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A step forward on Dreamliner flight

By Andrew Stevens, CNN
October 27, 2011 -- Updated 0849 GMT (1649 HKT)
The first commercial flight of Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner from Tokyo to Hong Kong.
The first commercial flight of Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner from Tokyo to Hong Kong.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • CNN's Andrew Stevens reviews the maiden flight of Boeing's Dreamliner
  • Better lighting, impressive windows but still cramped in economy
  • New effects and engineering gadgets make the flight a nicer experience
  • But in coach a long haul trip will still be a drag

Hong Kong (CNN) -- I am something of a plane spotter. I can spend hours at an airport watching planes taking off. Yes, I know that sounds a little bit sad but when I was told about this assignment to cover the maiden 787 passenger flight from Tokyo to Hong Kong I got pretty excited.

With that it mind here are my thoughts on Boeing's claims for the 787 "passenger experience."

Larger windows

Boeing says: The larger windows allow for spacious views making every seat a window seat. Passengers can individually adjust their environment by electronically darkening or lightening with a push of a button, blocking the light but not the view.

Stevens: This is true. For me, it's perhaps the best thing about the 787.

The windows are about 30 percent bigger than the aircraft's predecessor, the 767. They are also much higher so you don't need to hunch over to see the view.

You really do get the feeling that you are seeing a lot more of the world passing by.

Dreamliner's first flight -- three years late

They also have a manually operated switch that can tint the glass to a darker shade which stops light getting in but still allows you to see out. It takes a little time for the full change in the color of the glass but preferable to the snap open/shut blinds.

On board the Dreamliner
Dreamliner lands in Hong Kong

Cabin altitude

Boeing: Cabin is pressurized at a much lower altitude so passengers will experience fewer headaches and less dizziness and fatigue.

Stevens: Because the plane's wings and fuselage are made of composites -- basically a high-tech plastic reinforced with carbon fiber which is lighter than traditional aluminum -- humidity and cabin pressure can be increased, which makes the plane's environment closer to a ground-like environment.

It's pressurized to 6,000 feet rather than the normal 8,000 feet of other comparable size aircraft.

On our four-hour flight it didn't really make a difference to me. Long haul is where it will be noticeable, although some passengers on our flight said it felt fresher.

Cleaner air

Boeing: Cabin air is much cleaner than today's commercial airlines. Fresh air comes from scoops on the side of the fuselage rather than coming from the engines. Along with the standard filtration system the 787 has additional systems that together can help to reduce throat nose and eye irritation for passengers.

Stevens: I can only take their word for it. See above.

Seven reasons the Dreamliner is special

Smoother ride

Boeing: Passengers benefit from smoother ride technology that senses turbulence and counteracts it. Travelers can enjoy a more comfortable flight with significantly less motion sickness.

Stevens: Interesting one. A passenger just in front of me for whom flying is his "passion" told me that the conditions were perfect for flying -- no turbulence.

But we did encounter some minor jolts coming in to land at Hong Kong.

ANA's first officer on our flight, who had been seconded to Boeing for four years, told a pre-flight news conference in Tokyo that the aircraft had weather/turbulence censors which activated changes in the wing shape to help combat any rough ride.

A Boeing spokesman told me the plane was able to flatten out extreme up and down movements caused by turbulence.

But because it was such a good day for flying, it apparently wasn't put to the test.

Architecture

Boeing: From welcoming entryways to larger windows to vaulted ceilings to blue-sky effects the plane's features ensure that passengers will be enjoying the flight. And since the plane was designed around the passenger there will finally be enough room, as the pilot says, to move about the cabin.

Stevens: In economy, where I was, it was still a struggle to get past anyone in the aisle and impossible if the drinks trolley was doing the rounds.

The seats appeared to be pretty standard economy class style. But one of the first things I noticed when I got on was that the ceiling of the fuselage was higher.

The effect was also enhanced by sophisticated lighting from the LED system and the fact that the overhead luggage bins were less obtrusive. So sitting down and looking up gave the impression of more space.

Larger bins

Boeing: With a unique cabin architecture and design passengers have ample room to easily stow at least one large roll aboard bag in an overhead compartment close to their seat.

Stevens: Yes. How long before more low-cost carriers start charging for those bags though?

LED lighting

Boeing: Adds variation and ambiance to the cabin. The lights can gently simulate a full flying day gradually changing through a spectrum from dawn to dusk, enhancing the flying experience.

Stevens: The lighting system has been designed to a dawn-to-dusk effect that helps maintain the circadian rhythms that tell our body when it's time to sleep.

Boeing has spent a lot of time on the lighting. The "blue-sky" lighting that greets you on a daytime flight is replaced by a softer yellow light when meals are served. It also does a mean rainbow effect but I'm not sure what that's for.

The 787 has been built as a medium-size long-haul aircraft where sleeping matters.

In conclusion

So all in all, an impressive flight. Is it the game-changer that Boeing says it is? Certainly there are enough new effects and engineering gadgets that make it a nicer experience.

At the end of the day, though, in economy a long-haul flight will always be a drag.

No matter how big the windows are or how effective the lighting and air quality is. But this is definitely a start.

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