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How the Boeing Dreamliner Works


Major Changes for Airplane Interiors
The business class seats on one of All Nippon Airways' Boeing 787 Dreamliners
The business class seats on one of All Nippon Airways' Boeing 787 Dreamliners
Steven Brashear/Getty Images

Sweeping arches. Interior windows 30 percent larger than those on any other plane its size. Manual shades replaced by an electronic system that blocks the light from getting in without obstructing the view. These are just some of the features on the Dreamliner that initially left passengers agog [sources: Stevens].

The Dreamliner was indeed a dream, or at least Boeing and the airlines hoped it would be. Design-minded folks who climbed aboard that first flight in 2011 were likely amazed at the lighting. Boeing bid farewell to fluorescent and hello to LED lighting. The LEDs, with 128 color combinations, made the inside look and feel as if passengers were floating in the sky among the clouds. The lights could even simulate the day from dawn to dusk. With long flights in mind, Boeing said the lighting would help tell fliers that it's time to sleep. Those first fliers also probably took in the overhead bins, which can accommodate up to four roll-aboard bags. Positioned at an angle, the bins leave more space above passengers' heads and are meant to make the cabin feel larger.

Finally, there were the seats. The Dreamliner may give the illusion of more space, but if you're flying economy, it's probably still going to be cramped. Based on anticipated configuration orders from airlines, the seat pitch in economy is now 31-32 inches (79-81 centimeters), and seat width will be less than 19 inches (48 centimeters) across [sources: Flynn, USA Today]. In other words, not much different from standard economy, but Boeing isn't necessarily to blame. In their configuration choices, airlines are the ultimate decision makers regarding how much space each passenger will have once seated. It's likely that if you're flying economy, you'll still be bumping elbows and knees throughout the flight.

Boeing's launch partner, All Nippon Airways (ANA), picked a shell-style economy seat, which slides forward instead of hinging backward. This means that when you recline, it doesn't hinder the precious legroom of the passenger behind you. The airline also designed seats that recline into beds for its business class. All passengers on ANA's Dreamliner also will have access to USB ports and electric outlets for charging their cell phones or using their computers.