You will not notice it by searching on Expedia (or Google, for that matter) or checking-in at your favorite hotel, or even boarding a flight, but the travel world changed this week.
With the delivery of the Boeing 787 to ANA today, we officially entered a new era of aviation. We have seen many new aircraft enter service over the past decades and each has had their impact on the way we travel, but this is different.
For those of us in the online travel world, there are only two types of airplanes: those airplanes that impact a traveler’s booking decision, and those that don’t.
Pretty much every airliner falls in the latter category, until today.
For the first time since the Boeing 747 entered service in 1970, or maybe even the 707 in 1958, I believe the 787 will have an impact.
1) 6,000 feet
That’s the simulated elevation of the cabin of the 787 at cruise. That is 2,000 ft. lower than every other jetliner today. For the traveler, especially on long-haul flights, this will be transformative to how they feel when they get to their destination.
Imagine sleeping more soundly because of the increased oxygen content. Imagine not being dehydrated.
Business travelers will prefer this cabin, and finally we have a tangible thing different about an aircraft that leaves its mark even after you disembark.
2) New routes
The 787 will be able to connect cities that previously could not be connected by non-stop travel because of its range capabilities and lower cost.
For example, Continental first ordered the 787 to fly from Houston to Auckland, and United announced recently they intended to keep that route as their first 787 route (although look for it on domestic US flights next summer as they do training!).
This connects two cities which otherwise wouldn’t be connected, and opens up a whole series of connections heretofore impossible.
Travelers will not notice the lower unit cost on their fare prices since that all gets absorbed in the airline’s P&L, but they will notice the new routes it enables at competitive prices
3. Lighting and windows and toilets
I don’t believe people will make choices based on LED lighting (also seen on B737s now), neat toilet features, bigger windows, or even the electronic window shades. However, together, these will create a meaningfully different on-board experience that on the margin, can influence travelers.
Anyone who boards a 787 for the first few years will take notice, even those who are generally oblivious to whether they’re on an A320 or a B777.
Enough of these "wow" moments and just maybe they will trickle through to the ticketing step of the next trip.
Some might argue this is no different than the A380 launch in 2007, and in many ways that is true. But a two-floor aircraft had existed since the 747, and other than a bigger 2nd floor, the A380 did not really provide for a fundamentally different experience, nor the routes it flew, nor the feel of the plane.
All the new-fangled features that launched with the A380 (eg. first class suites, landing gear or tail cameras, on-board lounges) are also found on 747s and A340s.
But for a while, at least, the 787 will offer things nobody else can. Soon enough, there will be a whole fleet of them in service, and then OTAs and airlines can market them as a new, superior choice in air travel.
I’m the first to admit that people choose based on fare and schedule only, but given just how different some of these elements are, there is a real opportunity for airlines and OTAs to market and sell based on them, even at a premium.
This will be one of the select times when marketing a flight based on something other than price and schedule just might work.
In any case, it's a big day for our industry and a testament to decades of work by Boeing and their suppliers. I for one, can't wait to get on one, regardless of where it will take me.