NOT All Dreamliner Configurations Are Created Equal

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We gather miles and points and look forward with excitement to booking an award ticket. We’ve even got enough in our stash for a business class ticket… for TWO! We have our eye on a route and airline and we’re excited because they fly a Dreamliner 787. Maybe we’ve flown a Dreamliner before and can’t wait to fly it again, or maybe it’s our first time and we’re stoked. If this is you, and you either have a Dreamliner flight booked or hopes of booking one in the future, and you actually LIKE the person you’ll be flying with and want to share a fun Dreamliner experience with them, this post is for you. Why? Because not ALL Dreamliners are the same! And I don’t want you to have the same disappointing experience I recently had.

I’m a Dreamliner fan and given some routing choices, I will even position myself in a city to fly the Dreamliner. I wouldn’t consider myself an aviation geek, but I do enjoy flying different planes and seeing what they have to offer. Over the past few years, I’ve become enamored with the Dreamliner, so recently I positioned myself to Calgary, Canada just to fly Air Canada’s Dreamliner to London. I found out something startling… at least startling to me. All Dreamliners are not the same in the way each airline designs the interior. Up until this point, all the Dreamliner flights I’ve flown had similar designs, so this potential difference in design never occurred to me. But Air Canada’s design has two major flaws.

What is the Dreamliner?

Before I get into the specific design flaws, let me share some research that I found quite interesting. Let’s talk about the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, just to make sure we’re on the same page… or same plane. Then you’ll understand why I favor this plane and what’s so special about it.  According to Wikipedia:

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is an American long-haul, mid-size, wide-body, twin-engine jet airliner made by Boeing. Its variants seat 242 to 335 passengers in typical three-class seating configurations. The 787 was designed to be 20% more fuel efficient than the Boeing 767, which it was intended to replace. All Nippon Airways was an early adopter of the Dreamliner. Back in 2012, ANA surveyed 800 passengers who flew the 787 from Tokyo to Frankfurt: expectations were surpassed for 90% of passengers; features that met or exceeded expectations included air quality and cabin pressure (90% of passengers), cabin ambiance (92% of passengers), higher cabin humidity levels (80% of passengers), headroom (40% of passengers) and the larger windows (90% of passengers). 25% said they would go out of their way to again fly on the 787.

I’d agree with all of these benefits of the Dreamliner experience, and it for sure puts me in the category of people who would go out of their way to fly on the 787. In my research I realized there are two main variants of the Dreamliner: 787-8 and 787-9. The Dreamliner 787-9 has the larger capacity. The largest operators were All Nippon Airways (59), Japan Airlines (33), United Airlines (32), Qatar Airways (30), Air Canada (29), and American Airlines (29). I’ve also flown on a Dreamliner operated by LATAM Chile.

What does the Dreamliner look like inside the cabin?

Each airline configures its Dreamliners somewhat differently. Most have two cabins, business class and economy. The configuration of the long-haul Dreamliner business class cabin varies by airline. All airlines have installed true 180° lie-flat seats in their long-haul Dreamliners business-class cabins. Lighting is fully adjustable. In addition to an overhead light, there is a small LED reading lamp. Each business-class seat also has a USB port that can be used to charge a smartphone and a power outlet (which accepts U.S. and European plugs) to power a laptop. Each seat has a video display (size varies based on airline) controlled by a remote that has a small keyboard to facilitate use. Passengers can also watch the moving map, which provides a variety of views. The Dreamliner’s Filtrated Air System is probably what most people, including me, like the best about this plane. You really do notice the difference. Fresh air is introduced into the cabin via air scoops on the side of the fuselage. On the 787, an additional gaseous filtration system removes odors, irritants and gaseous contaminants, which are some of the primary contributors to throat, eye and nose irritation. When you disembark after flying on the Dreamliner, you’ll feel much less like a dry skinned lizard!

What happened on my recent Air Canada Dreamliner flight?

I’ve been particular about my flights for as long as I can remember. I like lie-flat seats, business class on long-haul flights, and I prefer the window to aisle. And I do prefer the Dreamliner. Except, as I found out, NOT Air Canada’s Dreamliner in business class. OK, finally the bottom line. If you’re traveling with another person, and I suspect that’s what most of us do most of the time, you’d take the two seats in the middle so you’d be able to talk and share the flight, right? Take a look at the photo of the Air Canada seat design and you’ll see a wall panel in between the two middle seats. It’s high, and it doesn’t come down!

Air Canada Business Class. Image source: https://www.seatguru.com/airlines/Air_Canada/Air_Canada_Boeing_787-900.php

If you take a look at the photo of Qatar’s 787 design, you’ll see a big difference. What was Air Canada thinking? Even the awful old design of, for instance, British Airways business class seats, have dividers that go up and down.

