What Are Inaugural Flights Like?

Reader Deepak asked the following in the “Ask Lucky” forum, regarding taking inaugural flights:

On my way back from India, I am thinking of changing my routing a bit (a little extra in terms of $) to be on the QR Inaugural flight from Doha to LA (my itinerary is in business) on Jan 1. Any body else has any experience taking such flights? Is it worth the extra effort? BTW, this was a suggestion from my 15 year old daughter – an AVID Lucky follower on OMAAT. Thanks

First of all, kudos to your daughter, she seems pretty awesome!

While I’m a miles & points geek, I’d say I’m probably even more of an aviation geek. I love planes, and over the years have gone out of my way to get on many inaugural flights as possible.

Generally speaking, there are a few types of inaugural flights that airlines operate:

Etihad-A380-First-Class-33

As you might expect, as a general rule of thumb:

  • Operating an aircraft for the first time ever will be the biggest “production,” as both the airline and aircraft manufacturer have a vested interest in making the flight special
  • Operating an aircraft for the first time for an airline will typically be a pretty big deal, especially if that aircraft type is a big part of the airline’s growth plans
  • Operating a route for the first time really is a mixed bag in terms of how much effort the airline puts into the inaugural

Etihad-A380-First-Class-36

My experience on inaugural flights

In general I’d say it’s worth a moderate amount of effort to take an inaugural flight, at least as an aviation geek. But keep your expectations low.

For example, I took the inaugural Etihad flight from Abu Dhabi to Los Angeles, and the extent of the “festivities” were receiving an inaugural flight prop and certificate. There was no gate party, no executives onboard, no water cannon salute (though that was a function of the drought in SoCal), etc. And that was fine.

Inaugural-Flight

The Qatar Airways A380 inaugural had a small gate party and a cake aboard, though other than that there wasn’t much “production” value.

Al-Mourjan-Lounge-Doha-68

Qatar-Airways-A380-First-Class-085

Meanwhile the Qatar Airways A350 inaugural was the biggest deal, as the CEOs of Airbus and Qatar Airways were aboard, CNN was filming live, etc. That was a huge celebration, both on the ground and aboard.

Qatar-Gate-3

Qatar-Airways-A350-Business-Class-14

Would I go out of my way to take a Qatar Airways inaugural flight?

If I were Deepak, would I spend a little bit of extra cash to take the Qatar Airways inaugural flight to Los Angeles? Here’s what I’d expect:

  • There will likely be a party of some sort at the gate
  • There will probably be an inaugural flight certificate, and maybe a gift bag with some goodies
  • Qatar Airways’ CEO Akbar Al Baker is known for taking inaugural flights, so I wouldn’t at all be surprised if he were aboard, given that this is the airline’s first flight to the west coast of the US (he has taken much less significant inaugural flights); that being said, this flight might be an exception, since it’s on January 1, so he might be on holiday
  • In general I’d expect some gate festivities for the departure out of LAX (including local politicians, airport officials, etc.), which you wouldn’t be able to access; but since the inaugural flight is on a holiday, that might not even be the case

Bottom line

Inaugural flights are fun, and if Deepak is at all an aviation geek, I think it would be worth spending a bit of cash to get on the flight.

I hope he reports back with his experiences, and makes a point of booking himself close to the door, so he can be the first ever passenger to deplane on a nonstop Doha to Los Angeles flight. Now those would be some bragging rights. 😉

Have you ever been on an inaugural flight? In Deepak’s shoes, would you switch to this flight?

Comments

  1. For an airline’s new aircraft inaugural be sure to pick up a challenge coin. I’ve done new aircraft inaugurals on American twice (A321T, 787 though probably should have done the 77W).

    The a321t inaugural was a little weird because the AA-US merger had just completed, and legacy US management didn’t like the aircraft configuration — too many premium seats, they were certain they were going to kill 3-class first on the plane. So the fanfare was minimal.

    http://viewfromthewing.boardingarea.com/2014/01/08/americans-inaugural-airbus-a321-flight-fantastic-product-coast-coast/

    http://viewfromthewing.boardingarea.com/2015/05/08/trip-report-yesterdays-american-airlines-inaugural-boeing-787-flights/

    My favorite inaugural I think was a route inaugural, AA AUS-MIA, I just happened to need to fly that route that day. The city dignitaries who were supposed to come didn’t bother to show up (before 6am…) and AA folks ate the cake the day before, claiming not to know what it was for. So there were no speeches, which is actually a plus… but everyone got coffee, juice, and all the breakfast tacos you could eat in the gate area. 🙂

    http://viewfromthewing.boardingarea.com/2015/03/07/flying-an-american-airlines-inaugural-the-speeches-were-cancelled-but-the-breakfast-tacos-free-flowing/

  2. I got to take JAL 69 from LAX TO KIX Osaka. This year. It was also my sons birthday, he just turned 1 year old. We got to meet the president of JAL. At the same time he gave my son a special gift for his birthday. JAL knew ahead of time that it was my sons birthday. Wow. To get a gift from the president of JAL is so amazing. Somthing I will always remember. To bad my son probably won’t. Haha

  3. What about an inaugural flight of a special livery? i am debating if I want to take the upcoming inaugural flight for the ANA Star Wars R2-D2 livery of new 787-9.

