Boeing dream takes flight
Improved lighting, roomy cabin among features that impress on 787’s inaugural passenger trip
ABOARD ALL NIPPON AIRWAYS FLIGHT 7871 – It’s the plane that is supposed to change the experience of flying.
No more stuffy noses, dry throats or severe fatigue. Larger windows provide a stronger connection to the world outside. And mood lighting can either ease jet lag or turn the plane into a nightclub at 40,000 feet.
And for the most part, Boeing’s 787 succeeds. Flying in it is more enjoyable. But it’s still flying.
There has been plenty of hype surrounding the 787, a long-range plane marketed as the Dreamliner that carried its first passengers Wednesday on a four-hour flight from Tokyo to Hong Kong. It has been called “revolutionary” and “a game-changer.”
And, indeed, a sleek design makes the plane stand out the moment you step on board. A higher ceiling – at least the perception of one – reduces claustrophobia. And natural light pours in, creating a welcoming feeling.
The biggest benefit should come from features that fight jet lag. Those couldn’t really be experienced by the 240 reporters and aviation enthusiasts who made the relatively short inaugural flight.
They include a doubling of the humidity, to 16 percent, and bringing cabin pressure closer to what it feels like on the ground. Planes are normally pressurized to 8,000 feet, higher than any point on the East Coast. Air inside the 787 is made to feel the equivalent of 6,000, slightly higher than Denver. The pressure and humidity changes should lead to fewer headaches and leave passengers with more energy after long trips.
The short flight also didn’t provide for a test of the full impact of LED lights that slowly change color, another fatigue-fighting feature. The impact was felt when the cabin lit up in a funky rainbow display. Add some loud music and it’s not too hard to imagine a bachelorette party at 40,000 feet.
The lighting concept is being rolled out on other aircraft, including new models of the narrow-body 737. European aircraft maker Airbus also offers something similar on new A320s.
Another noticeable feature: the windows. The plane’s strong carbon-fiber frame, which allows for the humidity and pressure improvements, enables windows 30 percent larger than those on traditional aluminum-body planes.
Boeing replaced window shades with an electronic tinting feature. Click a button below the window and it slowly starts to darken. It never completely blackens – you can still see out – but enough light is blocked to make sleeping possible. Not that anybody was trying to sleep during the boisterous inaugural flight.
Boeing says the overhead bins are the largest on any plane, with enough room for one carry-on bag per passenger.
The plane is also supposed to be much quieter, both for passengers inside and people on the ground. Engines with a wave pattern in the metal reduce the roar, although Boeing won’t say by how much.
And a lighter plane allows for more padding to protect passengers from noise and vibration. Wednesday’s flight seemed quieter, but a handheld sound meter registered noise levels similar to Boeing’s 777. Airlines have already purchased almost 800 of the original 787 because of promised fuel savings and the ability to open up new routes. Japan’s All Nippon Airways is the first to fly it. United Continental will be the first in the U.S. sometime late next year.
There are some features that Boeing can’t control. Individual airlines determine how much legroom passengers get. They also pick between a roomy eight-across seating arrangement or a more cramped nine-across layout.
All Nippon has eight seats in each row and installed a double armrest for the middle seats, providing a few extra inches of personal space.
And in the end, isn’t that all we want?
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