Hello and welcome to another Flight Report series! This series is a bit different, as I'm finally getting away from my typical North American reports. For this one, I'm off across the pond!
Washington, DC - London, UK (IAD - LHR) | United | 787-8 [THIS REPORT] London, UK - Amsterdam, NL (LGW - AMS) | British Airways | A319 [Report Here] Cologne, DE - Berlin, DE (CGN - SXF) | Ryanair | 737-800 [Report Here] Berlin, DE - Munich, DE (TXL - MUC) | Lufthansa | A320 [Coming Soon] Vienna, AT - Washington, DC (VIE - IAD) | Austrian | 767-300 [Coming Soon]
NOTE: Before starting this report, let it be known that for this flight I purchased United's Economy Plus product after booking. Rather than put this report next to other "Premium Economy" reports here, I am choosing to put this with economy class as that's really where this report belongs.
Getting out to Dulles
My plan for starting off this trip was to take the Metro Silver Line and Silver Line Connector bus to Dulles. However, once I reached my local Metro station, I heard an announcement that the Wiehle-Reston East station was closed for a police investigation on this Friday evening. I activated my backup plan and called an Uber instead of trying to deal with that.
The Uber dropped me off right near the main United check-in area. Because I arrived just over three hours early for my 10 pm departure, the check-in area was nearly empty – I arrived between the evening banks I suppose. I quickly had both my boarding passes and checked bag tag printed from a kiosk. After dropping my self-tagged bag with an agent, it was off to the TSA pre-check line. After passing through the empty security line, it was off to the only Priorty Pass-accepting lounge at this time of evening, the Turkish Airlines lounge. Because of its location on the A/B concourse at Dulles, I opted to walk through the pedestrian tunnel after security – on the other side, I got a nice view of an arriving RAM 787 pulling into the gate after a flight from Casablanca.
Turkish Airlines Lounge
After a brief walk through the modern A/B concourse, I reached the Turkish Lounge. Unfortunately, the lounge was absolutely packed; based on the departure boards around the lounge, it appeared as though business class passengers on the daily Qatar flight had access to this lounge as well as any early Turkish Airlines business class passengers.
I managed to grab a seat at the bar and had Southern Tier's nice Double IPA. However, it would have been better had I also been given a glass.
The lounge had a nice ambiance despite being quite small. However, before the Qatar flight departed, the lounge felt quite cramped to be honest. After having the one drink, I left the lounge and walked the rest of the A concourse before heading for the C/D concourse from where United operates its Dulles hub.
In the A-concourse train station, I thought the signage was a tad … optimistic? It already displayed the location of the "Future Gates" despite there currently being no concrete plans to build any gates there.
My departure gate this evening was C4, towards the eastern end of the C concourse. At this point, I still had about 45 minutes to kill before boarding was to begin. After a walk through the gate area, it was clear that the 10pm departure bank from IAD was quite significant – directly across from my 787 flight to London was a 777 flight to Frankfurt; just down the hall a 767-300 at C1 departing for Sao Paulo. In other areas of the C concourse, flights to other European and domestic destinations were preparing for boarding as well.
To give you an idea of the gate area (not many windows, low ceilings, dark asthetic etc.), please see this picture from a previous Dulles visit of mine. Imagine this image but with every seat full and lines of people moving everywhere:
All in all, the C concourse was completely packed on this Friday night, so much so that the only seats open were the bunch past gate C1 – with no windows or outside view at all. I took a seat in this area for about half an hour, before walking to stretch my legs prior to boarding.
The week before this flight, United revamped their boarding procedure across their system. The goal of the new system was to have strictly two boarding lanes separated by dividers: Groups 1 and 2. These two groups (made up of elites and business class passengers) stand around prior to boarding to reserve their place in line. Once these two groups have boarded, the large line originally occupied by "Group 1" remains empty so any elite / business class passengers can go straight to the front of the line. This dedicated space for line cutting drastically reduced the amount of space for future groups to queue, and made the entire process a bit more stressful than it needed to be for everybody else, IMO.
The idea is that the next boarding group remains seated until their group number appears on the displays above the gate. However, between this 787 to London and the 777 to Frankfurt across the concourse and the fact that the "Group 1" line remained empty so that late-arriving early-group passengers could cut the line, the economy boarding lines were blocking the center of the concourse completely. I was in Group 3, and since I didn't have anything to store in the overhead bins, I wasn't in any particular rush to board the aircraft.
After my boarding pass was scanned at C4, I made my way through a (surprisingly) windy corridor before reaching the jetbrige. In typical USA fashion, I had to wait quite a few minutes in the jetbridge waiting for passengers ahead of me to stow their luggage before finding their seats.
Once I made my way to the aircraft door, I was directed through the galley to the right-side aisle; past the small aft business class cabin, I found my Economy Plus window seat in row 21.
The view out of my incredibly large 787 window (our neighboring 737-800 was departing for Cleveland):
Surprisingly to me, the captain came on the PA to announce that were would hold at the gate for about 15 minutes to wait for a few connecting passengers to board. I suppose with tailwinds this makes more sense, but I haven't seen holding for connecting passengers happen in quite a while.
I was quite impressed with the Economy Plus pitch offered on this 787-8. Incredibly, even after the late-arriving connecting passengers had boarded, the middle seat next to me remained empty – one of maybe three open seats on the entire flight. I was quite pleased with this, as the 9-abreast 787 economy seat felt noticeably narrow to me. After moving my backpack to the middle seat's footwell, I had no problem stretching my legs out.
The main boarding door was closed about 20 minutes past the scheduled departure time of 10:15pm.
