Trip Report: United Airlines economy class Tokyo (Narita) to Los Angeles

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01. Introduction: San Diego to Hiroshima Japan on United and ANA
02. American Airlines Admirals Club, San Diego
03. United Airlines economy class San Diego to San Francisco
04. United Airlines economy class San Francisco to Tokyo (Narita)
05. ANA/IBEX economy class Tokyo (Narita) to Hiroshima
06. ANA/IBEX economy class Hiroshima to Tokyo (Narita)
07. United Airlines economy class Tokyo (Narita) to Los Angeles
08. United Express economy class Los Angeles to San Diego

Normally when making a domestic to international connection at NRT, you need to go through a special security checkpoint and passport control station to gain entrance to the gate areas. It’s typically a quick and efficient process, and I’ve never had to wait more than 20 minutes to get through. Unfortunately, they couldn’t generate the NRT-LAX boarding pass for my wife in Hiroshima, so that meant that we had to exit the transfer area to go to the main check in hall. Considering that we only had a little over an hour to make our connection, I was quite nervous to say the least. Especially since I didn’t want to blow my first chance at flying a 787! Of course I held all this in and tried to look cool and collected, because nobody likes hanging out with a rabid airliner geek. 🙂

The good news is that the lines at the check in counter were thin and we were able to walk right up to a kiosk to generate her boarding pass. Unfortunately, the kiosk wouldn’t let her do it and we had to request assistance from one of the agents. She punched in some secret codes, and ultimately received the same error. Uh oh – this didn’t look good. She then told us to wait while she took my wife’s passport and green card to another desk across the aisle. Long story short, the UA system didn’t like the fact that her reservation was made with her maiden name, while her green card had her married name. It was easily overridden by the agent, but we thought it was odd considering we’ve been doing it this way for years without any issues. Perhaps they recently changed things? No matter, we still had time to spare so we quickly made our way through security and passport control to catch that 787 to LAX.

NRT terminal interior

Walking through the terminal at Nartia

UA33
Tokyo (NRT) – Los Angeles (LAX)
Friday, October 10 2014
Aircraft: Boeing 787-8
Seat: 33E (economy)

787-8 Dreamliner N27901 illustration

United Airlines 787-8 Dreamliner N27901

Boarding was nearly complete by the time we reached the gate, so that meant being able to walk right up to the gate door without any waiting. It was only until I reached this point that I felt relief while the aviation geek in me was starting to get excited. I was about to board my first 787 – an aircraft I’ve heard oh so much about but have never had the chance to fly before. As a matter of fact, that’s why I specifically chose this flight. We had an option to take the 747-400 to SFO, but since we did that on the way here, I couldn’t resist the 787-8 option through LAX. My wife couldn’t care less though – she can’t tell the difference between the different airplane types anyway, so I was alone in my geeky excitement.

gate 34 NRT

No waiting at gate 34 for UA 33 to LAX

The aura of the 787 hit me as soon as I reached the forward boarding door. I was immediately hit with the vibe that this was a new and modern aircraft, with nicely designed interior panels and cool blue light emanating from the ceiling. Cool! Unfortunately, this aircraft wasn’t new enough to have that delicious “new plane smell”. No matter – I still thought it was pretty neat.

We found our seats at 33E and F, which was nearly all the way back deep into economy class. I didn’t even care that I had a middle seat, as I was too busy looking around and checking things out. This 787 was simply in a different league compared to the old 747-400’s: bright interior, soft panel shapes, and large windows go a long way in making an airplane seem like a comfortable place to relax for 10 hours or so.

seat 33E on the United Airlines 787-8

My middle seat to LAX: 33E (sorry for the slightly blurry pic!)

united airlines 787 seat pitch

Leg room was actually just as tight (if not tighter) than the Ibex CRJ-700 we just came from

One other thing that I noticed right away that made me happy was the USB port located right next to the video screen in the seat back directly in front of me. On top of that, there were power outlets located under every seat that, while difficult to reach, were very much appreciated. The 787 is a very mobile-device friendly aircraft.

usb port next to the personal video screen

Seat back video screen with USB port on the lower right

787-8 interior united airlines

787-8 interior as viewed from seat 33E

Flight time to Los Angeles was announced at 8 hours and 45 minutes as we taxied out for departure, and that’s about the point where I finally started getting sleepy and napped (lightly) during the departure and climb to our initial cruising altitude. I do have to say that the 787 is a very quiet airplane – much more than I expected which made the take-off seem a bit weird. It’s kind of like riding in an electric car for the first time. Something just seems so…odd.

