New 787 Dreamliner worth the hype?
Take a look inside Jetstar's new Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Fresh off the inaugural flight from Seattle, Fairfax's Matt O'Sullivan shares what's in store for future travellers.PT1M44S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2vnsj 620 349 October 17, 2013
Australia's first Boeing 787 Dreamliner landed on time in Melbourne last week, according to Jetstar's published schedule for flight JQ7878.
But it was five years late for the Qantas group which, in December 2005 under former CEO Geoff Dixon, announced plans for Jetstar to take delivery of its first 787 in August 2008, with The Flying Kangaroo to follow in mid-2009.
Was the long wait worth it? Does the Dreamliner live up to Boeing's marketing hype, which promises the next-generation jet will deliver the world's best in-flight experience for passengers?
Not so different on the outside, but Jetstar's first 787 distinguishes itself on its maiden flight with a host of in-cabin features. Photo: Pat Scala
In a word, yes.
I travelled on the delivery flight of Jetstar's first Boeing 787, from the Boeing facility at Seattle to Melbourne with a stopover in Honolulu, and it proved an excellent real-world test of what differences the 787 will deliver to the business traveller and frequent flyer
(And yes, I was a guest of Jetstar and Boeing on this special invitation-only flight – but such invitations buy my time, not my words.)
That sense of space
Some of the Dreamliner's travel-friendly traits were immediately evident, even on the relatively short five-hour flight between Seattle and Honolulu.
Walking onto the 787, I'm immediately aware of the sense of space afforded by the redesigned cabin.
I've experienced it in mock-ups and on a brief promotional flight arranged by Boeing between Sydney and Brisbane in June last year.
The raised ceiling, larger recessed luggage bins and even the gentle LED lighting all make for a less confined cabin, edging you away from that claustrophobic sense of a flying sardine can.
Think of the interior of the latest Boeing 737-800s that you may have flown on Qantas or Virgin Australia, then imagine the same design stretched over a wider twin-aisle aircraft, and you'll be getting close to the 787.
On take-off and throughout the flight, I'm struck by how quiet the Boeing 787 is – even more so than the Airbus A380 (then again, the A380 is a much bigger bird with two more engines bolted to the wings).
You can easily chat to your seatmate without lifting your voice, although you'll still want to pack that trusty pair of noise-cancelling headphones.
The 787's oversized windows let natural light flood the cabin, further contributing to a sense of openness.
However, with the first hours of our Honolulu-Melbourne leg being pre-dawn, the cabin crew sensibly invoked the windows' electric dimming to prevent sunrise from waking the mostly-sleeping passengers.
Instead, we flew wrapped in a pleasing light blue hue, although you could still make out details through the dimmed windows.
From the flight's start to finish, the air in the cabin seemed fresh and crisp rather than thickly stale. There was none of the dryness I've come to expect at the end of a long trip.
I wasn't continually reaching for the water bottle, my eyes didn't feel dry nor my sinuses blocked.
With much lower 'cabin altitude' levels (6,000 feet above sea level, compared to 7,500-8,000 feet in most conventional passenger jets) and twice the average amount of humidity – both of which bare possible because the 787 is largely built using carbon-fibre composites instead of metal – I walked off the 12-hour flight from Honolulu to Melbourne feeling better than any flight I've ever taken.
Jetstar's 787 seats
As for the seats on Jetstar's Boeing 787 – don't expect much difference from the low-cost airline's current Airbus A330 aircraft.
The compact 21-seat cabin at the front of the plane is business class in name only.
With a 9-inch recline, 38-inch pitch and 19-inch wide seat cushion – and allowing another two inches for your turf on the arm-rests – it's closer to premium economy seating on a Qantas A380 or the revamped Boeing 747s.
Yes, there's room enough to cross your leg and stretch out a bit, but you can forget about the seats converting into a flat bed (even the angled flat-bed of Air Asia X's premium cabin).
That's entirely appropriate for Jetstar, being a low-cost airline which has the leisure traveller in its cross-hairs.
Business class on a JQ 787 is best framed as a bit of extra comfort for the cashed-up holiday-maker.
Each seat has a touchscreen 10.6-inch display with a modest selection of content which can be viewed from gate to gate.
You also get your own power socket and a USB port to top up your smartphone or tablet.
However, there's no space to keep any of that carry-on kit close at hand, unless you toss the contents of the seatback pocket into the overhead bin.
The best seats in Jetstar's business class cabin? Those are 3G and 3J, which sport an extra two inches of recline because they’re designated as crew rest seats.
3G/3J won't be available for bookings on Jetstar’s longest 787 services of Melbourne-Honolulu, as they'll be set aside purely for crew use – but they’ll be up for grabs on most shorter flights.
Otherwise, plump for any seat and do your best to avoid the middle ones in this 2-3-2 configuration.
The 314 economy seats ranked in a 3-3-3 layout are pretty much what you'd expect in terms of legroom: a tight-fitting 30-inch pitch with a 5-inch recline, an 18-inch wide seat cushion plus an extra inch of armrest space.
Again, it's par for the course on a low-cost airline, although the slimline design does afford a little extra room at the knees while the scalloped seatback does a fair job of cradling your sides.
It's also worth pointing out that while Jetstar's Boeing 787 packs in an extra 35 passengers compared to the Airbus A330s the Dreamliner will replace, the 787 has one less lav – and I'm unaware of any feature of the 787's design which makes those mid-flight trips to the toilet less frequent.
David Flynn is a business travel expert and editor of Australian Business Traveller.