NEWARK - Flying on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner is a civilized experience - which is saying a lot in this age of crowded airplanes, overflowing carry-on bins, and cranky passengers who have just waited in long security lines, shoeless and beltless, to be subjected to full-body scans.
I flew on an hourlong 787 flight from Boston to Newark Monday with airline executives, Boeing employees, investors, and members of the media who wanted to know what it is like to travel on the plane, which starts flying Japan Airlines’ new Boston-Tokyo route next month.
The much-anticipated 787, built primarily of lightweight carbon composite materials, is 20 percent more fuel-efficient than other planes its size and will probably be used mainly for international flights.
Of course, the flight was more enjoyable because there were only about 60 of us on a plane that can seat more than 200, and we were invited to chat with pilots while flight attendants circulated with trays of miniquiches. But something that every 787 passenger is bound to appreciate is the light that fills the plane.
The windows are 30 percent larger than on similarly sized airplanes, and it is easy to see out, even from the middle row, without leaning over and craning your neck into uncomfortable contortions. The windows dim and brighten at the touch of a button, allowing you to see outside even at their darkest setting - a nice change from the all-or-nothing view with pull-down shades.
The sunlight and expansive views of snow-covered fields made me feel less cooped-up. The durable carbon composites also allowed for higher humidity and a more comfortable cabin pressure. Members of the 787’s test crew report less eye and nose dryness, fewer headaches, and less overall fatigue.
Steve Jerome, a quality assurance manager on the test crew, recently took a 15-hour Dreamliner flight to Bangkok. When his hotel room wasn’t ready upon his arrival, he felt rested enough to go out and play golf. “I don’t think I could have done that on any other plane,’’ he said.
The Dreamliner has generated excitement in the aviation industry. Previously, it took bigger planes like the 500- to 800-seat Airbus A380 - too big to fill in midsize markets such as Boston - to make long-haul trips to Asia or South America profitably. The fuel- and cost-efficient Dreamliner should allow airlines to fly profitably with about 200 passengers and service smaller markets.
Japan Airlines Boston-Tokyo flight, for example, is configured with 186 seats.
This 787 wasn’t exactly the height of luxury: There was no extra legroom in the economy cabin, no built-in bars, and no second-story lounges as on the new Boeing 747-8. But it is comfortable. High ceilings add to the spacious feel of the plane. There are USB outlets and coat hooks for every passenger. The overhead luggage compartments are massive enough to eliminate any preboarding anxiety about finding room for your carry-on.
The cabin seemed slightly less noisy than on other planes. On the ceiling, LED lights run the length of the plane, and the crew programmed them to cycle from blue to red to purple to orange and back again. On long flights, the lights can simulate a gradual sunrise to gently rouse sleeping passengers before landing.
Fred Klein, an airplane appraiser from the Washington area, was happily eating a scone in the entryway. “I would have walked to Boston to get this ride,’’ he said. “I was really hoping they wouldn’t go straight to Newark, [but] head out over the Atlantic or something’’
No seats were installed in the back half of the plane’s economy class cabin, leaving a space that Charlie Schewe, a regional sales director for American Airlines, a partner with Japan Airlines on trans-Pacific flights, declared perfect for a dance party. No one took him up on his suggestion, sadly.
When the 787 landed in Newark, catering truck drivers and ground crew members lined the runway taking pictures of the plane.
From Newark, the Dreamliner heads to Mexico City, Phoenix, San Diego, and Long Beach before ending this leg of the tour in Salt Lake City. At every stop, 787 tour regulars say, airport personnel greet the cutting edge plane, camera phones at the ready.