Boeing 787 makes first commerical flight

Our good friend Scott Mayerowitz over at the AP was lucky enough to get a seat on the first commercial 787 Dreamliner flight, and he’s just published an update on the experience. The special flight, which ran between Tokyo and Hong Kong yesterday, played host to a variety of media and airline enthusiasts and is a celebration to kick off widespread service of aircraft on All Nippon Airways. The airline is expected to receive 55 aircraft over the next several years and unroll the equipment out to a variety of medium and long haul routes.

Those hoping to fly on the Dreamliner in the United States will have to wait until the first domestic carrier, United Airlines, receives its equipment in early 2012. That aircraft, which is initially scheduled to fly between Houston and Auckland, just rolled of of the assembly line this month and is currently undergoing testing.

New with this airframe will be improved air conditions, wider windows, larger overhead bin space and a quieter, more efficient experience. Whether or not the airlines can successfully negate these benefits with fees and constraints is yet to be proven.

[flickr image via PYONKO]

Five airline amenities making a comeback … and the one we want

Wow, there’s a headline I never thought I’d write! Though I suspect it has little to do with actual customer demand – after all, the airlines don’t even call us customers – several are starting to bring small, small perks back into the cabin. Two factors help, of course: (1) they aren’t expensive and (2) airlines have shown solid profits this year (at least in the United States).

So, despite having to pay for extra bags and invoking ire at the mere request for orange juice, we’re finally going to get something back! What that is depends on where you are in the world, and some of these amenities are downright bizarre. But, the average passenger is probably at a point where even the slightest indication of humanity is incredible. We’re like hungry dogs, after all, and with these in-cabin perks, it feels like the airlines are waving a steak.

What are the airlines offering? Let’s take a look at five amenities, according to MSNBC:1. The “stretch bar”: SAS is installing a bar on some of its flights – and not the drinking kind. It’s an exercise rod that passengers can use to stretch out while on long flights. In continuing to cater to the vain, SAS is also adding mirrors to some seats, so you can make sure you look your hottest without having to leave your seat for a trip to the lavatory.

2. Lighting and sound effects: All Nippon Airways is using these tools to create “a calm cabin atmosphere that invites passengers to relax and rest,” MSNBC reports. The goal is to make flights more comfortable for passengers with late-night departures. The new “Relax” cards go with this – press a button and enjoy the lavender aroma.

3. Happy Moms: Asiana Airlines, based in South Korea, offers a “Happy Mom Service” at many airports, according to MSNBC, with a dedicated check-in line for families with small children. Nursing blankets, baby slings and baby seats are available on board the planes.

4. Locally-sourced booze: Horizon Airlines is kicking in free local wines and microbrews from the Pacific Northwest on its flights – even in coach!

5. In-flight wifi: since a relatively small number of passengers has been using this service, some airlines are seeking out sponsors and offering it up free to passengers. On Delta, AirTran and Virgin America, Google Chrome is ponying up the cash for free passenger use through January 2, 2011.

So, what’s the one amenity not being offered that would make flights so much more comfortable? How about an alternative to the lav for mile-high club membership? It’s not easy to pull off, and there has to be a better way than this.

[photo by PhillipC]

All Nippon Airways to have women-only bathrooms on international routes

Starting March 1, ANA will designate some lavatories on international routes as only for women.

One toilet in the aft section of each plane will be reserved just for women. The signs are expected to go up in March and be completed fleet-wide by the end of April.

Exceptions include A320/B727 aircraft, and depending on the passenger load, the women-only restriction may be lifted if there aren’t enough women on board. (ANA flies long-haul flights from North America to Asia, including Japan.)

There will be no male-only bathrooms, so women can use either. Other than the new signs, there are no differences between the restrooms, though the airline is considering having different amenities in the women-only restrooms, such as special hand soap.

The change comes as a result of customer demand, though spokesperson Justin Massey tells me via e-mail that “there weren’t specifics about seat-down-versus-up… It was determined in general that the females preferred not following a male into restrooms and that males, to some extent, mentioned not feeling totally comfortable with a female coming into the restroom after they’ve used it.”

Considering the line to the ladies’ room always seems longer no matter where you are, this change could help make a long flight slightly more tolerable since women can now access more on-board restrooms than men.

ANA launches “Inspiration of Japan” luxury in-flight experience

With the new motto “Inspiration of Japan,” Japanese carrier ANA (aka All Nippon Airways) is launching a new luxury flight experience, the like of which we’ve never seen.

