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Why All The Fuss? The Boeing 787 Dreamliner Flight Experience

When I left for my Dreamliner media trip on Saturday to cover All Nippon Airways’ (ANA) new service from Mineta San Jose International Airport to Narita International Airport in Tokyo, little did I know that this would be one of the last 787 flights before ANA, and now the FAA, grounded the entire fleet for inspections yesterday. Our group included a number of aviation experts. Take Ronald Kuhlmann, for example, who has over 40 years of commercial aviation experience under his belt. It seems there is not an aircraft or airport-related question Ron cannot answer; he explained that mechanical issues with a new airplane model are unavoidable and to be expected. That said, he/we acknowledged that fires and airplanes do not mix, which is why the recent battery problems are of particular concern, and ultimately led to the grounding of the fleet.

Boeing 787 Dreamliner Inaugural Landing San Jose
ANA Boeing 787 lands in San Jose on January 11, 2013 for the inaugural flight to Tokyo

Why airlines care. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is a big deal The launch of the 787 is a big deal. Years of design and development went into it, so much so that the final release was significantly delayed. The revolutionary change is that the Dreamliner is the world’s first major airliner to use composite materials, instead of aluminum, for most of its construction. It consumes 20% less fuel than a similarly-sized aircraft like a 767, making it significantly more cost-effective for airlines to fly with less environmental impact. As a consequence, there are over 800 orders outstanding for Dreamliners from airlines around the world. To date, 50 have been delivered. Of that 50, 17 are operated by ANA, more than any other airline; their investment is substantial and ANA is betting the farm on the Dreamliner’s success.

Boeing 787 Dreamliner LED Lights
Rainbow of LED lighting for boarding

Why we care. The Dreamliner passenger experience is phenomenal My dirty little secret is that I’m afraid of flying. It’s totally irrational, I know, but turbulence and I don’t get along. I never let this fear get in the way of travel. And I do have moments where I enjoy the flight experience. An incredible view, a fantastic in-flight sunset, and/or a tremendous Business Class experience all create happy flight memories for me. The Dreamliner is designed to be comfortable for passengers on long-haul flights. ANA’s Dreamliner only has 158 seats (46 Business Class seats and 112 Economy Class seats) — it’s the luxury, boutique aircraft of today. International flights usually take 45 minutes to board. No so with the Dreamliner; before I knew it, the 787 was loaded up and ready to go. My Dreamliner experience was in Business Class, how bad could that be, right? I often fly Business Class for transcontinental travel and have experienced premium service on all commercial large aircraft models across several domestic and foreign carriers. That said, every one of the highlights outlined below are shared by every passenger, irrespective of their class of service.

Boeing Dreamliner 787 Flight Experience Highlights

Boeing 787 Dreamliner Cabin Ligthing
Cabin colors subtly shift for different stages of the flight

Exceptional light and ambiance The 787 utilizes LED lighting to impact passenger mood by changing the color and quality of light inside the cabin. It works. From the colorful rainbow while boarding, to soothing lavender, to warm tones — these subtle colors induce different states of relaxation during various stages of the flight. The Dreamliner features bigger passenger windows that let more natural light into the cabin than other large commercial planes. In addition, plastic window shades have been replaced by a button that adjusts the brightness of the window using an electrochromic dimming system. I have no idea what that means, but the impact is extraordinary. Every passenger selects a different degree of tint on their window (from light to almost completely dark) and instead of feeling boxed in the aircraft when all the plastic shades are down, it still feels airy, even when the majority of shades are the dark mode.

Boeing Dreamliner 787 Window
Large windows with button activated dimming

No more petri-dish in the air The Dreamliner uses high efficiency filters to improve air quality in the cabin resulting in fewer bacteria and viruses floating about. Less ear discomfort The cabin is pressurized at a lower altitude and as a result, is more comfortable on the ears. I can’t say I noticed a difference here, although I’m rarely bothered by cabin pressure. Parents traveling with babies and toddlers, however, will surely appreciate this upgrade.

Boeing 787 Dreamliner Cabin
ANA’s Business Class cabin with staggered seating

Higher humidity level There’s nothing worse than feeling parched during and after a long-haul flight. The Dreamliner boasts a higher humidity level than other aircraft. I did feel a difference here … and note, I gave ANA’s award-winning wine list a solid test drive and still felt good! More peaceful in the air The Dreamliner features quieter engines, as well as a quieter air-conditioning system. It’s absolutely more peaceful en route than other aircraft. I also felt like there were fewer random noises at different points of the flight. Fellow fearful flyers share what feels like bionic hearing in the air. Although, this may have been due to our good weather across the Pacific.

Boeing 787 Dreamliner Bathroom Window
Dreamliner bathroom with a window

Superior bathroom I love the Dreamliner’s bathroom. It has a window (!) and as a result feels less claustrophobic than the usual aircraft bathroom with loads of natural light. Best of all, it uses a no-touch flushing system where you hit a button to flush, but there is no need to touch any part of the actual toilet or cover. This feature also ensures that passengers always find a closed toilet when they enter the bathroom and also cuts down on unpleasant lingering smells. Since we were still in Tokyo when ANA grounded their 787s, we had the opportunity to take one of ANA’s 777s home. This was my favorite aircraft but it suddenly feels dated. That said, there are many fabulous ANA Business Class features shared between both models. I’ll provide a full ANA flight review next week.

Editorial Note: ANA covered all expenses related to my Dreamliner media trip to Tokyo. As always, all opinions expressed on Ciao Bambino are our own.

Photos by Amie O’Shaughnessy

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