Friday, June 14, 2013
Milestone: Inaugural DREAMLINER Non-stop Service from Denver to Tokyo
On so many levels...
this week's launch of Boeing Dreamliner non-stop service from the mile-high city of Denver, Colorado to Tokyo, Japan's Narita International Airport was a milestone. For my airline-employer, it represented the fulfillment of a commitment to the Rocky Mountain region to open an unencumbered gateway to the economic powerhouse of Japan. For the city of Denver and the state of Clorado, it was the end of a decades-long process of building ties and cementing friendships that will likely prove an economic boon for the region. For me, my participation was a distinct honor and privilege bestowed by my employer on the eve of my thirtieth year of service. But this new air service between Denver and Tokyo is nothing less than a 21st century technological marvel.
The economic and cross-cultural promise that this service represents has long been the perfectly ripened fruit hanging just high enough on the tree that it couldn't be reached. Primarily due to Denver's altitude and climate, it is known worldwide as a prohibitively "hot and high" airport. Aircraft achieve lift (one of the primary forces required for flight) best when the air is dense (I.e. at lower altitudes, close to sea level and when the air is moist). The conditions in Denver are prohibitive due to its mile-high altitude above sea level and its relatively dry air. This atmospheric combination has long been a conundrum for airlines wishing to launch new long-haul and/or international service from the area. For example, a Boeing 777 could feasibly operate the Denver to Tokyo route but its "metrics" would make it cost-prohibitive to do so. It is simply too large, has too many seats for the likely demand from new service and consumes fuel at too great a rate to make it practical.
The Dreamliner 787-8 was the perfect solution for the long-standing problem. It's revolutionary design, materials, and power plants combined into a more-or-less "custom" airplane for the route. Notwithstanding its battery-related technical issues that kept it out of the air for the better part of four months earlier this year, ship #905 (one of 6 currently in our fleet) proved its readiness and aptitude on Monday, June 10th, 2013 with the on-time launch of flight 139 which followed a northwesterly arc flight path on its 10 hour 50 minute maiden voyage to Japan.
The atmosphere in the boarding area of gate B32 was electric: TAIKO drums whose percussive force could be felt in one's chest, the Shinto priest who performed a ritual purification ceremony, the traditional breaking open of the sake barrel, Japanese food items, commemorative gifts, decorative cherry trees in full, if artificial blossom, a locally-renowned artist painting an original mural commissioned for the occasion and SO MANY august, dignified speakers who placed their oratory stamp of approval on the day's festivities. It was a memorable event for all in attendance.
On a personal level, it was an opportunity for one frontline employee to show the travel world that the recent merger of his airline alma mater with one of the grande dames of the aviation industry was capable of fulfilling the promise of that marriage. The pressure to provide a non-pareil example of our award-winning BusinessFirst inflight service on an aircraft where we had never performed that service was daunting. Each aircraft presents its own set of ergonomic challenges where service is concerned. The Dreamliner was no different: from something as complex as locating and assimilating all the service components to ensure that a seamless customer experience would result to something as basic as developing a spatial awareness of a new airplane environment, the challenges were palpable. Keep in mind that even on a Trans-oceanic flight, the clock is always ticking. Our first service is to be completed within a 2.5 hour service window. Our team was the key to our ultimate success.
And what a success it was! A reporter from THE DENVER POST remarked that the "seasoned" crew made all the difference. The challenges were great but the team met them and surpassed the expectations of our onboard customers, among whom numbered many VIPs from every aspect of life, customers who are well-acquainted with the "best of the best" in travel.
A mutual friend and colleague of mine at the airline messaged me shortly before our departure from Denver to alert me that two friends she'd met in the frequent flyer chat room FlyerTalk would be travelling with us to Japan. When she described Ben and Seth, I doubted that we would have the opportunity to meet or chat since I was working in the rather "remote" forward galley. But coincidentally, I was passing the auxiliary galley at doors 3 after my crew rest break and noticed two guys meeting the descriptions I'd received talking about airplanes! Ben and Seth are two of those "aviation groupies" I'd heard so much about over the years but whose bona fide existence I had doubted. They LIVE for opportunities like the Dreamliner route inaugural and plan for years in advance to be included in these events. Ironically, Seth was only planning to stay in Japan long enough to accompany us BACK to Denver the very next day! It was on that return flight to Denver that Seth and I really had an opportunity to talk and it was my pleasure to conduct a more "individualized" familiarization tour of the 787 for him. Regardless of his reasons for flying with us, Seth is one of our more frequent customers. He flew from his home in New York City just to join us for this inaugural trip and has documented his experience in his own blog.
Our lives are sentences, sometimes run-on (especially in my case), punctuated by milestone events. Sometimes, those "milestones" can also be "turning points". I have a really good feeling about this one! And I'm seeing favorable winds for the future...
On so many levels.
(Epilogue: I hope you enjoy the photographs and links provided. Together with my narrative, I hope they endow this post with a sense of "being there". As always, YOU will be the judge!)