When the invite came from British Airways to join them in ‘picking up’ their latest Boeing 777-300ER from Seattle and bringing it back to the UK, I couldn’t believe my luck. How often do you get the chance to do something like that?
After travelling across to Seattle with BA, the time came to head to Boeing’s Paine Field at Everett, to the north of Seattle. This is where Boeing builds its 747-8, 767, 777 and 787 Dreamliner aircraft. The airfield is literally full of new airframes lined up for testing, painting and fitting prior to delivery to their new owners around the world. But as we arrived, there was a small cheer as people caught sight of the reason we were there – British Airways’ new 777-300ER G-STBF (their 6th example, but their 55th 777 model in total) being towed across to the delivery centre.
We had an amazing tour of Boeing’s production lines inside the world’s largest building by area. I’ll post about this later.
[singlepic id=47 w=320 h=240 float=right]Over at the Future of Flight building on the south-east side of the airfield, which doubles as the Delivery Centre, we arrived to be greeted by a fantastic lunch laid on by Boeing and a chance to mingle with the other VIP’s and BA staff on the trip. The centre has a bunch of displays about Boeing aircraft, including a section of Pan Am 707 fuselage, two 727 cockpits, and some experimental aircraft.
There is also a huge Boeing store with all manner of goodies, from pens, t-shirts and stickers, to books, DVDs and scale models of the different aircraft they produce. I’ll gladly admit I spent more than I should in here!
[singlepic id=50 w=320 h=240 float=left]Up on the roof of the Centre is an observation deck with sweeping views over the airfield and production lines. This is perfect for the spotter and aircraft photographer as you’ll see every movement at the airfield at close quarters. It’s free to enter, too!
At 3pm the ceremony began. Andy Lord, the Director of Operations at British Airways, and an executive from Boeing introduced the delivery and just how significant the 777 is to the BA fleet. Then the curtain was pulled back, revealing G-STBF shining in the Seattle drizzle, to much applause.
[singlepic id=51 w=320 h=240 float=right]It had been decided that one of our VIP group would get to cut the ribbon, and that honour fell on Matthew Stibbe of Golf Hotel Whiskey blog. However we all stood alongside him as he cut the ribbon and posed for photographs.
The crew also posed for photos, alongside Irene – mother of Capt Rod Mitchell, who was flying us home. The aircraft had been named Irene in honour of her, which was a nice surprise.
[singlepic id=52 w=320 h=240 float=left]After passing through security with our bags, it was time to ascend the steps into the ‘new car smell’ of the cabin. The front sections of the aircraft were devoid of seats, as First and Club World are installed back in Cardiff. For takeoff and landing, all passengers had to sit in Economy in the back of the incredibly long aircraft (for safety reasons).
We departed shortly after 4pm, rocketing into the sky after what seemed like only a few seconds on the runway, due to our light load. Initially the flight was quite bumpy as there was a lot of weather around Seattle, and a strong jetstream blowing across the Pacific. Capt Mitchell informed us that it was clear 50 miles ahead “So we should be settled in approximately 6 minutes and 55 seconds”.
[singlepic id=63 w=320 h=240 float=right]Boeing had provided catering for the flight, so we were invited to move to the World Traveller seating to enjoy either Beef or Seafood. I opted for the latter, which included huge prawns, lobster claws, salad, and a fantastic dessert. But since there were less than 50 people on board and plenty of food, there was enough to have a second helping if you wished.
Beer, wine, coffee and water were available in abundance, and a relaxed, happy atmosphere was evident throughout the flight. Once over northern Canada, the lights in the First cabin were dimmed and we were encouraged to go and see a fantastic display of the Northern Lights on the port side. Amusingly everyone crowded round the windows peering at the flickering green aurora outside.
[singlepic id=62 w=320 h=240 float=left]Later in the flight we enjoyed a quiz by Capt Mitchell which he jokingly claimed to have been preparing whilst our other pilot, Tim, had been filing flight plans and flying the aircraft! The questions were based on our route, Seattle, Boeing, and British Airways. Sadly I didn’t win, but the two top prizes included a tour of Terminal 5 at Heathrow, and a 777 simulator ride.
I spent a couple of hours trying to get some sleep by stretching out over three seats in Economy, but fairly soon our adventure was coming to an end as we began our descent into Cardiff. To aid with the ‘swing’ required on the crosswind landing, we all moved closer to the front of the cabin. But it was an expert and comfortable landing, in what seems to be such a quiet aircraft despite its size.
To be part of this trip was really special, and it was a very fun, celebratory atmosphere on board – both from us VIPs who found the trip very different from any other, and from the BA staff who were very excited at this state-of-the-art new addition to their fleet.
[singlepic id=64 w=320 h=240 float=left]G-STBF will begin carrying passengers after a short stint at BAMC in Cardiff, so watch out for her in the skies near you soon.
My thanks go out to British Airways‘ staff, pilots and crew for the invitation and for looking after us.
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