On Wednesday Boeing's long-delayed, carbon-fibre, fuel-efficient 787 Dreamliner will finally make its first passenger flight: a haul from Tokyo to Hong Kong. Time to find out if the Dreamliner can make flying better for everyone.
Here's the best-case scenario as laid out in a big profile of the plane in USA Today: the Dreamliner is not only luxurious and comfy, it's 30 per cent cheaper to operate, which will help ameliorate some of the inconveniences of flying. Flights might be cheaper. That's a strong might, though; passing savings on to customers hasn't exactly been an airline strong suit.
The airlines could, though, use the savings to run the 787 on long, low-demand routes — the new United Continental behemoth already plans to fly the plane from Houston to Auckland. Get enough non-stops going, and the benefits reach far beyond the Dreamliner passengers. Fewer connecting flights through congested regional hubs means fewer cascading delays and more space on the runways. That's less time suffering in the airport, and more time doing whatever the hell else you want. Sounds great! But then you remember that these are the same people who slapped you with a bag fee, took away your pillow and your meal, and you get a little more pessimistic.
So can the Dreamliner really improve the experience of flying? It'd be hard not to, at least a little bit; for something that's so intrinsically cool, the actual experience of zipping through the air at 9150m remains awfully crappy. And rather than rely on a fantasy of improvement by technology, I'd settle for the miracle of better service. But in the meantime—a guy can dream, can't he?