Launch of Scoot's first Dreamliner: From Seattle's Boeing factory to Singapore

When Singapore Airlines' low-cost offshoot, Scoot, fetched its first Dreamliner from the Boeing factory in Seattle, I went along on the delivery flight.

On paper, it sounded irresistible. Would I like to hitch a ride on Scoot's brand-new Dreamliner - the long-range, wide-bodied plane with cutting-edge technology designed to reduce jetlag – as it's delivered from the Boeing factory in the United States to its Singapore base? 

I would, thanks very much. In the Seattle Marriott's foyer, I join the inaugural passengers – a bleary-eyed bunch that's just flown in from throughout the Asia-Pacific region. They include specialist aviation writers, photographers, Scoot crew (known as Scootees) and Scoot's 43-year-old CEO Campbell Wilson, a down-to-earth, fun-loving Kiwi who seems cut from the same cloth as Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson. One New Year's Eve, Wilson tried to sell more duty-free items on a flight than an attendant. When he lost the battle, she was anointed boss for the rest of the year (a position she held for just four hours). There are competition winners in Seattle too, including a woman who outlasted 99 others by holding her arms out wide like a plane for 64 minutes and 56 seconds; a Scoot employee also scored himself a ticket by performing Conchita's Rise Like a Phoenix in drag. 

For those who are running on little sleep, the schedule is punishing. We're off to the Boeing complex at 7.30am the next day for a briefing on the market outlook and the Dreamliner (or Boeing 787) in particular, followed by showroom and factory tours. It takes an hour to reach Everett, 45 kilometres north of Seattle. Most of us make a beeline for the coffeepot as soon as we arrive. 

Boeing's regional director of product marketing, Tadashi Mabee, highlights the Dreamliner features that have created so much buzz. The 787's engines have distinctive scalloped edges that reduce noise, making the journey quieter for both passengers and those living under flight paths. Taller windows allow even those in the middle seats to glimpse the outside world. Sliding plastic window shades are gone; instead passengers control electronically dimmable windows with the press of a button on the side wall. Larger overhead bins can accommodate the most ridiculous cabin luggage.

Then there's the stuff you can't see. Boeing introduced three changes to help passengers feel better. Cabins are pressurised to an altitude of 6000 rather than 8000 feet, humidity was increased by up to 20 percent to reduce dehydration, and an additional gaseous filtration system removes odours, contaminants and irritants, keeping air fresher and reducing eye, nose and throat irritations.  

From the powerpoint presentations, we head into the gallery showroom covering everything from galleys and lavs to seats and in-flight entertainment, interior mock-ups and wall finishes (there's a choice of eight textures). This is where airlines come to customise their aircraft's fit-out. Scoot visited the showroom three or four times over 14 months to finalise details of its first Dreamliner, a 787-9 (a "stretched" version of the 787-8 opening model). Northwest Airlines (absorbed into Delta in 2008) holds the record for the most number of showroom visits (34) to finalise an aircraft. 

Scoot's $US249.5 million ($A 321 million) Dreamliner, christened Dream Start, features a toilet where the partition between two cubicles can be unlocked, allowing a carer to help a passenger with disabilities. As we swing by the display model, Wilson wisecracks that anyone who wants to join the mile-high club should make a beeline for this toilet.

We bus over to the Future of Flight Aviation Centre, from where Boeing tours start. A Scoot plane sits in the distance: those armed with long lenses run to an embankment to snap pictures. Boeing has given us $US25 gift cards for the store inside the centre; some manage to power-shop, others return to the bus with the card unspent. 


After passing through security and donning safety glasses, we enter the factory – billed as the world's largest building by volume. It's so big that employees get around by bicycle; they can also eat at the in-house Dreamliner Diner. We're allowed on the factory floor and even granted a few photo stops (the public must relinquish cameras before their tour). The ninth Dreamliner for Jetstar and Qantas is in the assembly line, along with the 37th Dreamliner for Japanese carrier ANA.   

We're shuttled back to the hotel then bussed back north for a celebratory dinner at a golf club. A magician who normally works the rooms at the Magic Castle – a posh private Hollywood club – performs impressive tricks for each table and the whole room. 

Continuing the aviation theme, the next day we explore the Museum of Flight, an impressive complex south of Seattle that's built around the Red Barn that William E. Boeing used in 1917 to consolidate his new airplane factory. Boeing donated Dreamliner number 3 to the museum - it's now part of the outdoor aircraft display that includes a British Airways Concorde. 

After three nights at the Marriott, it's time to pack our bags for the delivery flight. We return to the sprawling Everett complex, this time to the Delivery Centre. Wilson and crew head out onto the tarmac to pose for zany photos in front of their new baby. Inside, a barman is mixing cocktails of limoncello, vodka and lemon juice (yellow matches Scoot's branding).

We're escorted past a restricted conversation area to a room for Wilson's press conference. I ask if budget passengers will care about the Dreamliner, given that price is the traditional motivator in the low-cost sector. "When people have flown us, they have been pleasantly surprised and therefore they have recalibrated their perception of what a low-cost carrier is," he says. "To add on top of that a brand-new aircraft - and a brand-new 787 which already has cachet in the market - will magnify that effect still further."

And with that, it's time for take-off. Captain Eva Maria Thien – an Austrian who put herself through pilot training by working as a flight attendant – is in charge of taking flight TZ787 to Osaka, where the crew changes for the final leg to Singapore. Most of us are seated upfront in ScootBiz but, with all those empty economy rows behind me, I downgrade myself so I can lie flat across a row. Water cannons greet us at Changi airport and two golden lions dance in welcome. There are more speeches, gift exchanges and food. 

Over prawn dim sum and neon-yellow popcorn, me and my fellow travellers agree that we do feel unusually good given we've just travelled for 18.5 hours. Perhaps the Dreamliner isn't overhyped after all. 

The writer was a guest of Scoot and Boeing. Dream Start now flies between Perth and Singapore. Scoot will introduce Dreamliners to its Sydney and Gold Coast routes later this year, and on its Melbourne-Singapore route when it launches in November.