Why The Boeing 787 Has Dimmable Windows

The Boeing 787 ‘Dreamliner’ is an exciting aircraft that has helped set several precedents for the future of flying. For example, its high efficiency has helped to catalyze the recent trend among airlines away from using four-engine aircraft on long-haul flights. Another area where it has made waves is in its window technology. Famously, it doesn’t have window shades, but rather electronically-dimmable windows with five settings. But why is this the case?

The 787’s windows help passengers find a good balance of sunlight. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Why it has them, and how they work

There is a lot to love about the Boeing 787’s windows. Measuring approximately 27 x 47 cm, they are among the largest in the sky, offering passengers wider vistas than other aircraft. Furthermore, they are situated slightly higher in the fuselage, causing them to line up better with passengers’ eyes. This also makes for a more pleasant viewing experience.

The electronically dimmable nature of the Dreamliner’s windows is also an advantage. Rather than a traditional plastic window shade, these feature electrochromic smart glass, allowing passengers and flight attendants to choose one of five opacity settings.

The advantage is that passengers can still see outside despite the sun’s sometimes oppressive glare. Even the darkest setting still has a degree of transparency, allowing for compromise. Furthermore, as cabin crew can remotely control them, this is a quick and easy way to ensure all windows are darkened for overnight cruises, as is sometimes requested.

Boeing 787 Window
787 passengers control their windows with a button just below the frame, as seen here. Photo: Boeing

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Like on other aircraft, the 787’s windows consist of multiple panes of glass. However, where they differ, and how the electronic dimming systems work, is down to what lies between them. Specifically, they are separated by a gel which, upon being charged with an electric current, experiences a chemical reaction that alters its opacity, hence the dimming effect.

Recent usage controversy

As we have established, both passengers and crew members can control the 787’s dimmable windows. However, usage by the latter group has recently caused controversy at Fort Worth-based US legacy carrier and oneworld founding member American Airlines. Here, cabin crew had reportedly been locking the dimming controls out of passenger use.

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American has asked its flight attendants not to remotely lock the Boeing 787’s window dimming controls. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

This is said to have caused frustration among American’s passengers, who appreciate the autonomy of dimming the window to a level of their pleasing. As such, a recent memo to American Airlines’ crew reportedly told flight attendants:

“Customers sitting in the window seats enjoy watching take off, landing and even spotting landmarks from the sky. The Boeing 787 windows are larger and have unique controls for window shades. (…) Do not lock the window features on the Boeing 787. It’s important that each customer at a window can control their own experience.”

Similar technology on Airbus planes

While the 787 has become known for its dimmable window technology, Boeing is not the only manufacturer to be deploying it. Indeed, its European competitor Airbus also announced in January 2020 that it was planning to roll out such technology on its aircraft.

French bee A350-900
When will we see such technology on aircraft like the A350? Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

However, little more about these plans has been since. Simple Flying took another look at the topic in November. Of course, between then and the initial announcement the previous January, the industry had been heavily disrupted by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The latest reports at the time of our November article suggested that 2021 would be the targeted introduction for such technology on Airbus planes. Specifically, the models involved would likely be the A330neo and A350 families. Watch this space…

What do you make of the Boeing 787’s dimmable windows? As a passenger, which setting do you like to have them on? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

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