Boeing Factory Tour & Future of
There's Plenty for the Plane Buff in the
A stylish modern
building houses Boeing's 'Future of Flight' exhibit which is
the starting point for their Everett Factory Tour.
Read through this
eleven part series for full information on the attractions,
exhibits and rides you can expect to enjoy.
Most of the Seattle area
aviation attractions are strongly (and necessarily) themed on
There is, of course, one huge
exception to this - and the word 'huge' can literally be applied
to Boeing's main assembly building which possesses the largest
volume of any building in the world.
A Boeing factory tour,
supplemented with time in their Future of Flight attraction
before or after, gives you a chance to see state of the art
airplane construction in a vast scale.
The Many Different Aviation
Themed Attractions Around Seattle
Seattle is one of the
birthplaces of the US aviation/aerospace industry, along with
obvious other places such as Kitty Hawk and some not quite so
obvious places such as Wichita.
Whether for this reason or
purely by accidental chance, the greater Puget Sound region has
a treasure trove of aviation themed attractions and activities.
This eleven part series details many of them.
0. Aviation Themed Attractions in the Seattle Area -
1. Museum of Flight, Seattle
2. Boeing Factory Tour & Future of Flight, Everett
3. Flying Heritage Collection, Everett
4. Historic Flight Foundation, Everett
5. Museum of Flight Restoration Center, Everett
6. Heritage Flight Museum, Bellingham
7. Fly in a glider/sailplane/balloon
8. Special Events
Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum, McMinnville, OR
10. Other Regional
Boeing Factory Tour/Future of Flight - Everett
Boeing has several different production facilities in the
Seattle region. Its largest is up in Everett, about 24
miles north of downtown Seattle, and located around the
periphery of Paine Field. This is where Boeing assembles its
widebodied 747, 767, 777 and 787 model planes. The
narrowbody 737s are assembled
slightly south of Seattle, in Renton, WA.
A visit to Paine Field is always fascinating, because you're
sure to see planes that have recently been or are currently
being assembled for all sorts of airlines around the world, many
of which you've surely never heard of before. In addition
there are often some intriguing 'white tail' planes - planes for
which there has not yet been a publicly announced buyer.
A view view of parked planes at Paine
Field - new planes pending delivery, and
some older planes returned 'home' for
upgrades and maintenance.
Boeing's main assembly building in Everett claims to be the
world's largest building both by volume and by usable space,
with a total of 472 million cubic feet of space (13.4 cu m) and
4.3 million sq ft of floor space (398,000 sq m).
As an aside, the world's second largest building as measured
these ways is an Airbus building in Toulouse, which is about one
third the size. The third and fourth largest buildings
also have an aerospace theme - third being the Aerium in Germany
(originally intended as an airship hangar) and the fourth is the
Vehicle Assembly Building that towers over the entire Kennedy
Space Center at Cape Canaveral.
It is a fairly easy drive north on I-5 to get there, with the
general commuter flow of traffic tending to be from north to
south in the morning and from south to north in the afternoon,
so you'll probably escape the worst of the freeway congestion
when you go there.
Figure on 30 - 45 minutes driving time to get from downtown
Seattle to the Boeing tour site at their Future of Flight
One of the 'Dreamlifter' planes at Paine
Field in Everett - four modified secondhand
747-400s that are used to fly 787 parts to
Everett for final assembly.
A Boeing factory tour is in two parts. The main part is exactly
as you'd expect - a guided tour through part of their main
assembly building. The other part is time in the 'Future
of Flight' facility on the other side of the highway. This
is part museum, part interactive amusement arcade, and part gift
The procedure for going on one of these tours is rather
unpleasant. You are 'strongly recommended' to book in
advance; a recommendation I concur with. But when you do
so, you find you are charged a $2.50 'convenience fee' for
booking/buying your ticket online.
Just so as there's no misunderstanding, the people who enjoy the
most convenience for selling what is at best only a
semi-changeable ticket are Boeing. You are paying them a
fee for their convenience. Some other tour operators offer
participants a discount if they'll book their tickets online in
advance, but Boeing charges you extra.
You are then told you have to be there at least 30 minutes prior
to the tour starting. Why? Based on my own
experiences, 30 seconds is all
that is necessary. Actually, in some places, Boeing even
- 45 minutes'.
One has to wonder if the reason for getting you to their
facility so far in advance of a tour commencing is to encourage
you to spend time in their two gifts shops and cafeteria.
What with hidden fees and long checkin times, it seems that
Boeing is becoming more like the airlines it sells planes to.
One has to hope that Boeing's programming of the software in its
planes is better than its programming on its site. After
completing a ticket purchase, I tried to then click on the link
to 'Visitor Tips', but that brought up an error page telling me
I wasn't authorized to view that page. I was also not
authorized to view the page of FAQs, or even the page with
information about spending money in their gift shop.
