Whereas today’s jets provide an effective cabin altitude of about 8,000-8,500 feet (which is why you can find yourself gasping for air during a long flight if you do anything remotely strenuous), the 787 – and the Airbus A350 XWB soon to come – offer an effective cabin altitude of 5,000-6,000 feet. This is close enough to the air pressure at sea level that most passengers shouldn’t feel the difference greatly.
Yet another benefit of making a fuselage out of carbon fiber rather than metal is that carbon fiber doesn’t corrode in the presence of water. So the air in the 787 cabin can be set for the same humidity conditions you’d normally find on a comfortable day on the ground.
In metal-fuselage jets, the aircraft’s cabin air-conditioning system needs to wring nearly all of the humidity out of the air, leaving you feeling dry-mouthed and dehydrated on a long flight unless you drink lots of water. One of Boeing’s boasts for the 787 is that flying in it will mean you arriving at your destination feeling much fresher than you would be if you were flying in a previous-generation jet.
One other new feature of the 787 is that its windows don’t have blinds which are raised or lowered. Instead, little controls under each window provide five stages of dimming of the window glass by means of piezo-electronic technology.
This dimming, which can be controlled centrally by flight attendants as well as individually by each passenger, offers benefits both for the passenger and for the airline.
For the passenger interested in looking outside during a period of the flight when all the cabin lights are turned out or general movie-watching is in progress, the dimming does not block all light coming through the window. The passenger can still see outside, even if the view is somewhat dark.
Meanwhile, the airline no longer has to contend with the weight of and maintenance requirements for dozens of window blinds, which are notorious for becoming too loose or entirely stuck and being an all-round nuisance to flight attendants, passengers and maintenance technicians.
Now to the three cabin classes Air New Zealand is offering on the 787-9, starting with Business Premier. For the Boeing 787-9, the airline has retained the chalk-colored, leather-covered armchairs (all of which fold down into 79-inch-long flat beds) which it has installed in its Boeing 777-300ER jets and is retrofitting into its 777-200ERs.
Each Business Premier seat has individual access to the aisle and each Business Premier row is in 1-1-1 row configuration.
To talk of seat pitch in the Business Premier cabin is irrelevant. This is because each armchair is set at a fairly high angle away from the window or from the center partition, in a herringbone-like pattern, with the angle of the seat positioning the passenger’s feet towards the aisle.
Personally, I don’t like this arrangement much, particularly for a window seat. This is because I like facing forward: I love to look out of the window during any flight I take and I like to know what the weather conditions outside are throughout the flight.
However, onboard the Air New Zealand 787-9, I received the strong impression that, were I sitting in a Business Premier window seat I would have to crick my neck well to one side to be able to look out of the window, no matter what was the recline angle the armchair offered.
Although Bamford says that when the back of the Business Premier armchair is reclined, it is easier to look out of the window, some other airlines have tried the herringbone-like alignment for their long-haul business class seating and have subsequently abandoned it.
One such carrier is Cathay Pacific Airways. However, Bamford says Cathay Pacific abandoned the configuration because its seats had very high and straight side walls and passengers told the airline they felt very isolated.
Air New Zealand’s Business Premier armchairs have curved walls which aren’t as high as those Cathay Pacific used and the walls also sweep down to make the space around each passenger feel more open, says Bamford. Also, Cathay Pacific’s seats couldn’t recline for landing or take-off, whereas the Business Premier seats can.
She also notes that Air New Zealand angles the Business Premier seats in its Boeing 777s the same way as it does in the 787-9 and hasn’t received many complaints from passengers.
One feature of the 787-9 Business Premier seat which definitely is a plus is its high comfort level when sitting or sleeping. The seat’s bottom cushion is really well padded – as my ample backside can attest – and the seat itself is 22 inches wide in general and a full 33 inches wide at the shoulder.
For sleeping, a memory-foam mattress is laid down and the passenger is provided with a duvet and two full-size pillows.
All of the in-flight entertainment (IFE) screens on Air New Zealand’s 787-9 are touchscreen-controlled and are powered by an app-based new IFE system jointly developed by the airline and IFE-system manufacturer Panasonic.
The airline claims the new IFE system – which provides the same in-flight entertainment for all three cabin classes on the 787-9 – is the world’s most advanced, offering as it does more than 2,000 hours and items of content (including an HBO-content channel). Also offered is a new and exclusive app developed in partnership with Trip Advisor to let passengers research their destinations online.