Boeing's new 787 takes air travel to new heights
by Albert Rodriguez -
SGN A&E Writer
The first-ever Boeing 787 Dreamliner flight from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport took off October 2, but not before encountering a few bumps on the road. All Nippon Airways (ANA), a Japanese airline with a current fleet of 230 planes, launched nonstop service between the Emerald City and Tokyo in late July of this year. But due to a three-year Dreamliner delivery backup, ANA was forced to begin the flights with a 777. It was then announced that October 1 would mark the official inaugural flight aboard the 787, assembled here in Western Washington. There was tremendous excitement, including a formal reception at Sea-Tac's S Terminal last week, when the Dreamliner taxied to Gate 11. But the initial flight was delayed twice and then canceled due to a mechanical issue. Passengers were compensated generously by ANA with overnight hotel accommodations and vouchers for dinner and breakfast, aside from guaranteed seats on the next day's flight - in fact, two Dreamliners were parked at the S Terminal on October 2 and both made the 10.5-hour trek to Japan without further incident.
The Seattle-to-Tokyo flight departs daily at 1:15 p.m. and arrives in Japan the next day at 3:45 p.m., with the return flight departing Tokyo-Narita at 5:25 p.m. and arriving at Sea-Tac the same day at 10:55 a.m. More information for All Nippon Airways is available at www.fly-ana.com. If you're interested in flying the only 787 out of Seattle, allow me to give you a walk-through and rundown of the experience.
SETTING THE DREAMLINER APART
Differentiating the 787 from other aircraft is the fact that much of it (20 to 35 tons) is built from carbon fiber, making it lighter in weight and more fuel-efficient - it consumes about 20% less fuel than other planes its size. There also are interior features that set it apart, such as windows that are 20% larger than most airliners and fitted with 'electronic shades,' allowing passengers to darken or lighten the windows at the touch of a button. This would have been better enjoyed were passengers able to choose their lighting preference throughout the flight, but on our way to Tokyo the flight crew controlled the light level between meal services. The airplane uses a modern air-conditioning and humidifying system, aimed at reducing the all-too-annoying cabin pressure that lends itself to jet lag, headaches, and nausea. From my experience on both flights to and from Japan, I honestly did feel less fatigued and believe the reduced compression helped me breathe and sleep better on board. Additional distinct features are higher ceilings, roomier cabins, LED lighting, and hand-sensor flushing toilets with bidets, all of which have been carefully thought-processed to enhance passenger comfort during long flights.
We encountered heavy turbulence on our outbound journey, something I haven't experienced on 777s or 767s during previous trans-Pacific flights. I can't help wondering if the lighter aircraft had something to do with it. And though the Dreamliner is supposed to be up to 60% quieter, it seemed just as loud as other aircraft I've traveled on.
Currently, ANA's 787 fleet offers two classes - business and economy - but future plans call for the addition of 'premium economy.' Business class on All Nippon Airways is as incredible as you'd imagine with some unique touches. The airline's staggered-seat configuration gives everyone access to an aisle, and the whopping 17-inch TV screen with slide-out food tray beneath it, plus two separate stowage shelves, was very cool. The lie-flat seat has several reclining features, yet it wasn't equipped with massage options like those on some other airlines' business-class seats. Once airborne, a selection of Japanese beers (Sapporo, Kirin, Asahi), imported wines (Napa Valley, France, New Zealand), and premium cocktails were paired with a plate of amuse-bouche, followed by a three-course meal. With only two lunch selections, compared to four on Delta, I settled for the filet of beefsteak with sautéed mushrooms and a Madeira wine sauce. The meat was tough and flavorless, though the steamed rice with pickled vegetables and miso soup were soothing. Loose salt crystals and ground pepper on the side, instead of shakers, was a nice touch. For dessert, the lone offering of berry parfait didn't quite do it for me, so I went for the fresh fruit. Between meals, seven 'light dishes' are available to order for business-class passengers at any time, including a cheese plate, hot Japanese udon noodles, and a Cobb roast-beef sandwich that came with a very oily side of greens. Prior to landing, economy passengers were given a breakfast option, but our cabin got a veal stew with mini-gnocchi that was salty and scrumptious. No complaints from me there.
Service in business class was impeccable and no other airline I've flown was as attentive as ANA. Every 5 to 10 minutes during the entire trip a flight attendant walked the aisles, so never once did I have to wait more than a few minutes for fresh coffee or a splash of wine. There was a bit of a language barrier, as I was brought a Coke Zero instead of regular Coke (the same thing happened in economy, where I was delivered a Pepsi Next after ordering a Pepsi). On the ground, ANA has business and first-class lounges at both Narita and Haneda airports. Each lounge is spacious, immaculate, and equipped with automatic beer dispensers, delicious snacks, work stalls, and plush chairs to relax in before your departure. The Narita lounge at Terminal 1 North even has a self-serve sake bar.
Even economy class was impressive. Not only was the cloth-lined seat comfy, but the cabin didn't feel cramped at all. The food was hit-or-miss - my whitefish with saffron-tomato sauce for dinner was tasty, while the two poached eggs with beans and wiener (if I'm guessing correctly) was a mess. I loved how we were handed actual towels (not paper ones) before eating, just like in business class. In-flight entertainment in both cabins had a limited film selection and only TV shows from Japan were offered, yet I loved all the J-Pop music selections and in-flight video games.
With the addition of ANA, Seattle now has three airlines providing nonstop service to Tokyo (Delta and United are the other two). While I can recommend all of them, ANA will not only take you there in a slicker piece of equipment, but also promises a more authentically Japanese experience.
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