The 787 Has Big Windows

and Big Storage Bins;

Airlines Reject Roomier Seats!

A NEW PLANE - - the BOEING “DREAMLINER” WILL TAKE FLIGHT NEXT YEAR, offering passengers significant improvements in airplane comfort, including bigger windows , roomier storage bins and better in-flight air quality.

Boeing 787 DreamlinerIt also has a novel coach seating plan so innovative it was awarded a patent in the U.S . and Europe. But, passenger economics will take a back seat to airline economics. An extra seat , actually. Most airlines are already now abandoning Boeing’s new coach seating idea and reverting to what they know best—cramming more seats into coach.

The original design called for eight seats in each row of a 787 coach cabin, but Boeing did make the plane wide enough to fit nine seats. So far, about 75 % of airlines that have ordered the 210-passenger plane are opting to install nine seats across a coach row, according to Boeing. That means travelers will plop into a 17-inch-wide seat, about the same as on today’s Boeing 737s and 757s, instead of a 19-inch seat arranged in a new, patented 3-2-3 seating configuration designed to maximize comfort.

The 787 will have some breakthrough enhancements for passengers regardless of what airlines do with their seats. Because the 787 fuselage will be built largely of carbon-fiber composite materials—essentially very strong plastic—instead of aluminum, it can be flown with higher humidity in the cabin and at lower cabin altitude. That means travelers will arrive feeling less tired and less dehydrated.

The 787 will have windows 65 % bigger than today’s standard and outside views from any seat in the plane. Instead of window shades, a film over the windows can be adjusted by flight attendants to block out sunlight during movies while still allowing passengers at the window seat to look out, much like a limousine. It’ll have huge overhead storage bins that will load roll-aboard bags on their side, wheels in first, to get more bags in each bin. The bins also push up into the ceiling for more head room.

But a big part of Mr. Brauer’s game-changing design was built around the 3-2-3 seating and a wider-than-normal coach seat. A typical domestic first-class or an international business-class seat is about 22 inches wide. At up to 19 inches wide, a 787 coach seat in eight-across seating would be a half-inch wider than the seating on the popular Boeing 777.

In recent years, however, airline s have been frustrated at attempts to sell more-comfortable coach seats at higher prices. Both British Airways PLC and UAL Corp.’s United Airlines have extra-room coach products and report good results, but the rest of the industry is skeptical. AMR Corp.’s American Air-lines abandoned its extra-legroom campaign when it concluded having more seats to sell generated more revenue. Boeing’s 777 wide-body scores well in customer satisfaction surveys at air-lines, but 777 ticket prices aren’t higher . In the end, coach customers usually compare price first and foremost.

Extra seats are so important to airlines these days that Airbus is now pondering whether it needs to widen the cabin of its planned 787 competitor, called the A350, to accommodate nine-across seating.

Cramming in extra seats is a touchy subject for airlines. Mark Moran, head of operations at Continental Airlines told an aviation conference in Phoenix last month that Continental was leaning toward nine-abreast in its 787s. A Continental spokesman says ‘we’ve announced no public decision.” Northwest Airllnes the only other U.S. carrier to order the plane so far, says only that it is “reviewing seating options on the 787.”

A lot of factors go into how small your seat feels, such as how spacious the ceiling looks. Mr. Brauer’s research shows that eye-level space has a lot to do with now cramped you feel. Smaller jets like the 737 have walls that curve inward, making seating seem more cramped.

In addition, research conducted by Boeing, airlines and others shows that the real biggest comfort factor is whether the seat next to you is occupied. Studies show airlines would have to give four extra inches of legroom just to reach the same comfort scores created by an empty middle seat. “There are tremendous halo effects to having an empty seat next to you,” said Mr. Brauer, Boeing’s director of passenger satisfaction and revenue marketing.

MR. BRAUER SAYS, THAT SINCE THE 1970 INTRODUCTION OF THE BOEING 747, manufacturers and airlines have chosen the wrong seating patterns, bunching seats together in the middle of airplanes. The McDonnell Douglas DC-10 , for example, had two seats on each side of the plane and five in the middle. If two seats in the middle of a 2-5-2 coach section are empty, which is about the average airline load factor, then two customers are happy because of extra room. But if the seats were arranged 3-3-3 across and two middle seats were empty, four travelers would get the benefit of empty space.

With that, Mr. Brauer concluded optimal 787 coach seating would be 3-2-3. But when Boeing opened a mock-up of the 787 interior last year fitted with both seating patterns, airlines quickly began deciding nine seats in each row seemed plenty com -fortable, and more profitable. Only 10% of airlines that have ordered the 787 so far have stuck with eight-across seating. An additional 15 % are opting for a two-class coach cabin, hoping to sell the more-comfortable eight-across configuration as a premium economy class.

“The only disappointment I have is that more airlines aren’t looking at the split system,” he said. “It gives you a rocking cool economy class.”

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