After a sake barrel breaking ceremony at 1130 Tokyo time, I boarded on the bus to the tarmac of Narita Airport from Gate 59A and made my way to Boeing 787 Dreamliner flight NH7871. The exterior of the aircraft is noticeably rounder than conventional ones, and once inside you will notice the high ceiling and large overhead compartments. In the one above me, there was my backpack, a cabin trolley and a holdall, and there was still plenty of room left.
The historic All Nippon Airways flight began taxiing to the runway on schedule at 1220 and took off at 1240. The windows on two sides are bigger than normal but unlike what we were told, those not sitting near them couldn’t see that much of the outside. I was at 14C, an aisle seat by one of the wings so I could see pretty much nothing. They were, however, glare-free as promised. At the touch of a button, they could be darkened to block out sunlight.
On the same flight with me were 239 other passengers, 82 of them also from the media, 100 of them from packaged tours and six in business class who were successful bidders of a charity auction held by ANA. The rest of the seats were taken by people from the carrier, Boeing and Airport Authority Hong Kong’s chief executive Stanley Hui Hon-chung. It was generally agreed among all of us that the cabin was noticeably quieter than other aircraft models of the same size and the air was not as dry. Cabin pressure was also well controlled and my ears didn’t feel blocked.
One problem I had was with the economy seat: seat pitch is between 31-32 inches and it has a hard-shell back and we could only slide forward, not recline. When I tried to slide down, my knees hit the back of the seat in front of me. But a Japanese passenger that I spoke to said he felt the space was sufficient, so I concluded that the seat was simply not designed for someone 183cm tall. The saving grace was the tray table: it could hold a laptop of any size and still offer extra room. Each seat also has a USB port, which I used to charge my iPhone but the content could not be streamed to the inflight entertainment (IFE) system. There are two universal sockets at the bottom of the shared armrest, but there is a design flaw: I couldn’t use my socket when the passenger next to me was using his as we both had clunky BS 1363 plugs and the wires were getting in each other’s way. Slimmer Japanese-style plugs would not have the same problem.
The IFE was actually a little disappointing, with limited choices, and many were in Japanese. There were 14 Hollywood movies such as Green Lantern and X Men, eight Japanese titles and seven "world movies". But the interactive maps were fun to browse, and other than showing where the plane was, I could also get information such as the area and population of a selection of cities by clicking on the markers. There were games such as black jack and Caveman, and there was the option to play them with fellow passengers. I tried to use the seat-to-seat messaging option but few of those I tried to reach even noticed as the envelope icon was too subtle.
Since it was an inaugural flight, people walked around throughout the flight for business talk and interviews so inflight service was frequently interrupted. I got my meal two hours after take off: a rich, cheesy baked seafood with penne, which was delicious except the pasta was too soft. Appetizers consisted of smoked salmon, prawn salad and a slice of salami - not too bad for economy. My neighbour ordered a no-seafood special meal and had to wait 15 to 20 minutes longer before he was served the main course as, he was told, it had to be heated up. But it was obviously a teething problem and it has to be said that the cabin crew was very gracious and helpful during the journey.
I was told that one of the bathrooms had a window, but I couldn’t figure out which one and it was impossible for me to navigate freely with so much activity around. But the facility I used did not have a window, except the famous Washlet and a censor-activated tap. It also felt more spacious than other economy-class lavatories I had used before.
Touchdown was on schedule as well and at 1550 Hong Kong time (exactly four and a half hours later, counting the time difference) we were at the Hong Kong International Airport. Because there was a welcome ceremony, we had to disembark in the middle of the tarmac. We were greeted by a crowd consisting of government officials and the media, and two dancing lions. The ceremony wrapped up at around 1630.
All in all, I think that the aircraft is an ideal option for short haul flights. As reported earlier (see story here), the aircraft is fitted with flat-bed business class seats for long-haul aircraft and economy class seats have a larger 34-inch pitch, which would make it more viable for anything longer than six hours.
For a detailed Tried and Tested review of the flight and more on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, look out for the December issue of Business Traveller Asia-Pacific.