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Dreamliner – Whose Dream?

January 22, 2013

I was – sort of – lucky enough to fly the Dreamliner from London to Doha at the beginning of this month, before the hoo-haa over malfunctioning batteries, or whatever else the engineers identify as the root cause of the new aircraft’s teething problems.

Whoever cam e up with the term “Dreamliner” was clearly not thinking of passengers when they came up with that sexy epithet.

When I checked in for the flight, the agent proudly informed me that I would be flying on the new aircraft. Interesting, I thought. Let’s see what the hype was all about.

I hate to say that as far as this passenger is concerned, the Dreamliner experience was far from dreamy. No worse than any aircraft I’ve flown, but not dramatically better. Same old economy ordeal in which the human body is assumed to be oblong, with no inconvenient protruding bits like elbows and knees. No improvement in seat comfort or pitch. Nothing significantly different in the entertainment system except that the screen is marginally larger.

None of this is surprising, given that an aircraft is basically a shell, to be filled and configured at the airline’s request. So the airline basically puts old wine in a new bottle. Bigger windows are pretty irrelevant if you’re not sitting in a window seat or flying at night. Pastel-shaded lighting? Not much of a calming influence if you’re seated next to a passenger whose obesity overflows into your extremely limited personal space. Reduced engine noise in the cabin? Not that I noticed. Improved air quality? Well anything is likely to be better than Boeing’s 777, where you feel that you’re breathing at high altitude without the compensating benefit of freshness and spectacular view. Same old bugs circulating around, as far as I can tell.

There is one improvement. You can actually stand up in the loos, even if, like me you’re over 6ft tall. This is a distinct advantage over other aircraft, where you have to bend your frame to fit the contours of the fuselage to do the needful. I suppose that there will be those who extol the erotic possibilities of the Dreamliner loos, if that kind of encounter is to your taste.

And that’s it folks. So to come back to the question: whose dream? Not the passenger’s dream. Not the cabin crew’s dream either. I got talking to one of them, who told me that the aisles are narrower and the distance between galleys is greater that on the aircraft they previously flew. So their jobs as human pack animals have just become significantly more tiring. Narrow aisles do not bode well for passengers with long legs that reconfigured on every flight by obligatory collisions with passing carts.

So the Boeing 787 may be the airline’s dream with its fuel efficiency and range. But for you, dear passenger, it’s more of the same, with the added prospect of an exciting ride down a chute at the end of the flight.

Of course they will fix the battery issue – there’s too much at stake for it not to be fixed, and fast.

As a passenger, my dream is simple. Space, speed and ease of embarkation, ease and speed of disembarkation. And none of these things are under Boeing’s control. As far as I can see, unless you are prepared to shell out thousands for business or first class travel, there is nothing that a 787, an A380, or any other “next generation” aircraft can do to improve the flying experience.

So get used to it – the new normal is the old normal. It’s the price of cheap travel – still relatively cheap despite the efforts of grasping governments to extract ever more revenue from the aviation economy.

From → Business, Travel

  1. Ken Moore permalink

    Steve, great blog, as ever, however I note your comment regarding the slightly larger screen on the dreamliner. To pharaphase Monty Python, we dream (pun intended) about screens on the god awful flight from Raleigh North Carolina to London. What we have in front of us is fabric, no screen, nothing, zilch. Ken Moore

    • Well yes. In order to enjoy the view, you actually need to have one. And blue shy loses its attraction after a while… S

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