Last month I was invited to travel on a FEMA cargo charter flight of National Airlines from Anchorage to Chicago, observing the crucial cargo operations during COVID-19. On my way back I flew the first B777 ever delivered, N777UA of United Airlines from Denver to Los Angeles.

N777UA, (msn 007) was the first Boeing 777 ever delivered in the world. It was delivered to United Airlines on 15th May 1995. It entered commercial service as inaugural B777 flight in the world on 7th June 1995 from Chicago to Frankfurt. This B777-200 A model is now 25 years old and still with United.

This trip report shares with you the changes United Airlines have implemented during COVID-19.

N777UA, The first B777 delivered to United Airlines
N777UA, The first B777 delivered to United Airlines

Social Distancing

Social distancing was observed at boarding, with fewer people at the boarding area. Given that flights are being booked light, with just 70 passengers, there was no problem for distancing at the gate and on-board.

Unlike Delta and Southwest, United do not block out the middle seat in either First or Economy Class. First Class often flies full with upgraded elites seating next to each other. United said that they will send out an alert when the flight is expected to be full, passengers will then have the flexibility to switch flights if so desired. Most airlines do not believe in implementing social distancing in the air, as blocking out seats clearly harms their bottom line.

Clean Plus?

My flight took place before United rolled out their Clean Plus campaign. There were no headrest covers on the First Class seats. Flight attendants walked around offering Clorox sanitising napkins in the cabin. You can use those to safely wipe down the seat.

My flight took place before the systematic passenger mask-on enforcement was in place. There was nothing enforced on this flight, but most passengers did wear masks during the flight.

Seating

There were just 12 passengers in First Class. The First Class on this United B777-200 domestic version has 28 seats. These are the previous generation United Business Class seats with a 2-4-2 configuration. The seat is narrow and you have to cross over other seats to get out, if you're sitting in the middle or window.

Flight attendants offered sealed/canned beverages in plastic cups before departure. There was no hot towelette service.

United Domestic First Class Seats B777
United Domestic First Class Seats B777

There are 102 Economy Plus and 234 Standard Economy seats, making the total capacity on this domestic B777 364 seats. Some United captain called it the "Cattle ship". The seats are in a 3-4-3, 10 abreast, configuration. There are no IFE screens on seat backs in Economy, but Wi-Fi and streaming is available.

United Economy Plus Seats B777
United Economy Plus Seats B777
United Economy Plus Seats B777
United Economy Plus Seats B777
United Economy Class Seats B777
United Economy Class Seats B777
United B777-200 Domestic Version
United B777-200 Domestic Version

I was allowed to visit the cockpit while we were on the ground at Denver. The captain has flown for nearly 42 years with United and he was about to retire next year. He was happy for me to record a video to share with fellow AvGeeks. The pilots were extremely kind and showed me around. They pointed out that there are 2 different engines on this B777. One was derated (PW4090 TO PW4077D).

United B777-200 cockpit
United B777-200 cockpit
Yoke of Boeing 777

The FO traded his story with me that he was a student pilot in Phoenix, AZ when the first United B777 visited Phoneix on a roadshow. Now he is flying it in the right hand seat!

I always enjoy a flight deck visit on United, the UA pilots are extremely knowledgeable and love AvGeeks. They were happy to take my picture on the captain's seat, even wearing the captain's hat!

Check out the captain's stories on flying this B777. Listen to the nice engine spool up on takeoff on this old bird in my Instagram Stories post above.

In-Flight Service

We took off on-time from Denver with some t-storm in the area. Flight time to LAX was 2 hours. After takeoff, First Class passengers were offered a snack box (either classic or tapas). Everything was sealed and prepacked.

United has published their latest guidelines of in-flight dining here.

United domestic First Class snack box
United domestic First Class snack box

For flights 2 hours and 20 minutes or longer, you'll receive an "all-in-one" snack bag including: a wrapped sanitiser wipe, an 8.5-ounce bottle of water and two snacks in United Economy.

United domestic Economy Class snack bag
United domestic Economy Class snack bag

More Sombre Experience?

On the flight I noticed that flying has became a more sombre experience, there were lot of moments of silence with less chatter and laughter in general. Everyone was covered with a mask and wanted to be as far away from each other as possible.

We landed on-time on the Southern runway of LAX and deplaned quickly. I went to the cockpit to say goodbye and notice the pilots were using sanitiser to wipe down all the flight controls for the next crew, a great gesture.

I was really glad to be able to fly on World's First B777 from 25 years ago, albeit during COVID-19 challenge time. I think all the elements highlighted above may become the new "norm" of flying. We will have to learn to embrace it.

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