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As I wrote about last month, Japan Airlines recently launched nonstop service between Tokyo Narita and San Diego. New routes are always exciting to me because they generally offer an excellent opportunity for a lot of open award space. The schedule is set well before the airline can understand the true demand on the route and thus the airlines are more willing to open up the cabin.
There was award availability for both classes but knowing this flight would be preceded by First Class on an A380, I decided an angled-flat Business Class seat would be lost on us and not worth the 100% cost premium. In addition, the Japan Airlines holiday special meal of KFC is only served to Economy Class passengers on this flight so there was no way I was missing that!
I completed my first long-haul 787 flight this week and wanted to share my initial impressions.
The Dreamliner is not a jumbo jet.
The Dreamliner is a wide-body aircraft (two aisles) but doesn’t size up to the likes of the 747 or A380. I was tipped off to this fact immediately as Japan Airlines allots only 20 minutes for boarding. As a result, it is unlikely we will ever see 3-class service on a plane of this size. I snapped a few photos with my fellow passengers but in actuality the plane doesn’t look that much different from a 767.
The size is not necessarily a bad thing when looked at from a domestic flyer’s perspective. I can’t imagine ever seeing A380s in use for 2 hour domestic flights but the Dreamliner seems suitable. The Japan Airlines configuration includes 42 angled flat Business Class seats and 144 Economy Class seats.
Japan Airlines has a fantastic Economy seat on its Dreamliner.
We were the first to board the Dreamliner so we could snap a few photos of the new jet. The Economy cabin is configured 2-4-2. I far prefer this configuration when traveling as a couple.
The legroom is incredibly generous for an Economy Cabin, probably the best I have ever seen on a long-haul aircraft. As expected for a 6’1 male, my knees still touched the seat in front of me but weren’t painfully smashed up against the seat like on the Qantas A380. A 5’8 female obviously has things better.
The entertainment system was superb. Every Economy passenger has a large touchscreen with MAGIC V software that was intuitive and responsive. While the technology was good, I found the content extremely lacking on this particular Japan Airlines flight. In the past I found their selection good while this time they had only a few movies and almost no TV shows. It’s also worth noting there were no tail or nose cameras viewable like I have seen on each A380.
The new Dreamliner cabin has a few hits and misses
We’ll start with the hits. The very best part of the Dreamliner can not be captured in pictures. Flying in a quieter cabin that is pressurized more closer to sea level makes a world of difference for long-haul flights. Your body leaves the extended period in the airplane feeling better. It is hard to quantify but the improvement is unquestionable.
The new cabin includes a more stylish design than your everyday wide-body including stylish lighting, larger bins, and larger automatic windows. While it looks cool, I can’t say these factors add much to the flying experience.
The windows are larger and feature an automatic control. Either they weren’t working properly or we didn’t know how to use them because one of our two windows would go completely blackout while the other still let a little light through. Most of the flight was overwater and at night so I will hold judgment on this feature until I am flying over a more interesting view. Assuredly a bigger window can’t be worse.
The bins are huge and should alleviate the overstuffing prevalent on domestic flights. However these bins pull down so far into the aisle that no less than 5 people smacked their heads on the bins in my vicinity, including yours truly. This is a borderline design flaw in my mind.
Interestingly enough, one of the Economy bathrooms was shockingly spacious offering the most square footage I have ever seen in an Economy bathroom.
KFC for breakfast!
This has nothing to do with the Dreamliner but in my mind, KFC and the Dreamliner will forever be inextricably linked. Our Holiday flight left at 5PM local time in Tokyo and was set to feature KFC. At around 630 PM, the dinner cart came through the aisle and I could barely contain my excitement. The flight attendant finally arrived and handed me a card with Chicken or Beef as my dinner selections and I collapsed into my seat. In my mind, some sort of catering switch must have occurred and we would be deprived the KFC I was so looking forward to.
After watching Batman and a quick nap, we were awoken for breakfast. I had already given up all hope on KFC until the flight attendant asked if we wanted juice or coffee as I feasted my eyes on this beautiful box! A high five was in order.
Colonel Sanders delivered me the Economy Class meal of a lifetime! I couldn’t be more ecstatic.
It wouldn’t be a trip to Japan if something wasn’t lost in translation. We polished off our plates by eating each component of the meal separately until we looked over and realized we were supposed to make a sandwich out of the flatbread, chicken, mayonnaise and lettuce. Whoops.
Boeing 787-800 Dreamliner vs. Airbus A380 vs. Boeing 747-8i vs.
International First Class is amazing but I am an Economy flyer at heart. I have been fortunate to sample three of the newest aircrafts in Economy Class this year and find there are important differences. My three flights for comparison were Qantas A380, Lufthansa 747-8i and Japan Airlines 787 Dreamliner.
While each promise passengers a laundry list of new ‘revolutionary’ features, the only revolutionary feature of these new airplanes in my opinion is the cabin noise and air quality/pressurization. The A380 and Dreamliner are the real winners in this category, with the A380 gaining the slight edge as the overall best aircraft based on the lowest inflight cabin noise. The 747-8i is no slouch either but its core, it is still a modification on a very old aircraft design so it doesn’t match up with the two new kids on the block.
It is important to keep in mind that the best aircraft does not always equate to the best flight. Each airline operator of a new aircraft chooses its own seats and seat configurations, so you have to take both the seat and the aircraft into account.
Of the three long-haul Economy flights, the best was easily this flight from Japan on the Dreamliner because of the spacious Japan Airlines Economy seat combined with the quieter cabin and better air. The Lufthansa Economy seat on the 747-8i was fantastic but did not have the quiet cabin and air qualities of the other two. While the A380 is the the best aircraft of the new breed in my opinion, my flight on the Qantas A380 featured seats that were so cramped resulting in the worst flight experience of the three.
These are my opinions. What are yours?