Departure this evening would be from Dulles' runway 30. After pushing back, we bagan our taxi past other UA heavies bound for Europe.
After waiting a bit in the departure queue, we were off into the pitch-black night. Although this picture doesn't do it justice, I was very impressed by how much the 787's wing flexed on rotation.
After the Washington, DC area faded from view, I struggled with the seat-back IFE to get a movie to play. Despite being a very new aircraft, this particular 787 had been delivered to United six years previously, in 2012. This meant that the touch-screen IFE systems were at least six years old. I really had a hard time selecting items on screen, and the UI was noticeably older than others that I've interacted with before (mainly Delta's). However, I did eventually overcome the touchscreen to see that United offered quite a wide variety of content on their 787 fleet. I selected Inception as I've had been wanting to rewatch that movie for a while.
Not long after reaching cruising altitude, the crew came through the cabin for the main meal service. For this flight, economy passengers were given a choice between chicken and pasta – I went with the pasta option. On this flight, that meant a ravioli dish that ended up being quite tasty. However, the all-plastic presentation left a bit to be desired.
After the dinner service, I finished up watching my movie, then tried my best to get some sleep. However, despite the extra pitch and the empty middle seat next to me, I struggled to get any substantial sleep – I just couldn't get comfortable in this economy seat. Despite the best possible situation on the 787 – empty middle seat next to me in the extra leg room section – I couldn't get comfortable enough to really get any sleep on this red-eye. I don't know, maybe I just need some more practice.
I woke up for the morning with about 2 and a half hours left in flight. Remembering that the flight crew had announced that breakfast would be served 90 minutes prior to landing, I ended up watching the moving map for an hour, noticing that our ground speed was up near 750 knots – no wonder we waited for those few connecting passengers back in DC.
The sun finally was bright enough for me to take a picture through the darkened window.
Looking back on it, it's clear that the flight crew had locked the Dreamliner's windows to full dark mode until the breakfast service – on a short ocean-crossing red-eye like this, it makes sense for the crew to do that. As soon as the moving map hit 01:30 time til destination, the crew was up and about serving breakfast.
The breakfast service was a simple one of a croissant and yogurt cup, again presented with lots and lots of plastic.
After the tasty dinner, this breakfast left a lot to be desired. Lets just say I was looking forward to the arrival lounge to which I had access at LHR T2.
After the flight crew had collected the remnants of the breakfast service, the 787 wing presented itself through the still-darkened window. I must say here that the 787 windows do a darn good job of blocking light, while still allowing window-seat passengers a view outside – at least during the day time.
Not long after the breakfast service, we began our descent into the London area (this next picture is my first one during the daytime, with the window set to fully bright. Compare that to the one above).
Unfortunately, it was a cloudy and rainy morning in London, so we were in clouds most of the way down from cruise.
Landing this morning would be on 27R. I would've had a great view of central London if not for the clouds and the wing – at least we didn't have to drill any holes in the sky.
Final approach for 27R at Heathrow.
A very smooth touch down followed, about 15 minutes prior to STA.
I then had a wonderful view of all sorts of traffic from around the world as we taxiied towards T2 (note the Qantas 789 that had arrived earlier that morning from PER).
Once we reached T2, I was very surprised at the number of fellow UA tails present. Several 767s and 777s were already being prepped for their departure back to the US.
We parked at stand 248 right at scheduled arrival time. Our 787 would next turn for a flight to Denver.
London Heathrow Arrival Experience
Unfortunately, that concludes the images I have to share for this flight. However, I have a few more thoughts to share of the T2 arrivals experience.
After deplaning at stand 248, it was a solid 10 minute tunnel walk to immigration – not too bad for an airport the size of Heathrow, I thought at the time. However, once I reached the Immigration area, I was pretty shocked. The line snaked back and forth for about as far as I could see. All in all, I spent an entire hour queuing here to get through immigration – at least there was free Wi-Fi available in the queuing area.
After clearing immigration, I collected my checked bag (which by that point, had been removed along with all the other IAD bags from the carousel and placed into the center of the baggage claim area) and headed immediately for the Plaza Premium T2 Arrivals Lounge, gaining access via my Priority Pass membership. A quick shower and many cappuccinos later, I began to overcome the lack of sleep. As it was about noon at this point, I then had a very tasty lunch at the lounge, then headed for central London via the Piccadilly Line.
Turkish Airlines Lounge
Washington - IAD
London - LHR
This was a pretty solid transatlantic offering from United.
UA: (+) Flight arrived on time (+) Tasty dinner service (+) Good seat pitch in Economy Plus (+) Friendly and professional crew (+) Good IFE content selection ---- (-) IFE screen was frustrating to use (-) Breakfast service left a lot to be desired (-) I personally couldn't get comfortable enough for real sleep (your mileage may vary)
Turkish Lounge: (+) Accepted Priority Pass, even during the busy evening period at Dulles (+) Decent drink selection ---- (-) Quite busy, even overcrowded at times (-) Less than attentive service from the bar
Dulles: (+) Easy check-in experience between departure UA banks (+) Zero wait at the Pre Check lane ---- (-) Inconvenient - Metro is only [i]sort of[/i] an option (-) The UA gates are dark and have low ceilings. A long-term solution is really needed here.
London Heathrow T2: (+) Arrivals lounge was incredibly refreshing after a short-sleep red-eye. (+) Clearly a new building. Good signage. (+) Ample train options to central London. ---- (-) A full hour spent in the immigration line on a Saturday morning (-) Solid 10-minute walk from aircraft to immigration line
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