Qatar Business Class. Image source: https://www.seatguru.com/airlines/Qatar_Airways/Qatar_Airways_Boeing_787-8.php

If you’re of average height and want to enjoy your flight with someone, this design really misses the mark. I can’t imagine flying with kids in business class on this Air Canada plane because I imagine it would be difficult to have this divider between you and your child. I talked with the crew about their Dreamliner interior design and they agreed with me. They told me that people who have flown other Dreamliners have the same reaction.

What about the Dreamliner overhead bins?

The other feature I found awkward was how the overhead bins are designed. In their advertisement, Boeing says, “The pivoting overhead bins are very easy to open and move to make it easier to place one’s bags inside. It is possible to move items in and out of a bin without stepping into the aisle. When open, the bins are a bit low so head-bumping remains a possibility.” The bins are not placed directly over the seats, but rather off to one side so that you’re standing over another person when you open and use your overhead bin. As for the bins being low, on this plane they were actually too high for me to reach and the guy sitting behind me had to help me. I’m not short nor am I weak, so I found this to be odd. The bin issue isn’t nearly as off-putting as the middle seat divider, of course, but still awkward.

What was my overall experience of this Air Canada flight?

The flight itself was great. I think Air Canada has upped their game in terms of their food and general customer service. The last time I flew them was a few years ago, and it was such a messed up experience I haven’t wanted to fly Air Canada since. So what did I learn about my preferred Dreamliner plane and its different variants and designs, and what would I do next time? I do use SeatGuru to check on planes, flight numbers, equipment, seats, and so on, but what I’ve never done is paid any attention to the photos that people post on SeatGuru. If I see something awkward in a photo, I can check it out. Seems like every awkward flight experience seems to have a silver lining and you learn something new, so I’m chalking this disappointing Dreamliner flight up to experience.

So now a few questions for you! Do you prefer the Dreamliner 787 to other planes? Do you go out of your way and fly certain routes to experience different planes or airlines? Ever had a flight experience where the interior design of the plane struck you as “what were they thinking” as this one struck me? Let me know in the comments below!

10 thoughts on “NOT All Dreamliner Configurations Are Created Equal

  1. Miles

    FYI – Not every airline has fully flat business class across their 787s. I know JAL still has 787s with angled lie flats that they use on a few long-haul routes.

    Reply
    1. Shelli Post author

      This is good to know! Since I won’t fly angled flat in business, I’ll be sure to check on this. Thanks for reading and adding your comment, Miles.

      Reply
  2. George

    @Miles

    Indeed.

    What kills for me whenever I’m flying the AC Dreamliner is that there is no wifi available. How come? It’s 2017! I got really shocked when I discovered this specially because I have flown AA 789 which is basically the same (including the seats in business class).

    Another thing is that I think BA And KE offers first class in their 789.

    Reply
  3. Jinxed_K

    My comment may be a little biased since I’ve only flown in one 787 configuration and my only regular international trips are to Japan using JAL’s BOS – NRT route.
    At least for now, I’ll go out of my way to stay flying on this 787 since it has one less seat abreast, giving a little more room in Economy. I hear the industry standard is 3-3-3, but JAL goes with a 2-4-2 economy and a 2-3-2 premium economy. Kinda nice when traveling alone and not have to worry about a middle seat on the side seats if I’m in my usual aisle choice.
    I will be flying their premium economy product later this year, but my previous two experiences with standard economy was definitely a nice ride with their Sky Suite seats. Being 6’0 and somewhat overweight, I still had some room to shift in my seat to get comfortable. I also didn’t run into any issues with the plane itself like overhead bins, electronic shades, or lavs.

    Reply
    1. Shelli Post author

      Sounds like you’ve got your 787 system in place and it’s working well for you! Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, JK.

      Reply
  4. Shelli Post author

    Great point, George. I flew WestJet up to Calgary and the crew told me they didn’t have any electronics that would let them check on schedules/gate arrivals etc. Not even on WestJet. This made no sense to me. I’ve been on other non-WestJet flights where the crew had tablets that would let them check on all airline info. First class on a 789…….interesting. Didn’t know that. Thanks for reading!

    Reply
  5. phoenix

    I took an AC 787-8 YVR-YYZ business class and I loved the seat! I was flying by myself and took a window seat so the stuck divider didn’t matter to me. I also didn’t have an issue either putting my bag in the overhead nor having someone lean over me getting his/her bags into the overhead either (as a matter of fact, I recall asking if he needed a hand…. oh so Canadian of me!). The only downside was the seat itself was a bit lacking in lumbar support, “fixed” by putting the pillow behind my lower back.

    The good points of the seat easily overruled the bad, in my mind. The touchscreen is fantastic, the seat controls are clear as day, there’s a ton of storage, and AC even modded the tray table to make it a little bit more convenient.

    Reply

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