  4. @Rob

    Sorry to say this but, for the inaugural R2-D2 flight. You have to be invited in a contest. Its a star wars dress up contest. They are only giving out a small amount of tickets.

  5. Thanks for responding to my question Lucky! My daughter Ria could not stop screaming and “fan girling” over the fact that “the” Lucky responded to the question and called her awesome! You made her day (big time!). Both Ria and I are aviation geeks (she even more than me, for sure!) and she is the one who introduced me to this awesome blog to start with. We are looking forward to the trip and will take pictures and post them here. Thanks again!

  6. A few years ago I was on Southwest’s first nonstop flight BWI-BOS. I was expecting balloons and some sort of party at the gate. Nope. This was a Sunday (maybe a Saturday). Once on board, the FA welcomed everyone to the inaugural flight and then mentioned that because the PR people don’t work on weekends the inaugural festivities were scheduled for Monday. :/

  7. Hi Lucky – I’m the daughter! Thank you so much for responding! I was screaming around the house before I even got to the part about me! I have my own blog too Aerogeek, which you kinda inspired. It’s more about aerospace than aviation but your AMAZING blog really gave me the idea. I hope to enroll in an Aviation and Aerospace Tech program in college and one day contribute to OMAAT!!! I know you have awesome contributors – maybe I can be a teen contributor?!!

  8. Having worked for public officials I can say there is no way LA city government is coming to LAX for this on a holiday.

  9. I booked a J seat on AY’s first flight of their A350, HEL-AMS, tomorrow. It is one of the short-hauls they are running for crew training so I am not sure if it counts as an inaugural, and I’m not expecting much, but hopefully still be fun!

  10. Best inaugural ever: RTM-MUC on LH. Being able to bike to the airport and see the whole town welcome the CRJ-plane. Then a german band, traditional clothing (drindl/lederhose) wearing staff, distribution of lebkuchen to share and you get a festive feeling that both the airport and the airline are celebrating the new route (and turning it into a mini oktoberfest) It doesnt have to be fancy or glamorous – just getting the feeling some effort is done is enough

  11. January 1st is not holiday in the Middle East! I normally have to take annual leave on days likes these and Chritmas!

  12. Lucky, you missed one more type of inaugural flights: One which is the very first flight of a brand new airline!

    These are made more exclusive by the fact that you don’t have an airline being born every month.
    I had such an opportunity and it was a hoot and a half !

  13. Thank you for this post, I had never really thought about inaugural flights before– although I would love to be a part of one. The Quatar A380 looks like it was fun!

  14. I’m taking AC’s inaugural 787 YYZ-DXB flight next month and am expecting nothing. Although I must admit, I am hoping they’ll do something to acknowledge it.

    Anyone else taking this flight?

  15. I was on the inaugural Vietnam Airlines Dreamliner flight from Ho Chi Minh City to London Heathrow last month which was unplanned and whilst I was only travelling in Economy, we were given 2 Vietnam Airlines drink coasters as a gift. There was no razzmatazz at the terminal either on departure or arrival and the flight was routine enough. Can’t think I would necessarily go out of my way to fly on an inaugural flight based on this experience.

  16. You also missed inaugural flight to/from a brand new airport by any airline!! I was on this to Doncaster/Sheffield, UK. Unfortunately it was a Ryanair flight so nothing special was done at all but the media did meet us on arrival.

  17. +1 on the WN inaugural experience. If it’s a Sunday nothing. I took their first OAK-CMH flight and other than an announcement about this being the inaugural flight, no fan fare, no decorations, no Buckeyes (the candy, not the team). Probably because it was a Sunday. Turns out the celebrations were done in CMH the next day, Monday. Water cannon salute, media, etc. Agreed that PR and the Mayors office do not do weekends.

  18. I am on the inaugural AA flight out of SYD to LAX on 19DEC. Looking forward to it and the B77W and racking up more Aadvantage miles as I will be heading to MIA on the same plane.

  19. I’m booked on the inaugural first non stop from Oakland to Reno on Southwest airlines on Jun-5 (well the route did exist at one point a few years back). I doubt there’s going to be any fanfare 😉

  20. I’m thinking about taking the Air Serbia inaugural flight from JFK to BEG in June. I’d rather have the star alliance miles if I take Swiss/Lufthansa but that’ll be limited since they only provide 50% or maybe even 25% for a discounted coach ticket anyway. I’m thinking it would be cool to be on the first flight and the beginning of Air Serbia’s A330 services.

    Any thoughts?

  21. i just booked a ticket from Long Beach to Reno… it is on jetblue… does anyone have an idea of what is is going to look like? thanks!

  22. Would you go out of your way to be on the inaugural nonstop flight between SIN-SFO on Singapore Airlines ? I have an award reservation on waitlist !

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