Imagine yourself stepping off a long-haul red-eye feeling rested and refreshed, ready to start the new day. And you flew in coach. Pie-in-the-sky fantasy or a sign of things to come? If Boeing's 787 Dreamliner, which debuted this past Friday, lives up to its hype, the question "Did you have a nice flight?" can be once again asked without sarcasm.
The Dreamliner's video previews promise a lot: smoother flights, reduced motion sickness, better air quality, and greater fuel efficiency. But with the first test flight at least a month or two away, and the first commercial flight taking off next spring at the earliest, it'll be awhile before we passengers will get to find out for ourselves.
A lot of what's new and different (and, frankly, exciting) about the 787 starts with its design, which purports to be more intuitive and more comfortable. Instead of the typical yellow cabin lights, for example, the Dreamliner features soft blue lighting. Window shutters have been replaced with an electronic tinting function—and the windows, incidentally, are the largest ever created for a commercial airliner.
If those changes are better for the eyes, the plane's responsiveness to turbulence hopes to make flying easier on the stomach. The aircraft uses "the control surface of the plane to damp out the vibrations." And, since it's been shown that when cabin pressure is set to lower altitudes than the standard 8,000 feet, passengers are much healthier, the 787's altitude will be set to 6,000 feet.
In addition to these customer-oriented advances, the Dreamliner will be more fuel-efficient than commercial airliners of comparable size because it is constructed of carbon fiber. This should reduce both its greenhouse-gas emissions and possibly even lead to lower fares on airlines using the plane, as those companies will need to buy less jet fuel. However, it's equally likely that airlines will just pocket any fuel-related savings, so it's best not to be too optimistic about price reductions.
Air travel has become more and more unpleasant in recent years, so the timing couldn't be better for the 787 Dreamliner. I know I'm looking forward to my first flight to see if it delivers on its promise.