Just like our flight to NRT from SFO last week, they didn’t serve snacks with the first beverage service.

united airlines international economy class beverage service

Beverage service with no snack

It was about that time that I thought it would be fun to browse the in-flight entertainment options, but unfortunately, the sound was not working for either me or my wife. The person sitting next to me in 33D (and everyone else around us) didn’t seem to be having any issues. We let a flight attendant know, and he said he’d reset it – which he didn’t get around to until several hours later due to how busy he was. No worries, as I much prefer just watching the moving map anyway.

united 787 dreamliner welcome screen

Just in case you forget what kind of airplane you are flying on…

personal video screen main menu

In-seat entertainment system main menu

moving map

After realizing the audio wasn’t working, I switched to the moving map. I like this view much better anyway. Notice that the time zone is wrong – it should be dark where it’s showing light!

Dinner was served shortly thereafter, with the options being chicken and rice or a vegetarian pasta dish. I had the chicken and my wife had the pasta. The pasta was better.

Chicken and rice economy class meal

Chicken and rice economy class meal

I couldn’t resist the urge to sleep once the dinner trays were cleared and I actually slept pretty deeply considering I was sitting bolt-upright in an economy class airplane seat. There was actually one point during the night that my head fell over onto my wife head (which was nearly on my shoulder) with a rather painful impact. It HURT. She said she didn’t feel anything, but I literally felt like I had been punched in the face. Not a fun way to wake up in the middle of the night…

787-8 dreamliner cabin at night

Surprisingly, most people chose to stay up during this night flight to LAX.

boeing 787 lavatory sink

One of the coolest things about the 787 is the modern bathroom. Airplane lavatories haven’t changed for years (it seems) but this one looks modern and fresh.

boeing 787 toilet

Futuristic-looking toilet on the 787

automatic flushing 787 toilet

Just wave your hand to flush! A big “THANK YOU” to whoever it was who thought of this…

787 lavatory door handle

Even the door handle looked cool (if not a little dirty)

It was about two and a half hours to go before I realized something about the 787 that I didn’t care for: the LCD-tinted cabin windows. The issue was that the sun was definitely rising on the horizon, but the windows are tinted so darkly that it was almost disorienting. Was it daytime or nighttime outside? I honestly couldn’t tell, and the fact that the flight attendants can control the opacity of these windows bothers me due to the lack of control. I could see the shilohette of the wing, so I knew it was light outside – but inside, it felt like the middle of the night still.

Speaking of the wing, the flex that I saw from my middle seat was nothing short of amazing. I’ve never seen airplane wings flex like that!

Breakfast was eventually served, consisting of the same airplane-quality eggs I’ve eaten a million times before. Nothing interesting worth noting about that.

Economy class breakfast

Economy class breakfast

one more hour to Los Angeles

Just about an hour to go until landing at LAX

Although the pilot said that weather conditions in Los Angeles were “overcast”, we touched down on 24R under bright sun which was starting to burn through the morning marine layer. It was good to be home! But because we landed on the north side of the airport, that meant a long taxi over the the south side where the UA gates are located. That’s not much fun while sitting in the middle seat without any windows to gaze out of. LAX always has something interesting to look at, so all I could do was patiently wait until we arrived at the gate.

787 interior

787 interior just moments after touching down on 24R at LAX

united 787 at LAX

The United Airlines 787-8 that brought us from NRT parked at gate 77 at LAX

So what did I think of my first ever 787 flight? Well, it wasn’t amazing being stuck in a middle seat in economy class, but otherwise, it was a very comfortable ride. I definitely noticed the higher humidity levels inside the cabin, as I didn’t feel completely dried out and parched once we landed at LAX. That’s a huge plus!

Anyway, now that we are back in LAX and off the 787, it’s time to jump on a EMB-120 down to SAN for the last segment of this trip…