Testing the Boeing 787 Dreamliner

The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner is supposed to revolutionize air travel. It promises a better cabin climate, less airsickness, reduced jet lag, fewer headaches…and even babies that may not cry as much. The Wall Street Journal put these claims to the test in a recent flight from Tokyo to Frankfurt.

Boeing points to design changes both inside and out of the cabin that make for a better ride. With a body largely constructed of super-strong plastics—carbon-fiber composite material—instead of aluminum, the 787 can have higher cabin humidity since rust isn’t a worry. The humidity level in the Dreamliner cabin is 10% to 15%, compared with 4% to 7% typical in other airplanes. But 15% is still extremely dry—about the same relative humidity as the average summer afternoon in Las Vegas, according to meteorological data.

The cabin is pressurized to a lower altitude than conventional jets, lessening the effects of being high in the air, such as headaches and fatigue, because of a 6% improvement in oxygen absorbed by the body at 6,000 feet compared with 8,000 feet. Studies show big windows help reduce motion sickness, Boeing said, and LED lighting that can simulate sunrise, for example, can help ease jet-lag effects.

A new aircraft stability system that will make for smoother rides in turbulence is still only partially functional in the five 787s in service, but an updated software load planned within weeks will improve the ride even more, according to the aircraft maker. Fuel efficiency and emissions are 20% better than the Boeing 767, a similarly sized jet.

And the personal takeaways from Scott McCartney, the author of the WSJ piece:

I flew from Tokyo to Frankfurt on Feb. 3 and could feel the Dreamliner differences. My contact lenses didn’t dry out as much as they usually do on long flights; same for my nose. I only slept an hour, partly because a nearby infant wailed several times during the night, even though the Dreamliner is supposed to lessen air-pressure pain in babies. Still, I wasn’t dragging as much as I usually am after sleepless overnight trips.

Small details do make a difference. The plane comes standard with individual air vents over passengers, something that is rarely found on wide-body jets. That gives each passenger more control of air flow and temperature. And the large 787 window offered a beautiful panoramic view of Tokyo on departure.

The Dreamliner ranks as the fastest-selling commercial jet in history, with 59 airlines around the world ordering 870 of them. The Dreamliner should start appearing at U.S. airports later this year.

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