June 5, 2014

Just Another Airplane? 20 Hours Aboard the Boeing 787 Dreamliner

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Written by: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren
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Ethiopian's first 787 Dreamliner. (Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/NYCAviation)

This week for Throwback Thursday, we revisit the 20 hours that we spent onboard an Ethiopian Airlines 787 on its delivery flight.

I’ll just cut right to it: Flying aboard the Dreamliner is pretty darn sweet. The windows are indeed huge and the dimming function is mind-blowing (and yes, sufficiently dark). The state-of-the-art interior makes every other cabin seem dull. The wing is downright beautiful with its sweeping curvature and raked tip pointing upward toward the deep blue hues of the final frontier. And perhaps most impressive is the truly astonishing amount of flexibility in the airframe: During a period of turbulence the GEnx engine practically bounced on the fairing, while in the cabin the side walls appeared to bow in and out against the seats. I stared for awhile in disbelief, my momentary fears of total structural failure allayed by the unconcerned expressions on the faces of Boeing folks aboard.

EngineOther features are not so obvious. Having heard the 787 marketing shtick more times than I can remember, I can rattle off just about every behind the scenes passenger comfort development in my sleep: The lower altitude cabin pressurization, the higher cabin humidity, the smoother ride, etc. I spent a lot of time trying to notice these improvements over the course of 20 hours in flight and I can’t say there was a “Yes, I noticed it when…” moment for any of them. I did feel less thirsty throughout the flight, and not nearly as dry, but who knows, I could’ve been imagining it. The pressure component appears to me that it would have been a wash since we landed in a city that sits at 7,500 ft above sea level, an altitude just slightly lower than the 8,000 ft current tin planes are pressurized to.

Turbulence, supposedly lessened due to tiny adjustments made automatically during flight, did not just up and disappear. In fact the final approach to Addis Ababa was one of the bumpier rides I’d experienced in some time. The only way to compare this one in particular would have been to fly the exact same route on the exact same day at the exact same time on a different airplane type. Still, I can say I felt pretty good after a 13-hour overnight flight in coach. I just can’t quite put my finger on why.

PHOTO GALLERY: Onboard Ethiopian’s First Boeing 787 Dreamliner

Ethiopian 787 DC to AddisUpon arrival in Addis I received a few emails from some friends asking how the long flight from DC had gone. I recall thinking about it and then writing back something akin to: “it was good, but at a certain point it’s just another airplane.” I am pretty certain that a number of readers have likely just labeled me a heretic and are warming up the stake as I type, but 13 hours in a tube – even a brand new plastic one – is still 13 hours in a tube. I continued, saying there’s only so much looking out the window one can do, and it does not take long before you’re working the window controls like a boss. But after that, well…it’s an airplane flying you from point A to point B. It’s cool — it’s darn cool in fact. But it wears off.

It wasn’t that long ago that I flew aboard a Boeing 777 for the first time, and I was crazy excited about it. The engine spool-up on the behemoth Boeing produces a sound that has to be in the pantheon of the great auditory experiences the planet has to offer. That plus the sheer size, the myriad of sights and smells — I just love that airplane. Yet, after having spent 20 or so hours over three days on a Dreamliner, stepping onto a 777 to head back to the US from Addis was a let down.

Flight DeckI couldn’t help thinking, “You can’t seriously expect me to sleep without the soft blue lights on the ceiling lulling me off to dreamland, right? What do you mean my window shade has only two settings?? Open or shut, that’s it, really?!? Good gravy, how will I ever survive without the extra humidity!? I…I feel so…so parched! That wing looks so…last generation.” (Incredible how quickly one develops a sense of entitlement whilst flying, isn’t it?) Maybe it was the obscene number of time zones crossed, but it occurred to me that the airplane left much more of an impression than I initially gave it credit for.

In any case, I suspect that is precisely how the general flying public will feel about the Dreamliner too. We’ll all get off the airplane feeling a little better but not quite understanding why, and as soon as we board the next plane — which for awhile is unlikely to be another Dreamliner — we’ll find ourselves wondering how we ever managed to fly across the country in a chair seven miles up in the sky going 520 mph without variable opacity window shades, or how on earth we could ever be relaxed at 35,000 ft without mood lighting set to local time.

Just another airplane indeed.

About the Author

Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren



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  • Nevon Katerson

    Love this article.

  • Sahir Siddiqui

    Love it! Love the 747. Love the 777, and learning to love the A380 sausage. Looking forward to my first 787 flight (Singapore Tokyo & return) in July!