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What It's Like to Fly for 10 Hours on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner

Where: Santiago, Chile
January 14, 2013 at 12:05 PM | by | ()

It flies! It actually flies!

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is a headline hog. You can read all about it and its drama (lately more than ever) throughout major media, but there's nothing better than actually stepping onboard with a ticket to ride.

After more than a year of hanging out with the 787 on the tarmac, we finally flew the darned thing as South American airline LAN celebrated the inaugural flight of their new Los Angeles-to-Santiago, Chile 10-hour non-stop with the spiffy new bird.

So, what actually happens onboard a 787 flight? Is it really so different from any other airplane? Having just stepped off of this, our first 787 flight, we can finally answer those questions: lots of stuff and yes.

To describe a 10-hour flight is akin to boring neighbors with photo slides of a water park vacation. Instead, we're breaking it down into the hourly highlights ("the short of it") and, for those rapt with pleasure for every detail, the long of it, in first-person:

The short of it:

HOUR 1: Lots of looking out the window as I take time to appreciate the fact I'm finally flying in this brand new airplane. That raked wingtip in action! The giant windows! The mood lighting in the cabin as it changes from a cool blue to an orange in preparation for mealtime! Speaking of mealtime, it's during this first hour passengers put in their orders for the dinner service.

HOUR 2: Getting settled even more, I notice there's a new wine list and the old Bulgari amenity kits are now Salvatore Ferragamo (note: I've flown LAN in both economy & business quite a lot recently, on award mile redemptions, so I'm quite familiar with all their "soft product" and the hard product of the 767s). The appetizer arrives and the presentation is flawless. No big deal, just sucking meat from this claw at 38,000 feet.

HOUR 3: It's obvious everyone is getting into "airplane mode" themselves as the plane quiets down and the sun sets out the window. The entree and dessert arrive. For the former I've chosen Ecuadorian shrimp versus grilled steak or prosciutto salad. For the latter I've chosen passionfruit flan over the fruit salad or dulce de leche Häagen-Dazs ice cream.

HOUR 4: Finished with the meal, I take a stroll all the way from my seat at the very front of the plane, to the very rear galley. Economy has also finished eating and, as is obvious from the glow of the seatback screens, that the majority are finishing up movies. I stroll back up the other aisle and head to the lavatory to wash my face. Before I settle in for sleep or work, I always make a point of filling out the immigration and customs forms.

HOURS 5-8: I help as the flight attendant gets my pillow and comforter down from the overheard bin and fluffs them. A little playing with the seatback massage function and I am ready to sleep. There'll be no late-night work tonight as I attempt to get on Santiago time, which is a full five hours ahead of LA. I manage to sleep very deeply for a full four hours.

HOUR 9: The sound of clinking china always awakens me on flights; I love breakfast and have ordered the full ham and cheese spread, versus the "express" option which allows for more sleep time. Fruit, croissant, coffee, apple juice and all are eaten because I don't know the next chance I'll have to grab a bite on the ground. My brain isn't awake enough to focus on much other than the live map channel.

HOUR 10: Last chance to hit the lavatory and freshen up and last chance for some stretching. I stand in the archway area in the middle of business class to have a last look around the place. I then watch 30 Rock (one of the Isabella Rossellini episodes!) until we land in the pre-dawn darkness. It's 12:30am LAX time, 5:30am SCL time.

The long of it:

Departing at 2:25pm PST and arriving at 01:05am PST the next day, or 6:05 am Santiago time, LAN 603 may leave in the early afternoon but it's considered a night flight. With such an early arrival time to Santiago (we actually landed a full half hour earlier, at 5:30am), there's plenty time for an early check-in at a hotel, a shower and change of clothes, before heading off for a morning business meeting or a leisurely desayuno.

Still, a passenger on this flight has to have their priorities straight. Since I'd be spending that entire next day doing a combination of working and sightseeing, the priority for me was a good several hours of sleep. I stayed away from coffee with dinner, had only one glass of wine, didn't get sucked into a movie on the seatback entertainment system and kept my digital forays confined to my iPhone (which remained 100% charged thanks to the at-seat power plugs). My laptop stayed in the overheard compartment though there would have been plenty of room to work, but my eyes were tired and stressed after two previous days of little sleep; I'd been a little too psyched for this flight and was facing three major time zone changes in as many days.

As for the new seats in the Premium Business cabin, my first impression was that they definitely improve on the elbow and ankle room of seats past. The layout, 2-2-2 and all lie-flat, still means window seats will have to step over the legs of their seatmate to reach the aisle, but holding onto the fixed backs makes this easy. I also truly enjoy the warmer colors of the new fabrics; LAN has gone from the standard blue and grey of business class cabins to orange and red. The warm tones are supposed to be representative of the spirit and flavor of South America, but it also means this plane stands out from the 787s of other airlines which have—you guessed it—blue and grey galore. Compare and contrast with our photos from inside ANA's 787.

So you've maybe also heard that the 787 is able to keep higher humidity and a better cabin pressure—6,000' instead of the usual 8,000'—which allows the body to absorb more oxygen and reduces the chances for headaches, drowsiness and other symptoms of motion sickness. Did I feel a difference? In truth, I had to think about it for a while before realizing that I was markedly more alert after awaking from a 4-hour nap than I typically am at this stage on long-haul flights. Uber-frequent flyers who change time zones as often as they change their shoes will be the first to notice this, as will those with particularly delicate dispositions.

Much fuss has been made over the Dreamliner's new auto-dimming windows and testing them during a long flight was especially fun. In Premium Business, each seat has about three windows, and they work together with the controls of the window nearest you. So, for example, if you dim the window at your shoulder, the other two in your space will dim along with it. In economy, it's one window per seat. The auto-dimming comes from the electrified gel sandwiched between the window glass, but it only goes so dark; the most opaque setting is still rather transparent, doing the job of turning the world a dark green rather than full black. It definitely eases the sensation of being trapped, but during sunset the window gets quite warm and the sun still annoyingly, persistently pierces through on the right side. Pro tip: Sit on the left side of the plane on LAN 603 to avoid this.

This flight is actually on sale with just-released New Year specials on LAN. Flying LAX-SCL is $899 per person including taxes and fees, if you book before January 28 and fly between February 1 and June 30, 2013.

Disclosure: We were onboard the inaugural as a guest of LAN Airlines, but all jet lag, photos and opinions are strictly our own.

[Top photo: Joe Corrigan/Jaunted. All other photos: Cynthia Drescher/Jaunted]

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