Features, Passenger Comfort // // 8 Comments

FTE Dreamliner review: A new era for aviation or an opportunity missed for reinventing the passenger experience onboard?

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FTE’s Founder Daniel Coleman was onboard the first UK flight of Thomson Airways’ (part of TUI Travel) Dreamliner. He reviews the way in which Thomson delivered its own specific Dreamliner experience (not reflecting on the ways in which other airlines have utilised the craft).

Future Travel Experience Founder Daniel Coleman, (plus wife and kids - pictured)

FTE on the red carpet: Future Travel Experience Founder Daniel Coleman, (plus wife and kids – pictured) was among the passengers who experienced Thomson’s new 787 Dreamliner flying UK passengers for the first time. But was the journey the revolutionary passenger experience you might expect from Boeing’s biggest aircraft launch since the 747?

The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner is undoubtedly an industry-leading craft; it is lighter and markedly faster than most commercial super-jets, and has wider aisles and higher ceilings – an elevated 7ft 5in. The innovative craft is also the first to be designed with technology dedicated to combating jetlag. The cabin pressure onboard is reduced to the equivalent of flying at 6,000ft, rather than the 8,000ft equivalent on older aircraft, enabling your body to absorb more oxygen and arrive at your destination feeling fresher as a result.

Thomson Airways’ Dreamliner took off on its inaugural flight for UK passengers earlier this month ahead of its first long-haul flights on 8 July, and FTE was onboard. Thomson branded the passenger experience on its state-of-the-art new craft as ‘a new era for aviation’ – as a revolutionary journey that would redefine what it meant to fly – and though the plane’s innovative design and features may make long-haul travelling feel a little less demanding, it’s arguable that the experience didn’t deliver the futuristic revival of the golden age of aviation that Thomson suggested it would.

From airside the craft certainly made an impact – its unique nose and the engine’s striking design were a good example of what true invention can achieve, and while the spacious cabin layout felt airy, the experience within it wasn’t necessarily revolutionary. This is not to undervalue, though, the intelligent components and unprecedented concepts with which passengers were presented – exciting details that demonstrated Thomson’s awareness of its customer’s needs.

The Dreamliner’s innovative windows

The Dreamliner’s innovative windows were one of its most exciting elements. +30% bigger than those on a normal craft, the gel-filled windows let in lots of light, and could be dimmed at the touch of a button to simulate the sun rising and setting.

Comfortable blue leather seats were lit by colour-changing mood lighting, and featured a small amount of sought-after extra legroom. The cutting-edge 9-inch seat-back inflight entertainment systems were equipped with charging capabilities and a plug and play feature for your own devices. Most exciting of all were the windows, +30% larger than on a traditional craft, they let in plenty of light and required no shutter to shade the view, instead the gel-filled glass darkens at the touch of a button in your seat – simulating sunset and sunrise to help you adjust to changing time zones.

Aesthetically though the cabin design was virtually indistinguishable from any other craft. Had passengers not been told they were about to embark on their journey on a revolutionary new craft, it is doubtful that they would have noticed. The journey itself, however, was smooth and quiet – and incredibly fast too. The Dreamliner can reach speeds of up to mach .85, and in terms of the passenger experience quicker is always better – especially if you have, as I did, children under two in tow; we cruised at 43,000 feet. Undeniably the plane’s crowning aspect was its leading-edge engineering. Boeing’s model is composed of materials just like those used in the development of a Formula 1 car, and will greatly lower the time taken to reach its long-haul destinations, (starting in July, Thomson Airways will offer Dreamliner flights from London Gatwick, Glasgow, Manchester and East Midlands airports to Sanford, Florida and Cancun, Mexico).

The Dreamliner cabin

Though Thomson’s Dreamliner experience certainly made for a smooth, fast and comfortable flight, it didn’t necessarily deliver the extraordinary passenger experience that FTE Founder Daniel Coleman was expecting.

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is indisputably a truly fine piece of engineering, but it seems that the passenger has not been at the very heart of its design. Instead, I would argue that business thinking was at the centre of its development – however, flying is about transporting passengers from destination to destination, and wouldn’t it make sense therefore to have passenger satisfaction a little further up the priority list of the airlines, aircraft manufacturers and industry providers who are driving these developments and the delivery of these new aircraft?

