We tour the new United Airlines Boeing 787-9 before first LAX-Melbourne flight

United Airlines this week launched a new route from Los Angeles to Melbourne, Australia. It is being flowing six times weekly on a Boeing 787 and will shift to daily next year.

United held a party at LAX to celebrate. Why airlines throw parties to mark new flights, I am not sure, as most fliers booked seem unnerved or confused by the pomp. But nonetheless, I was there, and I toured United's first -- and so far only -- Boeing 787-9 aircraft. (Apologies for the poor photo quality-- my iPhone 6 Plus should arrive soon.) 

Here's what I learned. 

United's Boeing 787-9 is simply a longer version of the Boeing 787-8 that United has been flying since 2012.  Like its predecessor, the 787-9 has modern in-seat video in business and economy class. Unlike the "older" 787, however, this aircraft is equipped with wifi. 

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The Boeing 787-9 has slightly better range than its smaller counterpart -- 8,500 miles compared to about 8,200 on the 787-8.  That's a good thing for this Australia route, which United says is the longest 787 route in the world. 

The routes this aircraft flies are so long that United has installed these comfortable bunks for pilots. Many flights will carry four pilots, with only two flying at one time. 

Many frequent fliers hoped United would update its business class configuration with the new aircraft. Some believe that Delta, which offers a 1-2-1 configuration on most of its aircraft, has a better product since all seats have direct access to the aisle. American Airlines is installing a similar configuration across its fleet. 

But United's new 787s still have a 2-2-2 configuration in business class. So passengers in the window seats must climb over their seatmates to reach the aisle. The good news is that frequent fliers have reported that United is testing new seats with direct aisle access. Perhaps they will be installed on new aircraft within the next couple of years. 

I also think the new in-seat screens have better resolution that earlier models, but I could be wrong. 

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And finally. Here's a photo of the Koala United hired to attend the Melbourne flight party.