When one thinks of Japanese hotels, supreme convenience comes to mind — the curtains on a switch by the bed, everything from dramatic lighting schemes to room service controlled by a touchscreen panel — and ANA is bringing that personal accommodation and comfort to flying with their seating.

In the video above, I’ll give you a tour of the various seating classes, including Japan’s first 180° reclining Business Class seats. With the new floor plan, all seats in Business and First Class are aisle seats. The plane will also be equipped with the world’s first in-flight rice steamer, designed exclusively for ANA, guaranteeing the freshest rice you’ve ever had at 30,000 feet.

I chatted briefly with Gary Weiss, ANA’s Director of Market Development about the changes.

Gadling: What’s the philosophy behind these new developments?

Gary Weiss: This is a long-range investment. A lot of carriers are re-trenching; cutting capacity and cutting corners. We decided to just go for it. 2010 represents a great opportunity, with the opening up of more slots at Narita and Haneda. If we don’t do it now, we’ll probably never do it, so we decided, “Let’s hedge our bets, get the best product in the sky going, and we should be able to retain a good yield.”

G: So, rather than cutting corners, you’re making your brand more luxurious?GW: Correct.

G: Is that in response to the economy?

GW: No, this has actually been in research in development since prior to September ’08. It was a good seven, ten year plan. We wanted to be first with some of these luxurious, innovative products — and I’m glad that we have the guts to take the risk.

G: How do these changes translate to your rock-bottom, Economy Class passengers?

GW: It’s the same idea. We actually made it bigger and better. There’s three more inches of seat pitch, the distance between the rows. That intrusive seat back doesn’t come into your face anymore — your neighbor in front of you won’t hit you in the head or close your laptop.

The first flights to include these new features will be the Narita-New York route on the new Boeing 777-300ER, commencing in February 2010. Keep an eye on the ANA SkyWeb for more updates.

Galley Gossip: Attention All Nippon Airway passengers, please empty your bladders now!

Ya know, I’ve seen a lot of strange things working as a flight attendant in the last fourteen years, I really have, and just when I think I’ve seen it all a passenger will surprise me. Recently an elderly woman asked if I’d be willing to help her get her bra back on right after she yelled at me for talking too much in the aisle. And then there was the time I sat down on my jumpseat in the back of the airplane and another passenger cracked the lavatory door open and asked if I had a magazine she – not he could borrow. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

Most of the time it’s a passenger making a strange request, but this time it’s an airline and that airline is implementing one wacky new policy. It wants you to pee before you fly. As of October 1, 2009, All Nippon Airways (ANA), a Japanese Airline, is asking its passengers to empty their bladders before boarding a flight, and they’re doing so in the guise of going green. Now I’m all for being green, I even carry my own eco friendly refillable water bottle along with me on trips, but setting up signs at the airport and hiring “loo-attendants” to remind people to use the bathroom is kind of crazy, don’t ya think? ANA believes a lighter aircraft will result in lower fuel use which in return will create a reduction in carbon emissions.

Perhaps All Nippon is on to something. It’s been rumored that American Airlines saved $40,000 in 1987 when they removed one olive – ONE OLIVE! – from each salad in first class. Can you imagine how much money will be saved if every single passenger on board a full flight uses the loo before take-off? According to the, the average human bladder capacity is 15oz, which means if 150 passengers relieved themselves that would total to 63.7kg of waste. That’s 140 pounds, people! That doesn’t even count the amount of money the airline stands to save on toilet paper. Now does anyone know how much an olive weighs?

Of course it’s the All Nippon staff who is in charge of asking passengers to use the restroom one last time before they board. How embarrassing is that going to be – for everyone involved! I can’t help but wonder who, exactly, is going to do this, and how, exactly, this will be done, and what, exactly, is going to be said. I’m dying to know. Will frequent fliers receive special treatment by being allowed to go first? Will flight attendants be able to flash their badge and cut the line like we do at security? Will the airline take a delay for passengers who have difficulty going on cue. Next thing you know ANA will start limiting the amount of beverages allowed to be consumed on board after take-off! And here I thought charging for checked bags was bad!

While the airline is only in an experimental phase with it’s carbon emission reduction plan which will take place over one month and forty two flights, it may actually extend the program if it is well received by passengers and gets positive results.


Photo courtesy of Tango-Sierra