For aviation and travel geeks alike, one of the biggest travel stories over the past year has been the roll out of Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner aircraft.
The plane has been celebrated for its environmental advancements and innovative design. Boeing says that the 787 uses up to 20% less CO2 than similar aircraft, and has a 40% smaller noise footprint at takeoff. Half of the structure is made from carbon fiber composite material, which is more resistant to fatigue and corrosion (which means the planes will last longer).
More important to passengers, the 787 is pressurized to a lower altitude – 6,000 feet instead of 8,000 – which should reduce the dryness and fatigue that many people experience on long haul flights. The plane also has 40% larger windows and dynamic lighting (no pull down shields!) that should also help with jet lag.
After significant delays, the airlines that ordered the first planes have been receiving them and putting them into service. All Nippon Airways of Japan (ANA) was the inaugural airline to start using the Dreamliners, launching in Tokyo on Oct. 26, 2011. They were followed by Japan Airlines this year, who has been flying Tokyo-Boston on 787s since April. Ethiopian Airlines took delivery of its first Dreamliner earlier this month.
Now comes LAN, the first airline in the Americas to get its Dreamliner. In all, the South American airline has ordered 32 planes that will be phased in over the next 10 years (at a cost of roughly $4.9 billion). Routes during the first year that will use the aircraft include Santiago, Buenos Aires, Lima, Los Angeles, Madrid and Frankfurt.
(The first U.S. airline to get Dreamliners will be United, which just this week announced that it would be flying the aircraft on some domestic routes this fall before it goes into international service).
This morning, I had a chance to tour the interior of one of LAN’s Dreamliners before it took a press flight to Santiago. I have taken LAN long haul flights twice before, to Easter Island and to Chilean Patagonia, so I was interested to see if the inside would really feel different. While some of the new features that the 787 has are standard, the airlines have the option of customizing them or adding new seat configurations.
One major feature that LAN embraced is the open “dome” that passengers see when they walk on the plane. It’s a major feature of Boeing’s design as it makes the entire aircraft feel more airy, even in economy. As you go down the aisle to your seat, there’s none of that cramped feeling that you normally get – or at least it feels that way – because you have more space over your head.
(Not all airlines buying 787s went with this option; United, for example, elected not to get the dome or change its seat configuration significantly from the 777s that it already has).
Another 787 innovation is the overhead bins, which were specifically designed so every passenger could bring on a roller bag. Although they are 30 percent bigger, it seems like they are less intrusive than the ones on the current planes.
LAN is also using the new planes to put forward a brighter color scheme inspired by South America. Even passengers in economy class will get a blanket, for example.
That being said, I’d still envy those in premium business in their lie-flat beds and massaging chairs!
Currently, I don’t have any upcoming flights scheduled on a 787. After seeing the Dreamliner today, though, I felt a little sad that I don’t. One thing is for sure: My next long haul to Europe is going to seem a little drearier, now that I know what else is out there.