Dispatch, Dreamliner: ANA’s 787 brings back grace to air travel

By Kenneth Kiesnoski
On Friday, Travel Weekly Destinations Editor Kenneth Kiesnoski got a first look at one of All Nippon Airways’ Boeing 787 Dreamliners, during an excursion flight from Tokyo Narita. His dispatch follows.

The 787, described and designed by Boeing as an aviation game-changer, is more than three years behind schedule in taking wing with its purchasers. But, as the saying goes, the 787 was worth the wait.

The spacious, high-tech and, dare I say, chic 787 goes a long way toward making air travel gracious once again.

787 windowsANA made headlines earlier this week when it operated the first commercial flight of the 787 Dreamliner, an Oct. 26 charter from Tokyo Narita to Hong Kong. Two days later, I had a spot on the first flight of ANA’s second 787, an hour-plus excursion flight from Narita around the Tokyo area. ANA has 55 of the jets on order.

Airbus’ much-ballyhooed and spectacular A380 double-decker may beat the Boeing 787 in terms of sheer size and capacity, but the all-composite-material, U.S.-built Dreamliner seemed, at least to this frequent flier, to be just as quiet (if not more), “cooler” and less cramped.

That last factor may have had something to do with ANA’s configuration for domestic 787 service: the 2-4-2 seating offers two armrests and nearly two inches of empty space between the innermost seats in economy.

Then, as in-flight gravy, there’s all the other the high-tech wizardry and innovation that Boeing has worked into the 787. The windows are 30% larger than those on other passenger aircraft. The 787 windows don’t have pull-down shades but can be dimmed to a beautiful, still-transparent dark blue at the touch of a button.

And the cabin LED “mood lighting,” which normally mimics the natural progression of daylight, can also, in a very psychedelic twist, display a rainbow of hues upon boarding (as ANA’s 787 did in my experience). Or, lighting offers an array of boutique hotel lobby-like shades of blue, purple, green or any ROYGBIV hue to soothe nervous passengers’ temperaments.

Passengers on my flight, roundtrip from Narita, seemed enthralled. Our silky-smooth takeoff from the airport earned the flight crew a healthy round of applause once we were airborne. I was impressed, in-flight, by the incredible lack of cabin noise — apart from the excited and animated chatter of my fellow passengers.

In place of the roar of any jet engines, I heard the somewhat soothing, low background drone of the 787’s electrical systems (the Dreamliner employs a new technology, completely separate from the engines, to supply electricity to the passenger cabin).

Engine roar is further lessened by the addition of noise-reducing — and, I think, rather stylish — chevrons on the 787’s engine nacelles.

The twin-aisle 787 also features Boeing’s new Sky Interior cabin configuration, which — thanks to the LED lighting, unique overhead bins, large windows and sleek styling — increases the sense of space and chic. Roomy is impression, if not the technical reality (the 787 is actually smaller than Boeing’s 777 and 747, as well as Airbus’ A380, A330 and A340.)

Fliers who board the 787 also enjoy higher humidity and a cabin pressure equal to 6,000 feet above sea level, some 2,000 feet lower than on all other large commercial airliners. That reduces the impact of jet lag and dehydration, according to Boeing and ANA, although my flight was too short to discern the difference.

Mount Fuji from 787Boeing was able up the 787’s onboard humidity and air-pressure factors because the composite materials from which the Dreamliner is constructed are less prone to rust than traditional aluminum airliner skins, an ANA representative told me. Composites, strong and more stress-resistant, are to thank for those larger windows.

After a round of iced green tea and commemorative “First 787 Flight” cookies, plus a flyover tour of Tokyo-area sights such as the new Sky Tree communications tower and Mount Fuji, ANA’s 787 flight crew glided our trusty new Dreamliner, all too soon, back onto one of Narita’s runways.

The flight may have been short but the memory will last a lifetime.

Fans of the new ABC television series “Pan Am,” which portrays and re-creates an era when flying was not only novel but nice, should book a ticket as soon as the 787 starts flying out of U.S. airports. (Barring ANA transpacific flights on the 787, the scheduling of which is still “up in the air,” the first such journeys should be aboard LOT Polish Airlines between New York and Warsaw, starting in late spring 2012).

To all you future 787 Dreamliner passengers: Bon voyage! Or, as they say at ANA in Japanese, “Yoi ryoko-o!”

 
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