Over the past 30 years I’ve been flying all across the globe with almost all passenger aircraft you can imagine and with a huge number of different airlines – on long-haul, short-haul, charter, low-cost – for both business and pleasure.
Of course in recent times I was also flying with the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Praised by Boeing and the media for being “a new way of flying and offering unprecedented improvements to passenger comfort” I was very curious to see what it really has to offer.
To make long stories short, travelling in Economy Class I’m really disappointed by this aircraft and not impressed at all. I’m avoiding flying with it wherever I can and I suggest to all people traveling on long-haul doing the same. The plane is OK for short-haul hops between big cities, but for long-haul it’s horrible!
But why is that?
See, I’m 6.3ft tall (1,91m) but very skinny. I’m very sensitive when it comes to seating comfort and I’ve an expert’s eye on build quality, functionality and materials.
Most cabin improvements I see are actually steps backwards, decreasing comfort compared to older cabin and seat designs.
Of course, the 787 offers less fuel consumption because of using light-weight materials. This is an improvement and step in the right direction to save costs (for the airlines, not for the passengers) and reduce fossil burning. But the reduced weight not only comes from a new way of building the fuselage and components like wings and stabilizers, but also from stripping down the entire cabin, removing anything that adds any extra weight, no matter how minimal, and replacing the already cheap materials with even cheaper ones. This reduces passenger comfort in almost any aspect, but was sold by Boeing Marketing as “big improvements and futuristic cabin design”.
So, basically the airlines are saving money, your ticket prices stay the same or even increase and you’re getting less comfort than before.
Let me show you some examples from a recent flight with LAN Airlines 787 between Europe and South America. Usually I’m flying this route with LAN Boeing 767 or Iberia Airbus A340, A330. So I have a good comparison between “new” and “old”.
1. 787 Seat Design
The seat is uncomfortable as hell! I get back pain almost instantly after taking the seat. This is because they introduced “back support” into the seat. In reality it seems the seat was stripped down, removing all “old-styled” seat cushions to reduce weight. In addition the seats became more narrow and slim to fit in more seats. On the LAN 767 serving the same route, the seats are far more relaxing and comfortable. Iberia A340 offers better seating comfort, too.
2. 787 Arm Rest
The Boeing 787 arm rest is tiny! Any full-grown man has problems finding any comfort on this tiny thing of cheap, hard plastic. It’s too short, too small and because the surface consists of two different kinds of plastic, you get painful pressure mark on your elbow.
3. In-seat screen
Well, I don’t really know what the engineers have done here, but the in-seat screen cannot be tilted! The entire screen is fixed and cannot be moved in any direction. This is a no-go! If the guy in front of you is putting his seat back down – that’s the end for you seeing anything on your screen. What a “great” innovation.
4. 3-3-3 Seat Configuration
A 3-X-3 seat configuration is highly unpopular amongst the majority of international long-haul passengers, surveys have proven. The Boeing 787 3-3-3 (9-abreast) configuration squeezes in as many extra seats as possible. To recover the high costs for purchasing the 787 and to reach the advertised rate for reduced fuel consumption per-passenger. The nine-abreast seating of the Boeing 787 gives passengers less space than on any other jet. Even less space than a 10-abreast 777 or a 737! Way more space on a LAN 767 than on LAN 787! Only exception is ANA with a 2-4-2 layout that features wider seats and more space.
B767, A340, A330 – all offer the more loved 2-X-2 layout.
5. Seat spacing
Already said that the Boeing 787 virtually forces airlines to squeeze in seats, just look at this picture + size comparison. Do YOU want to sit there 10+ hours? I don’t! That’s why I’m preferring to fly with LAN Boeing 767 that offers more room on the same route. (Hey @LAN, why not sell your 787 tickets for a cheaper price than your regular tickets? Would only be fair! Less comfort = cheaper price)
6. Build quality
In general I’m missing attention to detail and build quality in the entire cabin. All feels very cheap, too cheap. A good example for the very poor quality are the cup holders. On all my 787 flights, these have been broken on almost any seat I could see from my position. Why? Because the design of those things is that cheap that it breaks after using a few times.
The plastics used in the cabin are that cheap, that, for example, you can dent the overhead light/air panel with your finger, if using the air nozzle.
No attention to detail at all, you can also see in the fact, that Boeing is using identical wall panels on both, the left and the right side of the cabin, probably to save costs. Because of that, the blue LEDs on the element to control window tinting is on the wrong side if sitting on the left hand side of the plane. No major issue at all but not the level of quality and innovation they are always promoting.
7. Seat pocket
We have the year 2015, and still the old-school metal frame of the 787 seat pocket is maltreating my knees? How unconfortable is that? Come on, today there’re already plenty of other aircrafts/airlines/seat designs that have done this right nicely! No issue on Iberia A340! Acceptable on short-haul but not on a 10+ hours long-haul flight.
8. Table design
Pictures say more than a thousand words. The table is mounted too low. It gets even worse if the seat is put back. Eating in that position promises to be “fun”.
To reduce weight, the table is made smaller than on other planes. It also doesn’t feature an edge to stop the tray from sliding down.
9. Luggage compartments
The 787 Dreamliner offers larger luggage compartments than on any other “older” aircaft. There’s even a mirror to help looking inside. Nice. But this doesn’t help if you can’t reach up there! I’ve never seen so many people standing on seats to reach for their luggage. Another example of bad design.
Boeing promotes the “Dreamliner” to offer a more quiet and relaxing cabin. In reality I cannot notice any big difference to any other modern airliner in terms of noise level. In some aspects I even find it to be more noisy than “regular” airplanes. In any case no particular reason for choosing to fly with the Dreamliner instead of any other plane.
So, if you’re traveling on long-haul and if there’s any alternative, you should definitely avoid flying with the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. It doesn’t give you any advantage over regular planes and offers worse passenger comfort.