With Jetstar ramping up its Boeing 787 flights and an increasing number of international airlines lining up to fly the Dreamliner in Australian skies, travellers are increasingly curious as to what it's really like to travel in this next-generation jet.
Does the Dreamliner live up to all the marketing hype, which promises the world's best in-flight experience for passengers?
In a word, yes.
Late last year I travelled on the delivery flight of Jetstar's first Boeing 787, from the Boeing facility at Seattle to Melbourne with a stopover in Honolulu.
It proved an excellent real-world test of what differences the 787 will deliver to the business traveller and frequent flyer.
(And yes, I was a guest of Jetstar and Boeing on this special invitation-only flight – but such invitations buy my time, not my words.)
Of course, these comments are not specific to Jetstar's Boeing 787 – they apply to Dreamliners flown by other airlines too.
That sense of space...
Some of the Dreamliner's travel-friendly traits were immediately evident, even on the relatively short five-hour flight between Seattle and Honolulu.
Walking onto the 787, I'm immediately aware of the sense of space afforded by the redesigned cabin.
I've experienced it in mock-ups and on a brief promotional flight arranged by Boeing between Sydney and Brisbane in June last year.
The raised ceiling, larger recessed luggage bins and even the gentle LED lighting all make for a less confined cabin, edging you away from that claustrophobic sense of a flying sardine can.
Think of the interior of the latest Boeing 737-800s that you may have flown on Qantas or Virgin Australia, then imagine the same design stretched over a wider twin-aisle aircraft, and you'll be getting close to the 787.
On take-off and throughout the flight, I'm struck by how quiet the Boeing 787 is – even more so than the Airbus A380 (then again, the A380 is a much bigger bird with two more engines bolted to the wings).
You can easily chat to your seatmate without lifting your voice, although you'll still want to pack that trusty pair of noise-cancelling headphones.
Let there be light
The 787's oversized windows let natural light flood the cabin, further contributing to a sense of openness.
However, with the first hours of our Honolulu-Melbourne leg being pre-dawn, the cabin crew sensibly invoked the windows' electric dimming to prevent sunrise from waking the mostly-sleeping passengers.
Instead, we flew wrapped in a pleasing light blue hue, although you could still make out details through the dimmed windows.
From the flight's start to finish, the air in the cabin seemed fresh and crisp rather than thickly stale. There was none of the dryness I've come to expect at the end of a long trip.
I wasn't continually reaching for the water bottle, my eyes didn't feel dry nor my sinuses blocked.
The Boeing 787 offers a much lower 'cabin altitude' levels (6,000 feet above sea level, compared to 7,500-8,000 feet in most conventional passenger jets) and twice the average amount of humidity – both of which are possible because the 787 is largely built using carbon-fibre composites instead of metal.
As a result, I walked off the 12-hour flight from Honolulu to Melbourne feeling better than any flight I've ever taken.
Jetstar's 787 seats
As for the seats on Jetstar's Boeing 787 – don't expect much difference from the low-cost airline's current Airbus A330 aircraft.
The compact 21-seat cabin at the front of the plane is business class in name only.
With a 9-inch recline, 38-inch pitch and 19-inch wide seat cushion – and allowing another two inches for your turf on the arm-rests – it's closer to premium economy seating on a Qantas A380 or the revamped Boeing 747s.
That’s entirely appropriate for Jetstar, as a low-cost airline which has the leisure traveller in its cross-hairs, although Air Asia X still takes the crown for the angled flat-beds in its Premium cabin.
Business class on a JQ 787 is best framed as a bit of extra comfort for the cashed-up holiday-maker.
Jetstar’s business class cabin is the smallest of any Boeing 787, with just 21 seats across just three rows configured in a 2-3-2 layout (those seats are marked as AB-DEF-GJ).
The well-padded Recaro seats are covered in a charcoal-grey leather with adjustable headrests.
Each seat gets its own 10.6 inch touchscreen with a modest selection of content which can be viewed from gate to gate.
The screen flips out so you can adjust the viewing angle to suit your height or the seat’s recline (also featured in the photo below – the 787's electronic window tinting).
The 38 inch pitch affords enough room to cross your knees, with a fold-out footrest to park your pads.
One drawback is that there’s absolutely no personal storage space space to keep your own items close at hand during the flight, unless you empty the contents of the seat pocket and toss them into the overhead locker.
The tray table is sufficient for a 13 inch notebook although there’s significant wobble when typing – and as soon as the person in front of you reclines their seat, you’ll have to shift that laptop into your lap.
That said, I’d expect travellers in Jetstar’s premium cabin would be more likely to pack an iPad or similar tablet for watching videos.
Each seat gets it own AC and USB socket so you can top up your laptop, smartphone or tablet during the flight.
The best seats in Jetstar’s Boeing 787 business class
The prize picks in Jetstar’s Dreamliner business class are 3G and 3J – the right-side seats in the last row of the cabin.
The reason? Both seats sport an extra two inches of recline because they have been designated as 'crew rest' seats for the flight deck team.
That translates to a more relaxing 11 inch rake compared to the nine inches of all other Jetstar 787 business class seats.
3G and 3J won’t be available to passengers when Jetstar launches the Boeing 787 onto the Melbourne-Honolulu service, as these seats will be reserved exclusively for the crew on this long flight.
But they’ll be up for grabs on shorter 787 flights including Bali, Singapore, Phuket and Japan.
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