Way to go, Boeing. Not.
Oh, and talking about hidden fees, you aren't allowed to take
any personal items on the tour. This includes cameras and
camcorders, cell phones, purses and other carried items,
binoculars, and 'etc'. Boeing will, however, happily rent
you a storage locker for 'a small fee'.
There are storage lockets immediately upon entry to the Future
of Flight building, and the rental fee is $1 for a small locker
or $2 for a larger one. There are only 76 lockers, and
Boeing staff acknowledged that in the busy summer months, there
are times when all lockers are rented and there are no more
If you are traveling up by car, maybe the best thing is to leave
such items in your car, in the nearby carpark. On the
other hand, prominent signs throughout the car park warn you not
to leave valuables in your cars.
So you can't take them with you, and you can't leave them
As a happy aside, Boeing don't search their tour participants or
put you through a metal detector, so if you realize
you accidentally forgot to leave your phone or something behind, your secret
is probably safe, just so long as your phone doesn't start
ringing in the middle of the tour.
The Future of Flight building has two gift shops (one selling
aviation themed and Boeing branded things, the other selling a
broader range of regional gifts and travel souvenirs), a
cafeteria, and an exhibition area.
The main exhibition area at Boeing's
Future of Flight
The exhibition area seeks to mask its emptiness by creating the
impression of a runway which is then kept clear, notionally for
planes to come in and land.
There are some 'propaganda' type exhibits by Boeing and some of
its suppliers, and a ride which you pay extra for, but very
There are profiles of the main
commercial jets currently sold by Boeing and
Airbus. The descriptions are fairly
even-handed. I was amused to note the
display for the 787 profile was not working,
but the two Airbus displays were working.
All in all, it was extremely disappointing to see that the
world's largest airplane manufacturer, and one of its oldest,
had such an extreme paucity of exhibits and materials to present
to its paying visitors.
The main reason most of us will go there however is to go on the
Factory Tour. I'd like to show you some photographs of
that, but Boeing doesn't allow any photography on the tour.
Suffice it to say the tour starts off with a 6 minute film presentation
at the Future of Flight building. You then travel by bus
to the main assembly building, about ten minutes away. You
then go inside two of the bays of this enormous building, and
get to see some of the stages of the assembly of 747s, 777s and
The 777 assembly line is interesting. It and the 737
assembly line are moving assembly lines. The planes slowly
move from one end of the building (where they start their life
as component pieces) to the other end, and as they are inching
forward (quite literally - the 777 line moves at a speed of
1.6"/minute) they are slowly being built. It is a bit like
a revolving restaurant, only more so.
There's not really any sense of scale to
indicate the enormity of Boeing's main
assembly building, but note the tiny dots
which are cars and trucks.
It is hard to get a feeling of the size of this building.
To put it into perspective, you could fit all of Disneyland,
plus an extra 12 acres too, into the building.
A guide leads each group and gives an interesting, although
definitely Boeing-biased and Boeing-centric commentary on the
aviation industry in general as well as the specifics of what
The tours last about 90 minutes (my most recent tour was 98
minutes), and after visiting two parts of the assembly building,
you are driven back to the 'Future of Flight' visitor center,
where the tour concludes by readmitting you back into the
building, in the far end of the gift shop.
A Fascinating Revelation
People are getting 'bigger' - you probably know this already,
and possibly even from - oooops - personal experience!
On the other hand, airline seats are not growing apace, and so
what may have once been an adequately wide seat now definitely
seems much too small. And a criticism of the Boeing
narrow-body plane design is that it has been unchanged from its
first form in the 1950s all the way through to now, almost 60
years later. We have got wider, but the planes have not.
But, did you know that in some planes, the seating has actually
got narrower? I was surprised to see a cross-section
cutaway of a 747 which showed eight coach seats across on the
main deck (two seats, an aisle, a center block of four, another
aisle and then two more seats). I asked the guide who
confirmed that originally 747s were configured with eight seats
As you probably know, these days all 747s have ten abreast seats
(3-4-3) - a 25% increase in seating across the same width of
So it isn't just us who are getting bigger. It seems that,
at least in the case of the 747, the seats truly are getting
Note that - in fairness to Boeing - it is the individual
airlines who decide how many seats to put in their planes, not
The Future of Flight building where the tours start from and
finish at is located at 8415 Paine Field Blvd, Mukilteo, WA
98275. It is very well signposted and easy to find -
basically take exit 189 off I-5 and head west, following the
signs for a couple of miles to where you turn left onto 84th St
SW and then left into the car park.
Free car parking is available on site.
If you don't have a car, the easiest way to get there from
Seattle would be to take a tour with
Tours Northwest, which will collect you from your hotel and
return you back there.
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25 March 2011, last update
21 Jul 2020
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