Living the Dream(liner): My first 787 flight


It was day three of scheduled commercial service for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, operated by ANA, and I was on board. No, it was not the actual inaugural flight, but I still managed to get there within the first week of operations and I could not be more excited about the experience. It was awesome. That’s not to say that everything about the aircraft is perfect, but the experience certainly was.

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My flight on the Dreamliner was from Hiroshima to Tokyo‘s Haneda airport. The trip is only about 400 miles and the total time in the air was just over one hour so it wasn’t really sufficient to try out everything on board, especially the effects of the higher pressurization (though I don’t recall my ears popping like usual, but I’m also not great at noticing that because it happens so often) and the more moist cabin air, but I still managed to put it through the paces as best I could.

Boarding was quick and efficient, as expected from the Japanese. Still, they allotted an extra 5 minutes to the process as they knew this was a special experience. There was something of a crush of gate lice to the self-boarding gates as they announced that boarding was available. Fortunately my Star Alliance Gold status (and being the big, ugly American) got me towards the front of the crush and on reasonably early in the process.

Business Class Cabin

Nothing really to say here; looks pretty comfy but this also is not their premium long-haul configuration so I’m not too worried about it.

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Economy Cabin

There has been a bit of concern since Seat Guru published their guide to the seat map of the aircraft about the seat width in coach. The 2-4-2 layout (which really is more like 2-2-2-2 without an aisle in the middle) lends itself to a very generous seat width yet the reports on the site show the width as a hip-crushing 16.5″. Good news, folks. That data is just plain wrong. The bulkhead rows, where the tray tables are in the arm rest, have the narrower width but the rest of the aircraft has a quite generous 18.5″ or more width. The seats are quite roomy.

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Seat recline is an interesting change from a typical airplane configuration. The seat back doesn’t actually move. Instead the seat-bottom slides forward about three inches and the back slides down a bit, creating the same effect as reclining. But it does so without imposing the seat on the passenger behind you. This sucks if you have long legs and also want to recline as you’re basically stuck but it is great for folks (like me) who hate having someone reclined into you.

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The AVOD system is pretty nice, with 9″ screens in coach. That’s about as big as you can get being so close to the screen and still be able to watch comfortably. There is a seat-to-seat messaging system and the screens can be used either as touch screens or with the controller. I was rather unimpressed with the music and video selections; no movies (though maybe because the flight was too short) and only a couple dozen short video programs plus maybe a dozen CDs for music. I hope that’s just because they don’t have the content fully loaded and not because it is going to be such a paltry offering going forward.

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I’m also a big fan of the built-in cup holder in the tray table. They have two, one if it is open and one if it is closed, meaning that you can use the tray table for a laptop or other purposes and still have somewhere to stow a drink. Definitely a nice touch.

And then there is the mood lighting. Lots of fun there. The flight attendants were playing with this feature a bit, particularly during boarding and de-planing. It is fun, but I’m not sure it adds much value to the in-flight experience. It does demonstrate the ability to control the lighting levels to a very granular level, which I suppose is a very useful thing.

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The windows are HUGE. It was a night flight so I’m not sure how much this really matters, but they were noticeably larger than on older aircraft. We’ll have to see what the net effects of this are in the long term but it certainly was nice. The electronic dimmers on the windows were a bit sluggish to react but they behaved exactly as advertised in the end. Again, a night flight made it hard to really evaluate the impact of this but it was certainly neat.

In the lav

The Japanese and their toilets. Touchless flushing (it puts down the seat, too!) and bidet functions (designed by Toto) are built in to the toilets. There’s also a window in the lav by 3L (though not at 3R). I do like a lav window.

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It isn’t perfect

OK, maybe my expectations are just too high. Still, like one of the notes in a review offered up by Kerwin I noticed a few quirks in the flight. It was VERY quiet at cruise, and I was sitting just aft of the wing so I should’ve had engine noise to some extent if there was much. During the flight there wasn’t. That said, the mechanical noises surrounding the operation of the flaps and other wing control surfaces were pretty loud. Again, maybe just because I was sitting basically on top of them, but Kerwin noticed it, too.

There was also a strange “whine” going on throughout the flight. It was very high pitched – like an old tube TV going bad – and I have no idea if others noticed it or not. It kept going even after the engines were shut down upon arrival so I’m guessing it has to do with the electrical power plant on board. No matter what, it was pretty annoying. Not enough to ruin the experience, but if it really is like that going forward I can see it being a problem for me flying on this aircraft.

Finally, the new overhead bins, while well designed for baggage, are not particularly well configured for an adult to climb in. I’m thoroughly disappointed in that development.

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It was a great day and a great trip. I’m definitely looking forward to getting back on board soon.

Oh, and if you want to check out the pre-flight safety video it is here:

Read more from this Trip Report under the Dream2011 tag here.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

19 Comments

  1. Best line: “Finally, the new overhead bins, while well designed for baggage, are not particularly well configured for an adult to climb in. I’m thoroughly disappointed in that development.”

    Love it!

  2. Great report. Can’t wait for the long-haul version of this bird to enter service. Nice video… I’m a fan of those 😉

  3. Great report. So they are wasting the long range efficiency maximization of this plane by using short haul configs? Strange…but then Japan is known for those high density domestic flights.

    1. I’m not so sure they’re wasting it here so much as putting it through the required paces to get things tested and all the crews appropriately trained. Once that’s done routes like HND-FRA and other long-haul trips will open up. Also keep in mind that there is a need for high capacity on a number of the short-haul flights internally in Japan. The number of wide-bodies flying <1000 mile routes is quite impressive. So they'll use the efficiency of these aircraft to meet those needs.

      As for the overhead bin bit, I was actually explicitly chided on that front the first time I was in the 787, almost exactly a year ago. Apparently they know of my proclivity to cause trouble.

  4. @Seth,
    I love your report; especially the lav pictures :-).

    Agreed with @Seth on the training bit @MileCardInsider. The short flights are training runs for everyone. On my flights they were careful not to use the cross wind takeoff runway at HND; this disappointed the fans in the waving gallery, but they did use that runway on landing :-).

    The thing that most impressed me on my flight was the flight departed at 10:15a from OKJ and they started boarding at 9:55a. They were done by 10:10a! Everyone seated with doors closed and ready to go.

    Yeah, that whine is strange; its like a signature of the plane and I heard it on both my flights. I hope one of the Boeing engineers reads this and can explain it.

    Without the Star Alliance Gold status, I boarded with the “normal” people :-)… It was fun to watch everyone board though :-). Their process is so simple! Not sure why they give you a piece of paper with your seat number if you used your paper ticket since the seat number is already on the ticket. I twas awesome to see folks using their phones to board; NH has had this for a while. Will add some videos of that later.

  5. Not to be negative, but other than colorful lights (presumably just at boarding) and bigger windows (Many planes have windows in the loo already), was it really that different of an experience?

  6. I wonder if the whine that you heard is an artifact of the lighting system. I know that the dimming uses PWM (pulse-width-modulation), which can cause high pitched sounds depending on how it’s used.

  7. I think it is the lighting or maybe the IFE. Either way, if that is going to stick around long-term then I’m going to have trouble flying it regularly.

  8. I like the mood lighting, but want to see a picture of the big windows )Too bad the overhead cabins are not big enough to climb in Seth. You should design your own Dreamliner.

    1. Check out the photos of the bathroom, Charu. There’s a window in there, too. 😀

      I put my arm up against the window and the inside window pane from top to bottom was from my elbow to the top of my finger tip. It was very tall. I couldn’t get my camera far enough away while keeping my arm against the window and still getting the whole thing in the frame. It was big.

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