If Air NZ's 787s are a guide, Qantas will need more generous seating to make this jet tolerable.
If Air NZ’s 787s are a guide, Qantas will need more generous seating to make this jet tolerable.

Airlines that fly Boeing 787s have a real problem to deal with. It’s inferior in seating space in some important respects to Boeing 777s and Airbus A380s and A350s.

The issues this can cause airlines like Air New Zealand, which has 787-9s and 777-200ERs and -300ERs in parallel operation, are exquisitely measured and compared in this article by John Walton on the Runway Girl Network site.

Like Walton, this traveller has a very high regard for Air New Zealand’s people, the wonderful quality of service they provide no matter where you are seated, the excellent catering, and superb lounges.

There is nothing not to like about Air New Zealand except that it inflicts pain on passengers flying in its most recent configurations on some aircraft, and that this is totally out of whack with the size of its nationals, who eat better, exercise better, and outclass their sporting opponents better than any nation on earth.

Air New Zealand’s charter is surely to carry normal sized New Zealanders, not hobbits.

By the time Air NZ even half depreciates its newest Dreamliners and 777s this generational rise in stature will render all of them instruments of cruel and unnatural torment if they remain configured the way they are today.

And as RGN illustrates so neatly in photos and seat maps, this applies not just in economy but business premium as Air NZ brands its exceedingly pleasant first cabins.

These problems aren’t Boeing’s fault. It designed Dreamliners to compete in comfort with the Airbus A380, and to compliment the classic but increasingly rare configurations these days on 777s which retain those original and more amenable cabins on the big twin engine Boeings.

But where A380 operators like Emirates and Qantas, collect a slight to significant premium yield on the various classes of cabin they offer on the big Airbus, airlines using 787s and reconfigured crush class 777s see their business cases as being more about delivering cheaper seats in economy.

Having studied the first and business class cabins on an Etihad 787-9 compared to the alternatives on the Abu Dhabi carrier’s A380, the former is notably inferior, or in terms of Etihad’s service standards ‘splendidly inferior’, since it has a quality of courtesy and catering that would make a Douglas DC-4 Skymaster feel good, flying unpressurised at 6000 feet around the sides of mountains in stormy weather.

The alarming thing about RGN’s Air NZ study is that it invalidates claims that cruel seating plans in contemporary jets are purely driven by economy passengers demanding cheap seats .

The Air NZ example shows that the 787 can also degrade the amenity of business class, which means that the incentive to trade up from economy to something better no longer necessarily applies in its Dreamliners.

Smart premium cabin travellers will therefore seek out alternative carriers where the 787s have been outfitted to be every bit as comfortable as they can be compared to larger Boeings and Airbuses, or in the case of Air NZ, insist on flying in its 777s where the network makes that possible.

Qantas will arrive late to the scene of the ‘crime’ in 2017, when it starts taking its 787-9s. Will it take account of what has happened with everyone else’s Dreamliners, and make its 787s as comfortable as Boeing designed them to be?

Or will they be as cruel in economy as is the case in Jetstar’s 787-8s?

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