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There’s a perpetual arms race between aircraft manufacturers.
Who can have the bigger first-class suite with more attentive service? Who can have a sky bed for economy passengers on that long-haul flight back home for the holiday? Who has the more decadent inflight bar for business passengers? Showers, amenities, lounges, chauffeurs, so on and so forth.
But one of the most interesting and semi-recent developments in aviation has nothing to do with these marketing friendly accoutrements, but rather the actual engineering, and construction materials.
We’re all too familiar with the discomfort of flying: headaches, muscle aches, dehydration, and fatigue. In addition to the stresses and strains of modern travel, much of these can be attributed to two things: cabin pressure, and how much moisture is in the air.
The Boeing 787 Dreamliner has one thing other aircraft makes and models can’t offer: a humidity controlled cabin. Which, for frequent travelers and people in the know, is actually one of the most amazing perks a flier can have. In fact, it is astounding that carriers focus more on their decadent business meal service, lie-flat seating, etc, when this is the secret sauce that business travelers — and all travelers for that matter — actually want: to arrive not feeling like a complete zombie, and get onto work or leisure quickly.
Typical cabin humidity on a plane is around 2 to 4 percent — drier than a desert, with pressurized altitude of around 8,000 feet above sea level. The Dreamliner takes things to a more civilized level of 15 percent humidity, and a pressurized altitude of 5,7000 feet above sea level. Of course, there was a reason for doing things the old way. Turns out planes with metal composites don’t like moisture for fear of rust. And older air conditioning systems used engine air — first cooled — to pressurize the cabin.
With the Dreamliner, the fuselage is made of carbon fiber composite materials — negating the metal construction/corrosion fears — thus allowing these developments.
The result is something that every passenger can benefit from, whether you are paying through the nose for premium seating or in a middle seat in economy. It is very egalitarian and something that provides a serious benefit for travelers: reduced jet lag and not feeling like you’re severely dehydrated after stepping off a long haul flight.
I can attest to the magic of this plane. On recent flights from Doha to Copenhagen, and London to Austin, I left the plane feeling miraculously better than on equipment that typically services a similar length of flight. I didn’t have the “plane brain” for the rest of the day, and felt more focused and alert. I constantly find myself asking “why is this not being rolled out with every new aircraft being assembled?”
Of course, the 787 is built for a certain type of flights: ten-plus hours, and routes that aren’t as popular as something that would need a larger plane (think a 777-300 or even an a380).
But for the target audience of this particular plane, the business traveller on routes like Abu Dhabi to Singapore, London to Austin, and Chicago to Shanghai, the gift of feeling better and more alert seems refreshing indeed. And one that more people should know about.