Overall, I’d certainly say that Thomson’s Dreamliner is a promising evolution, but perhaps a missed opportunity to redefine the passenger experience onboard, and not ‘a new era in aviation’ as Thomson proclaims. Instead the experience felt more like a stepping stone – an innovative halfway point on the way to an onboard passenger experience revolution. As a passenger I was left asking some questions. In my opinion the Concorde was the last great aircraft, a passenger experience that was truly exciting, why can’t we surpass innovations that are 40 years old? What does the passenger expect of a truly revolutionary experience? And, most compellingly, what is coming next?

Were you onboard Thomson Airways’ first Dreamliner passenger flight? Or have you been part of other airline’s Dreamliner experiences? We’d love to find out how other airlines are utilising the aircraft in different ways, so let us know your thoughts!

Future Travel Experience Europe 2015

Interested in learning more about improving your onboard passenger experience? At FTE Europe 2015, which will take place in London from 2-4 February 2015, senior speakers from the likes of Virgin Atlantic, Lufthansa, Etihad Airways, Norwegian Air Shuttle, Ryanair, Thomson Airways, Air Canada, United Airlines, Inmarsat, IATA, Factorydesign and Thales will share their latest passenger-focused plans and visions in the 'Up in the Air' conference.

The event will also include a dedicated 'On the Ground' conference stream, IATA workshop, an extensive exhibition, a visit to the Emirates Aviation Experience, and a 'Best of British' Gala Evening at Altitude 360 @ Altitude London, London's premier sky venue which offers jetliner views of the city.

» View the full FTE Europe 2015 'Up in the Air' conference

» Register to attend FTE Europe 2015


8 comments from our readers

  1. Sceptical corporate traveller says:

    It’s glaringly obvious that, from an airline perspective, the key metric is how many seats can I fit in the aircraft. This means that any expectation of a significantly different or “better” passenger experience for those travelling “cattle truck” is a fantasy. High tech windows and new seat back displays fall into the “nice to have” category, not a significant positive change.

  2. Thanks for the insights, Daniel, and the early look at the new equipment (not experience).

    Airlines fly plaines. They should be in the business of flying people. That one change in thinking might just shake things up a bit (in a good way). I believe, as an experience designer myself, that you can delight customers, engage employees, and make shareholders happier. With the right design, businesses don’t need to sacrifice and customers don’t need to suffer.

  3. Tom says:

    Boeing did design the plane to give the passenger more space among its other design improvements. But it is the airlines that decide if the plane is configured with 8 or 9 seats across for the economy passenger. Boeing likes the 8 configuration because the passenger should have an enjoyable flight. Airlines are in the business of making money and so passenger satisfaction takes a slide with 9 seat configuration. We can only complain and hope they change to 8 across.

  4. Steve D says:

    “Business thinking” is at the heart of EVERYTHING made for consumer use. As much as it displeases me to say, it would be considered bad business sense to sacrifice profit for further customer satisfaction in this case. People are going to fly on it anyway as it is, since alternatives are really not available.

    And I wouldn’t use Concorde as an example of a path of success to follow. Supersonic aircraft are far too expensive to fly and maintain to be useful transportation to the general public, sonic boom issue or not. Fast? Yes. Unique? Uh-huh. Fascinating? Oh yaz! Practical? Sorry. Speed cost money…how fast can YOU afford to go?

  5. Bill Shea says:

    Good article regards the B-787. However airliner manufacturers must break out of the 500 mile-per-hour speed and move towards a new aircraft capable of 900 to 1,200 mph! Long overdue.

    Regards,
    Bill shea
    Woodland, CA

  6. Elisabeth says:

    No cup-holder, have to take down the whole table. The windows, not for children who love to watch – they have to stand up. They are way to high up. What is that sound coming each 10 minutes? Sccccchhh….. If that is the sound of making the air better, I’d rather not have it. Irritating.

  7. Tim says:

    Unfortunately Thomson are one of the worst companies for providing airline customer service or taking passenger feedback or consideration. The Dreamliner is the most innovative aircraft giving better return on investment than most other aircraft (except possibly the A380). The article is spot on, Thomson could have elevated their poor customer service reputation by better training and development of their staffing prior to receiving the new revolutionary aircraft.

  8. John says:

    We flew to Cuba in Dec on the Dreamliner. Good things: slightly more leg room and better entertainment. Bad things: uncomfortable seating when trying to sleep. A footrest would have helped. 3-3-3 seating across the cabin means if travelling in widow seats you are constantly disturbing the passenger near the isle. Very noisy when any mechanism activates. We would not choose the Dreamliner if other planes were available due mainly to the uncomfortable seating and the 3-3-3 configuration.

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