Tried & Tested

All Nippon Airlines B787 Dreamliner Economy

25 Nov 2011 by BusinessTraveller

BACKGROUND After more than three years’ delay, the first commercial flight for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, operated by launch customer All Nippon Airways (ANA) and numbered NH7871, took to the sky on October 26. It was a charter flight and Hong Kong International airport was chosen to welcome the maiden landing. The Dreamliner started serving domestic routes in Japan in November, with international routes beginning in December with Tokyo-Beijing, followed by Tokyo-Frankfurt from January 21.

CHECK-IN ANA staff directed me to counter area C at Terminal 1 of Narita International airport for check-in. Because this was the inaugural flight, the procedure finished unusually early at 0730 for the 1220 departure. I was allocated aisle seat 14C by one of the wings, and in the usual Japanese fashion the process was well organised and swift, as was security and immigration.

BOARDING After speeches and the traditional kagami-wari (sake barrel-breaking ceremony), boarding began as scheduled at 1140. We had to be taken by bus to the apron, possibly owing to an incident a few days previously in which an airbridge scratched the new plane. But it may also have been an attempt to give passengers a better view of the aircraft’s exterior, which is noticeably more contoured than other jetliners. On board, crew were stationed throughout the cabin to answer questions.

The first thing that caught my attention was the plane’s high ceiling and large storage spaces. My overhead compartment could fit a wheeled cabin trolley, a holdall and my oversized backpack with plenty of room to spare. Not everything was ready, though – the bar, which was located between rows five and six and was supposed to display drinks, was empty. I noticed that the windows were larger than average but I didn’t quite get the open view I had hoped for from my aisle seat. I had previously been given the impression that even passengers not seated by the windows would have a good view of the outside, but I found the difference to be negligible.

THE SEAT ANA’s short-haul B787 is configured with two classes, with business class taking up two rows in a 2-2-2 layout, and economy in a 2-4-2 arrangement across three cabins, totalling 32 rows (click here to see the seat plan). The business seat features a hard-shell back and offers 57 inches (145cm) of legroom. The economy seat is also in a hard shell and upholstered in fabric in the airline’s signature blue shade, with the head-rest cover showing ANA’s omnipresent “We fly first” slogan. I found the seat uncomfortable – while it is just as wide as most economy seats (18.5 inches/47cm), there was not much legroom and it slid forward instead of reclining, which, with the restricted pitch (31-32 inches/79cm-81cm) and my six-foot frame, meant my knees hit the back of the seat in front.

Each seat had a nine-inch LCD touchscreen monitor for the audio-video on-demand (AVOD) in-flight entertainment (IFE), which showed 14 Hollywood films, eight Japanese titles and seven world movies. A lot of the TV programmes were in Japanese. The interactive maps were fun and educational, providing information on a selection of cities as well as the usual features. The IFE also included games such as black jack, and multiple passengers could play them together.

I tried the seat-to-seat messaging function but some of the passengers I attempted to contact didn’t notice, as the envelope icon was too subtle. There are two universal sockets fitted in the shared armrest, but I couldn’t use mine at the same time as the person next to me as we both had chunky plugs. Each seat also has a USB port, which I used to charge my iPhone, but I noted the content could not be streamed to the IFE system. (The airline says that eventually its international B787s will have the capacity to do this.) The fold-down tray table could hold a laptop of any size with room to spare.

WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? On this short-haul version of the aircraft, I would choose rows three or six, at the front of their respective sections, as they have more space in front. Row 23 next to the emergency exits also offers more legroom, although it is close to the washrooms.

THE FLIGHT Two things we were told to expect were a less arid environment and no blocked ears caused by changing air pressure. The B787’s cabin air is vented directly from the outside through dedicated inlets instead of passing through the engines, and the crew can also adjust the humidity according to the number of passengers. The cabin is compressed to resemble an altitude of 6,000 feet above sea level, instead of 8,000 feet, so we were breathing in more oxygen. The electrochromatic glass windows, which darkened at the touch of a button, were glare-free and gentle on the eyes. I am sure these factors would have made a big difference on a long-haul flight, but for a journey of this duration (four and a half hours), I didn’t notice them too much. Still, the cabin was noticeably quieter than on conventional aircraft, which made conversation easier.

The crew demonstrated the LED lighting a couple of times by changing the colour, though, again, for a short-haul flight this feature is not that important. (On long-haul flights, lighting is programmed to help passengers adjust their sleep pattern to the time zone of their destination.)

As it was the inaugural flight, the service was not as usual. I received my meal two hours after take-off. The appetiser comprised smoked salmon, a prawn salad and a slice of salami, which was not too bad for economy, while my main was seafood gratin, which was delicious, although the pasta in it was soggy. There was also a Japanese option of pork ragoût in soy sauce. A good selection of drinks was available, including whisky, beer, wine, juices and ANA’s “aromatic kabosu”, a refreshing citrus beverage. My neighbour had to wait 15 to 20 minutes longer for his main course because he had ordered a special no-seafood meal, and the staff explained, apologetically, that it had to be specially heated up. But it was obviously a teething problem, and cabin crew remained gracious and patient despite all the activity from journalists and industry people walking around.

ARRIVAL We were told that the Dreamliner was equipped with a “gust suppression” system that would mitigate turbulence, but the plane still shook a little when approaching the runway. Touchdown was on schedule at 1550 local time, exactly four and a half hours after departure. Owing to a welcome ceremony, we had to disembark on the tarmac and then take a bus to the terminal. As a Hong Kong citizen, I was able to make use of the self-service immigration checkpoint so was through to baggage reclaim quickly.

VERDICT Other than the painful seat design, the flight was reasonably enjoyable. This being a short journey, I didn’t have enough time to appreciate the B787’s innovations, so hopefully I will get to fly on it long-haul soon.

Fact file

  • SEAT PITCH 31in-32in (79cm-81cm)
  • SEAT WIDTH 18.5in (47cm)
  • PRICE Internet rates for a return economy class flight on board the B787 from Tokyo Haneda to Okayama started from ¥28,640 (£232) in January, or from Tokyo Haneda to Hiroshima from ¥32,540 (£263).

Reggie Ho

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