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Innovative 787 Dreamliner Is Coming to America

At 11:20 AM on April 22, Japan Airlines flight 008, flying nonstop from Tokyo, will land at Boston Logan Airport. That's big news because it's the first North American landing of a scheduled flight in a new Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

Granted, this specific schedule won't affect many of you: After all, Tokyo isn't exactly the top destination for folks in the Boston area, nor is Boston anywhere near the top of the list of big destinations from Japan. But that's the whole idea of the 787: It has the ability to serve long, thin routes—long-range routes with insufficient traffic to fill today's front-line 777s, 747s, and A380s.

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The 787 is of special interest because it's the first of the newest generation jets. Latest technology engines promise better fuel efficiency, and aerodynamic tweaks reduce drag. Compared with the planes it's replacing—767s, 757s, and older A330s—it offers a double-digit reduction in operating costs, improved range, lower noise, and fewer emissions.

What's not to like? Despite agonizing delivery delays, airlines should see the 787 as worth the wait. And Boeing already has more than 800 orders on its books, with more coming now that the 787 is actually flying.

But what about you, the passenger? For sure, you'll like the the pressurization of the cabin at a lower altitude, and the new plane's higher-humidity cabin air should help ease those annoying nose and throat woes many of us suffer in flight. Boeing is raving about the new bigger windows, new lighting and decor scheme, and copious baggage bins, too.

But the real test of passenger appeal—seat size—will be determined by each individual airline. Boeing's original idea was to provide a cabin with economy seats in eight-across rows that are wide enough to accommodate today's ever-growing Americans without undue squeezing. But it's clear that some airlines will go with nine-across rows, which is no improvement over today's cattle-car 737s and 757s. So far, JAL has not posted its seat plan; presumably, our sister site SeatGuru will post it as soon as it's available.

The first U.S. airline to operate the 787 will be United, which takes deliveries starting later this year. Initially, United is outfitting its 787s for international routes. Air Canada and Delta are slated to receive their 787s later. And some 787s will go to leasing companies; as of yet, we don't know which lines will actually fly them. So it's anybody's guess as to when you'll be able to enjoy the new plane on a transcontinental flight.

Meanwhile, for domestic services, U.S. airlines keep stocking up with more 737s and A320s. A true replacement for the 737 and A320 is probably 20 years in the future, so most domestic travelers will be stuck in current-model cattle cars for the foreseeable future.

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