THE BLOG
12/12/2012 07:15 am ET Updated Feb 11, 2013

787 Dreamliner: Why The New Airliner May Make Passengers Toss And Turn

We frequent flyers and veterans of coach are pretty tough to impress. We've earned our stripes. We've taken lump after onboard lump. Our rumps are hardened; our knees are knobbly; our digestion shot.

Got an "industry-changing" hot-off-the-line new jet? Sorry. We're gonna wait and see -- wait for its inevitable shortcomings to show up -- before we drop even the slightest praise.

That is, of course, unless the plane is Boeing's brand-new 787. Gee and jeepers: Whatta machine! Flown 'er yet? Um, not exactly. But everyone I've talked to is jumping up and down with excitement. And, well, I've read the press.

It "restores the thrill to flying," says AP. "Outshining its ancestors," applauds The New York Times. "Offers an emotional experience," crows Robert Herbst of AirlineFinancials.com. Emotional experience did you say? Other than raging or crying in my plastic cup of ginger ale, this isn't easy to imagine.

I don't know about you, but I'm starting to feel like I've read the same glowing write-up 50 times. There's so much buzz about the plane it seems almost suspicious. Somehow Boeing's gotten normally-cynical flyers and journalists to do its PR work for them.

Just for starters, shouldn't we writers, at the very least, be staying clear of the marketing moniker, "Dreamliner," and referring to the thing by its model number like all Boeing planes? Even Stephanie Rosenbloom's December 2, 2012 New York Times piece used the term "Dreamliner" in wide-eyed earnestness, without quotations or irony.

I haven't been aboard a 787 yet (and will probably be banned from it after this column runs). But forgive me if I haven't yet suspended my disbelief. Let's take a look at what some of the pros are saying, so far:

* The 787 has LED lighting which changes hues, brightens and dims depending on time of day and the phase of the flight.

This sounds good to me -- sounds good, I say. Among the worst aspects of flying are the bright-white fluorescents that make us passengers feel like we're trapped in a supermarket's frozen food aisle. But before we start celebrating, don't we need to be sure that the airlines that fly the 787 will use these lighting options intelligently? Check that: That they will use them at all? I'm sorry to remind the starry-eyed that this isn't the first airliner with colored lighting and nuanced dimming options. But either due to laziness or obscure airline policies (I can't imagine there's a cost issue here) cabin crews often just rely on a couple of glaring settings.

* The 787's "spacious interior, increased cabin pressure and higher humidity" (according to the San Jose Mercury News) are "aimed at making cross-the-world journeys less taxing."

Spacious, you say? That's nice. But in exactly what way, please? I gather that the cabin has "high ceilings" and a "chamber-like entrance" and "larger windows." But unless I can levitate or sit in a lotus position near the door, I'm probably not going to be able to use that space. As for "increased cabin pressure" and "higher humidity" I'm all for it, so long as it's used as it should be by airlines (see first point) and adjusted with a little bit of care.

* The 787 boasts "lavatory enhancements" including "toilets equipped with bidets." The toilets, themselves (according to The New York Times) are a "crowd pleaser." A "vision in white [they have] plastic tabs on the sides of the lid and the seat so you barely have to touch them ... and a more subdued whoosh when flushed."

Leaving aside the image of toilet as "crowd-pleaser," I for one am delighted that Boeing has chosen a subtle white color-scheme for its fixtures. Bidets sound awfully chic until -- maybe this is just me -- you start imagining the stuff passengers are going to be using them for. Washing underwear and diapering babies are just for starters. As for the innovative plastic tabs, they are clever indeed. Of course if you talk to hygiene experts (I do not recommend this) it's faucets that are bathroom germfests, not toilet seats.

* The 787 has overhead bins with more room for bags and less intrusion into overhead space.

It's very good news that we passengers can feel free to tote along luggage that's even more ridiculously immense and that the tallest among us, and those who are riding piggy-back, will enjoy more headroom. But here we go again with spaciousness that doesn't help my aching feet and knees.

You knew this was coming: How come we're not hearing anything about plain-ol'-dull-and-boring-legroom and ho-hum-yawn-take-a-nap seat comfort? I realize this stuff depends, as much as anything, on airline configuration, but not a single word from the press or pros on how the new Dreamliner deals with these?

Gulp. The worst has happened: I've become infected.

I've used the term Dreamliner without realizing it. Next thing you know I'll be knotting a necktie, slicking my hair, polishing my shoes.

Can anyone help?

Find me a set of quotation marks. And, please: Do it as fast as you can.

Peter Mandel is an author of picture books for kids, including his read-aloud bestseller: Jackhammer Sam (Macmillan/Roaring Brook), and his newest about zoo animals passing on a very noisy sneeze: Zoo Ah-Choooo (Holiday House).

PHOTO GALLERIES
United's 1st Dreamliner Lands

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