‘The Dreamliner is the plane of the future’ said Barack Obama in 2012. He wasn’t wrong – today 554 planes are in service with 41 different airlines across more than 350 routes.
But what exactly is so special about the Boeing 787 Dreamliner?
Its capacity isn’t revolutionary, carrying up to 330 passengers depending on airline. There are plenty of planes that carry more passengers from A to B.
Whilst the Dreamliner doesn’t focus on volume, its success is driven by recognition that size isn’t everything in air travel, allowing airlines to refocus on quality of flight for all rather than just the privileged few. This seems to resonate especially well with low cost carriers seeking to develop their long-haul networks – Norwegian has successfully aligned their brand with the Dreamliner, helping them win Best Low-Cost, Long Haul Airline at the Skytrax Awards in 2017. Economy passengers are likely to feel the most benefit – I recently flew from Gatwick to Los Angeles with Norwegian for a remarkably small amount of money.
It’s smoother, roomier, faster, more efficient and ultimately a much nicer place to sit for hours on end. They’re easy to spot, just look for their iconic seemingly over-curved wings and sleek lines. Most of the fuselage is carbon rather than aluminium, allowing Boeing to go above and beyond previous limitations in aircraft design. When compared with other aircraft, it’s 40% quieter, 20% more fuel efficient and produces 20% less Co2 emissions.
Cabin conditions significantly improved
Planes fly at around 40,000 feet but cabin pressure is normally simulated to be around 8000 feet above sea level (not too much higher than Europe’s highest ski resort). This can feel uncomfortable at the best of times especially as older planes draw their cabin air supply directly through the engines. The Dreamliner’s cabin pressure is set to 6000 feet and fresh air is drawn in from directly outside, improving air quality and making breathing, sleeping and chilling out a whole lot easier. The Dreamliner’s carbon fuselage also allows for higher humidity because it isn’t made of moisture-sensitive aluminium, again edging closer to ‘real world’ conditions that won’t dry out your contact lenses.
What’s more, the cabin is far roomier – ceilings are 2.4m high, overhead lockers are enormous and windows are 65% larger than the Boeing 767. The extra room is fantastic for moving around and the windows are electronically dimmed at the touch of a button (using a similar technology to reaction or photochromatic lenses in reading glasses). Boeing claim an 8x reduction in cases of motion sickness onboard and it’s all linked to the horizon – research suggests that being able to physically see the horizon reduces the possibility of feeling queasy in the air. The Dreamliner’s windows are so large that even passengers in the middle rows can benefit.
The ride is smoother too – turbulence will always exist but the Dreamliner’s ‘Gust Suppression System’ uses sensors across the plane’s various flaps and rudders to combat the effects of bumpy air (working similarly to computer controlled rolling weights atop of tall buildings in earthquake prone areas – the idea is to move the opposite way to the external force in an effort to neutralise its effects).
All of this equates to what Norwegian Airlines call ‘More Jet, Less Lag’. Long haul flights are still long-haul flights but fresher, more ‘real’ air combined with anti-motion sickness technologies help you arrive at your destination feeling less groggy.
Take a look inside with this 787 Dreamliner Virtual Tour
Many technologies rise to popularity because of the access they grant to otherwise inaccessible lifestyles – just as Uber and Lyft give everyman a personal chauffeur at the touch of a button, the Dreamliner experience with Norwegian Airlines gives even economy passengers a personalised hospitality with its on-screen payment service for snacks, beverages and duty-free. Simply select your toasted sandwich and coffee on screen, pay by swiping your card and wait for delivery a few minutes later.
The Dreamliner also considers the small things that really do matter – toilets on board have motion sensor flushing fitted, self-closing seats and dedicated opening tabs. Not exactly key selling points but Boeing have looked at every aspect of passenger experience in an attempt to make flying that bit more bearable.
Younger children will love the ‘rainbow light’ display that some airlines like Norwegian use above the aisles before landing commences. Check out a video here.
As with all things that break the mould, there were teething problems with the Dreamliner project – its maiden flight was 2 years behind schedule and the first commercial flight did not take off until 2011 (Tickets were auctioned off, with the highest bidder paying $34,000). During the first few years of operation issues with some of the newer technologies in the plane grabbed headlines but as we head into its 11th year of production and 10th model iteration, the reality is this; the Dreamliner is altering the way we look at lower cost long haul air travel.
Below you’ll find a list of airlines using the Dreamliner and the number currently in operation (last updated in July 2017).