BACKGROUND Thomson is the first UK airline to take delivery of the Boeing B787 Dreamliner and, despite frequent delays, received its first at the end of May 2013, with a further two arriving for the summer season. To see a news report from its delivery flight from Seattle to Manchester International, click here.
This aircraft G-TUIA is called "Living the Dream", following a passenger competition. The second and third jets are called "Alfie", chosen because of a baby boy born in-flight, and “Dreammaker”. Thomson will receive eight in total by May 2015. They will be based at Manchester, Glasgow, East Midlands and London Gatwick.
Thomson has a total of 13 B787s on order, eight destined for the UK, with four arriving this year and the rest running up to 2015, with the other five for the "Nordics, Belgium and Holland". Potentially, these last five might be configured in a different manner, depending on the demands of the market.
The Dreamliners were originally ordered in 2005, and expected in 2009. Now they are arriving, Thomson's B767 fleet of seven will gradually be retired. When this has happened the average age of the Thomson fleet with be 6.5 years, down from 13 years at the time of the merger with First Choice. It now has an all-Boeing fleet with the Airbus aircraft departing (A319 and A320).
This flight review concerns the first commercial Thomson flight made by the B787 Dreamliner. It is possible to buy flight-only seats on these flights, but the majority of passengers (90 per cent) will be on package holidays with Thomson Holidays and First Choice Holidays. There is a small premium for flying on the B787 depending on route and season.
CHECK-IN I arrived at London Gatwick at 0600 for the 0805 on TOM 4536 to Mahon in Menorca. I checked in, had no bags (I was only going for the day. You can read my review of the return journey here) and then went through fast track security and through to the Aspire lounge (Servisair). This would not normally be the case for premium passengers, since both fast track and lounge access would be bought separately.
BOARDING The flight was departing from Gate 52 and we were down there for 0710. From these gates you can look down onto the apron and the Boeing Dreamliner B787 was waiting with the air bridge attached. Captain John Murphy gave a short speech to all the passengers about how this was the first commercial flight, and a little about the aircraft. He also said all the children should ignore their parents’ instructions to be quiet, and to shout and cheer because it was a very exciting day.
There was then priority boarding firstly for media so we could have a quick look round the aircraft before passengers got on board, and then Premium Club passengers and families were boarded before the rest of the economy cabin.
There was nowhere to hang jackets, but because we asked nicely, the cabin services director offered to hang them in the pilot's wardrobe, saying if there was a wallet in there, it wouldn't be there when they were returned, drawing much laughter from the flight deck.
This is a two-class configuration with 244 economy (Economy Club) and 47 premium economy (Premium Club) seats. The economy seats are a 34-inch pitch and in two cabins, the premium seat offers a 38-inch seat pitch. To see a seatplan, click here. We have published a lot of details on the Dreamliner, to see those guides and previous reports click here.
I sat in the economy seating and it is spacious and comfortable. The cabin has a sort of coastline theme with prints of the shoreline on the pillows and some palm leaf detailing on the cabin walls (more subtle than it sounds). The Panasonic system offers an Audio and Video on Demand (AVOD) In-flight Entertainment (IFE) system, something that Thomson has just finished offering across its entire long-haul fleet of seven B767s. This has seen a 10-point increase in customer satisfaction, according to Thomson's Carl Gissing - Director of Customer Service. The system on the B787 could actually support hundreds of channels, but as Gissing pointed out, since the majority of passengers only fly a couple of times a year on holiday, having 36 channels which are only refreshed a couple of times each year is plenty.
The longest flight sector will be Thailand in November (around 13 hours) and then summer 2014 non-stop to Mauritius. In addition, there is in-seat power as well as the possibility of charging items via the USB sockets.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? In economy, the exit rows are 10 and 30, and the back row - row 39 - has a missing seat and so more room to the side of the window seats, which might make it a good choice for couples.
THE FLIGHT There was a round of applause and some cheering as we took off, and not just from the children, though that was nothing compared to the roar at the end of a welcome over the tannoy from David Burling, Thomsons' MD for UK and Ireland, when he said that in celebration of the first flight there would be free bacon baguettes and drinks for all passengers.
The flight was much shorter in duration than most Dreamliner flights, just a short two-hour sector down to Menorca, so it's hard to judge the claims of increased cabin pressure improving the flight experience and fatigue experienced by passenger. But having flown the B787 with Qatar Airways on a 12-hour plus flight from Seattle over to Doha (for that review, click here) I think there is something in that, and certainly the larger windows and quieter cabin ambience helps.
Shortly after take-off, the flight crew automatically dimmed all the windows and showed the capability of the lighting system, creating a "Thomson wave", rather like a Mexican wave, but with rainbow-like lighting moving the length of the cabin from bow to stern. I wish I could have videoed it because it was very impressive (the seatbelt sign was still on, so this wasn’t possible).
Normally, the food and drink offering would be the long haul selection, but since this was a short haul flight we had the Eatery menu, details of which can be found here. There was a drinks service shortly after take-off (including alcoholic drinks) and then a choice of food (paninis, bacon baguettes) along with a full choice of drinks, hot, cold and alcohol. For more details, click here.
We were flying with several members of the Thomson management, and so spoke with them about their plans and hopes for the Dreamliner. The internal name for the service (food and beverage) is Dreamhaul, which has been rolled out across the long-haul fleet. This is a three-course-meal, refreshments of afternoon tea or breakfast, depending on route, and a range of tea and soft drinks with the meal (in economy). In premium alcoholic drinks (apart from champagne) are included.
ARRIVAL We landed on time at 1100 and disembarked onto the tarmac with a red carpet welcome at Mahon airport.
VERDICT This is a very impressive layout in both classes. The economy seating offers a lot of room – 33 or 34 inches, and is in a 3-3-3 configuration. The Premium Club is 2-3-2 with 38 inches of legroom. It’s a tight squeeze getting in and out of the seats because of the good size fixed arms on the seats, but once you are in there, there is plenty of room – more than many premium economy seats – and it would be comfortable for even the longest sectors.
CONFIGURATION 2-3-2 (Economy Club in 3-3-3)
SEAT PITCH 38in/97cm (Economy Club is 34in/86cm)