Few would disagree that air travel has become nothing short of intolerable. with frequent delays, long security lines, cramped seats, and cabins that are, in a word, claustrophobic, it is no wonder that passengers just want to put on their headphones and sleep the flight away. But now, with a newly designed airplane, Boeing has taken advantage of the latest innovative technologies—of which lighting is a major component—to offer an in-flight experience worth waiting for.
Announced in December 2002, the 787 Dreamliner is an opportunity for Boeing to focus on a new, super-efficient twinjet airplane. Launched with an order for 50 aircraft, major assembly of the plane did not begin until June 2006, with final assembly beginning in May 2007. Perhaps the most important part of the design process, the company looked to travelers for input and conducted a survey to poll their in-flight feelings and frustrations. As Blake Emery, director of differentiation strategy for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, says, “We have spent over a decade learning what makes the flying public feel good.” Through focus groups, scientific studies, and research in Europe, Asia, and North America, Boeing discovered that “people want space, they like windows, and they want to arrive at their destination feeling relaxed.”
With this criteria in mind, the company, along with Seattle-based industrial design firm Teague, which has worked with Boeing for over 60 years, set out to design an airplane interior with passenger experience as its No. 1 priority—an aircraft that would not only redefine air travel, but provide an opportunity to change the way Boeing does business, specifically through a new, highly collaborative business model. Used throughout the design, development, and build phases, the new method ensures that the best ideas and abilities from the industry are used to create a product like no other, faster and more efficiently than ever. Touted to be the most advanced and efficient airplane in its class (meaning a midsize aircraft with long-haul ranges), the 787 Dreamliner represents a dramatic departure from the air-travel experience that passengers have grown to accept simply by default.
The first sensation passengers will encounter upon entering the newly designed aircraft is spaciousness. Resulting from a combination of the airplane's new architecture, its dynamic lighting scheme, and large windows that provide substantial natural light and views, the open and simplified layout is the foundation for comfort. As Kenneth Dowd, vice president of Teague Aviation Studio, explains, “The lighting and ceiling construction combines in a way that make it very difficult for passengers to judge the distance to the ceiling,” therefore visually expanding the space. The entry-way ceiling is, in fact, significantly higher than that of a comparable aircraft, at 9 feet high versus 6 feet, 8 inches. As for the overall effect of the cabin, Emery says, “The integrated whole of the 787's interior is much more than the sum of its parts—passengers will notice they are much more comfortable without necessarily noticing each design element.”
From the tall entryway, vaulted arches appear repeatedly along the cabin, dividing the plane's interior into sections and emphasizing the soaring ceiling, while serving an important architectural function. “They give the passengers the sense that they are in a well-proportioned room,” says Dowd. By integrating light into these architectural curves, significant improvements to passenger experience could be made, in addition to an interior that would invoke the sense of flying. “People are fascinated with the flying experience,” explains Emery. “They want to feel connected to the experience of flight as it happens.”