The 787 windows issue (with pics)

I’ve been following with interest All Nippon Airways’ issues with the dimmable windows in the Boeing 787. I recently had a chance to fly on the 787 during its demonstration tour, and the windows were one of the features I was most keen to check out. After all, this has been one of the most publicized cabin features on the new aircraft.

Basically, the windows aren’t supposed to need pull-down blinds, because they dim automatically at the push of a button. However, ANA has told Boeing that the windows are not dark enough when dimmed to the fullest extent. The carrier has asked for a solution to make the cabin darker for long-haul flights.

When I saw the windows during the demo flight, I was very impressed overall. I played around with the dimming controls quite a bit during our short flight from Auckland to Christchurch (the visit here was due to Air New Zealand being the launch customer for the 787-9). Below are some of the pics I took while on the flight, and my impressions about the windows and other cabin features.

One of the cool things about the automatically dimming windows is that the flight attendants can control the settings for the whole cabin. So no more of the ridiculous situation of the FAs having to go down the length of the plane reminding everyone to pull their shades down to let people sleep. And it will prevent the selfish idiots who decide they need to open the window while everyone else is sleeping so they can read, oblivious to the fact they have flooded half the cabin with light and woken up a dozen people. You never realize how glaringly bright the window can be if you’re sitting right beside it.

So I was already a fan of the dimming function, because it solves a lot of problems. Admittedly, I didn’t see the cabin with all the windows dimmed at once and it was too short a flight to see if it was dark enough to sleep. But it was a very bright day, and the windows I tried seemed to go very dark at full dim level. Below are windows at three stages of dimness.

However, I was surprised that I could still see a little bit outside when the window had been fully dimmed, as I was expecting them to go completely black. You can definitely still see outlines through the window. But it struck me that this isn’t a bad thing. Particularly when the windows have been automatically dimmed, there are still some people that like to glance out the window to see if they if they are over land or water. And I think it would be a bit disconcerting to see a long row of ink-black windows with no shades.

Another note about the windows is that it takes a while to get used to the dimming buttons. There is a real lag in response, so if you push the dim button several times, it will eventually fade. That does make it a little difficult to get the level of dimness you want.

Like I said, overall I liked the windows. I really hope Boeing and ANA find a way to make the dimming function work to the airline’s liking, because it is too good an idea to throw away.

As a side-note, the height of the windows impressed me more than I thought it would. Having heard so much about that aspect, I was prepared to be underwhelmed. But I was actually quite surprised by the effect. Even walking along the aisle, you get a real sense of a panorama view. And we were treated to a great view during our demo flight, as we flew along the eastern side of New Zealand’s spectacular Southern Alps.

Regarding some of the other cabin features, I was impressed by the roomier feel to the cabin that is created by the overhead bin design. They are apparently larger than previous designs, but they also allow more headroom. It was too short a flight to gauge the cabin air quality, but I will take Boeing's word for it that the air is less dry than on other aircraft. However, the lower noise is certainly noticeable.

This demo flight also gave me the opportunity to visit the cockpit during flight, which is a bit of a rarity these days.

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