I was lucky enough today to grab a seat on one of the American 787 Dreamliner flights on the inaugural day. I used the Same Day Change feature yesterday to grab one of the open seats on the 12:10 pm return ORD-DFW segment.
And I’m awfully glad I did. Not only was it a bucket list item, but I learned something of critical importance to me (and maybe to you!)
FINISH your cell phone calls and data work BEFORE you board the flight.
I lost my cell signal immediately after boarding and afterward I was not able to maintain a viable cell signal on the ground in Chicago. I chalked it up to a strange location on the airport grounds or perhaps a lot of inaugural flyers all trying to upload videos and finish calls. Quite a few passengers around me in the center of the plane were experiencing the same cell phone signal issues.
But then upon landing, I had the same issue on both my iPhone and iPad – and it persisted even after I tried all my usual tricks. When I thought about it, I had the same issue last week at the 787 preview event (and then I chalked it up to being inside of an airplane inside of a hangar).
Luckily one of the testing technicians from Panasonic (the manufacturer for some of the 787’s cabin systems) was sitting behind me. As we chatted prior to deplaning, I asked him whether 787 cell phone issues were my imagination or a real issue.
He gave up a bit of a laugh and said “yes, that’s a known problem”. I trust him to know since their team has been flying with the 787s on all of their pre-passenger testing. He said that he and his colleagues have experienced the problem firsthand and determined that 787 cell phone interference is a real thing.
It turns out that the 787, while fabricated from composite materials, uses a wire rebar for structural integrity. That rebar apparently interferes with cellular signals on the plane. He told me that AT&T was known to have issues although some of his colleagues had better luck with T-Mobile phones.
While my signal came and went, I definitely had trouble holding a steady connection – and I never got LTE or 3G/4G connectivity during the duration of my time onboard on the ground in either ORD or DFW.
The important lesson I learned?
Don’t board a 787 early and expect to have connectivity during boarding or delays. I’ll be finishing my important calls before I jump on the plane and not relying on the gate time to download a few final files. 787 cell phone interference will definitely change my pre-flight patterns!