. That’s the truth.”
The crowd loved it!
When the speakers were done, they got a quick look at the 787’s interior, then some VIPs were allowed on. By this time I was satisfied by my day, I had seen the Dreamliner, and if I didn’t get any more than I had already gotten, I’d go home very happy.
The next group allowed to board was the media. My AA contact who had invited me said, “You’re part of the media, go get on the plane.” Get on the 787? Me? Hah! He didn’t have to ask twice!
I got to the stairway and slowly walked up, past the massive port engine.
I walked into the premium cabin and checked out the overhead bins.
As I moved forward I saw a stairway just behind the cockpit and wondered where it went. So I checked it out.
I saw another Boeing representative and he asked, “Would you like to see the cockpit?” Silly question. “Yes, I’d love to!”
DFW was the 33rd stop for the Dreamliner on its world tour that began in Beijing. The plane carries an amazing group of Boeing employees who, among other things, assist with showing off their plane. As one walks through the cabin, it’s hard to not see another smiling Boeing employee, ready to answer your questions and help in any way possible.
I had a great example of that when I was allowed to enter the cockpit. The pilot was standing off to the side and greeted me with a big smile, pointed at the pilot’s seat and told me to “Sit down and see how that feels.”
I gingerly sat in the pilot’s seat, amazed that I had even been allowed in the cockpit. I looked at the yoke and asked if I could touch it. “Sure, go ahead!”
And then came the crowning moment. The pilot, who had already had dozens of people come through the cockpit, who had already made who knows how many stops on the world tour, looked at me and said, “You’ve got a camera, give it to me so I can take your picture!” That, my friends, is a great combination of marketing, customer service, and public relations all wrapped up in one.
I asked the pilot if any other new Boeing aircraft, such as the 777-300ER had a control panel like the 787. He said no, and then stepped forward, tapped the touchscreen on the monitor in front of the throttles, and, with real enthusiasm, gave me an explanation of all the data he could quickly pull up with little trouble. As he was doing this, I thought to myself, “He’s as excited by this as I am. Boys and their toys!” It was a great moment for me.
He added that one of his favorite features was the heads-up-display (HUD) that provided him with information without him needing to look down at his instrument panel.
After too short a time in the cockpit, I got up, thanked the pilot and walked towards the rear of the aircraft.
It was getting late and it was time for me to go. I thanked all the Boeing people and went down the stairs to the hangar floor. There was still a long line of AA employees waiting to come on board. American will receive its first 787 in 2014.
Before I left, I had the chance to meet one of the great people from the American Airlines Twitter team (@americanair). He introduced me to Suzanne Rubin, the President of American’s AAdvantage program, telling her that I was “American’s newest Executive Platinum.” I spoke with Ms. Rubin for several minutes; like everyone else I met that day, she could not have been nicer. She asked me several questions about my flying habits and did not seem to mind that I am a mileage runner — I was impressed that she even knew what a mileage run is!
By now it was almost 6 p.m. and I had a long drive back to Austin, so I said my good-byes, got in the car, and headed south.
It had been an amazing day for me, far more than I had dreamed of. It’s not often that I can say I have seen the future, but on this day I did. Many thanks to some great people at American Airlines and Boeing for making this such a memorable day for me!
Disclaimer: I own stock in AMR Corporation, the parent company of American Airlines. The total value of my holdings is less than $90. I also own stock in Boeing, the total value of my holdings is less than $6,000.
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