My wife and I trekked up to Seattle this weekend to witness a friend’s graduation from college. We had a great time, celebrated a remarkable achievment, and enjoyed visiting with some friends we hadn’t seen in ages. After leaving Snohomish on Sunday, we decided to do some long-overdue touring in the area before heading back to Portland. High on my list of must-sees was the Boeing assembly plant tour in nearby Everett.
For aviation geeks like myself, it doesn’t get any more fascinating than seeing the birthplace of so many huge airliners — or so I thought. Approaching the “Future of Flight” building, where the tours start, is impressive. The aircraft assembly building is massive, a cavernous hulk dominating nearly 100 acres. My palms were sweaty as we turned into the parking lot.
My first clue that I was descending into a corporate self-lovefest was the short video presentation that begins the tour. It consisted of a montage of various planes, from the Monomail to the B-1 bomber, all streaking across the skies to soaring background music. There’s a handful of employees in the ’20’s, applying fabric to the wings – cut – there’s the space shuttle roaring from the launchpad – cut – there’s a B17 taking off from England to crush Hitler – cut – there’s a 747 floating into a sunset – cut – and on, and on, and on. Never was a word spoken, nor a single bit of information exchanged. It was a feel-good fluff piece that looked more like a commercial than the start of an informational tour.
Then we were herded onto buses and driven across the complex to the assembly building, all the while listening to the lightweight patter of a vaguely disinterested tourguide. She spun off wondrous facts like “The first Boeing airliner was the 707. Since then, the 7 codes have incremented until we finally see the newest product – the 787!” Fascinating. Also not quite true. She pointed to the hundred-foot-tall picture of the woman plastered on one of the massive hangar doors, staring skyward in anticipation. “That image was actually taken from a German cookie ad,” she droned. Okaaaaaay. And…?
You can’t help but be awed by the assembly lines themselves. We were lofted to a fourth-floor observation deck and given a quick rundown of which plane was made where, and how they moved through the assembly process. The rooms seem to stretch for miles. The gleaming silver fuselages below us were 777’s, tagged with their recipients (Air Canada and Emirates Air had dibs on these). Naturally, I wanted to get down closer and actually see how they were put together. As if anticipating my curiosity, our guide launched into a discussion of the heating and air conditioning systems built into the hangar (they have neither), and before we knew what was happening we were being prodded back onto the buses.
Dumped at the gift shop, we saw the first trace of excitement on our guide’s face as she watched us toddle off into the store. All in all, an unsatisfying, quick, and nearly informationless tour, that was surprisingly expensive, considering. Come on, Boeing… would it really hurt so much to inform a little, maybe educate? I was left shaking my head at yet another example of the corporate navel-gazing that’s sweeping the nation. Oh well, scratch one must-see off the list.