British Airways, like many airlines, operates both the Boeing 777 and the newer 787 on its long haul routes. The 787 was promised as a modern aircraft, with improvements to passenger comfort and facilities. While it offers a stylish and upgraded cabin, the race to pack in more seats may mean it is not as comfortable for some. Let’s compare which is the more comfortable.
The Boeing 777 and the 787
The Boeing 777 has been the most popular widebody aircraft to date. As such, it makes up a large part of many airlines’ long-haul fleets, including British Airways. It operates a fleet of 43 Boeing 777-200 aircraft and 16 larger (and longer range) 777-300ER aircraft.
The Boeing 787 was introduced in 2011 and has proved popular with many airlines. British Airways operates a fleet of 32 aircraft (12 Boeing 787-8, 18 787-9 and two 787-10). While it lacks the high passenger capacity of the 777 and offers a lower range than the 777-3000ER, the 787 brings improved fuel efficiency and a more modern cabin.
Importantly for airlines, it also costs about $50 million less than the 777 (for the new 787-10 vs. 777-300ER). But what’s it like to fly?
The 787 promised passenger comfort
One of the promises of the 787 was improved passenger comfort. There are several improvements in this area, including:
Higher cabin air pressure. The cabin is pressurized equivalent to a lower altitude of 6,000 feet, as opposed to 8,000 feet on most other aircraft, including the 777, but not the new 777X which will match the 787. This is possible due to the 787’s composite material fuselage. This should be more comfortable for passengers, helping them feel more rested and suffer less from jet lag.
Quieter cabin. Several features help lead to a quieter cabin on the 787. This includes reduced engine noise as well as quieter air conditioning, and systems for reducing vibration.
Better lighting and design. The 787 cabin has had a significant refresh. It offers innovative cabin lighting, which can be changed for different phases of the flight (and wake passengers up more gradually). The cabin design is also fresher, with an arched open feel, and larger, but tucked away higher overhead bins.
Larger windows. And finally, it features larger windows with electronic dimming (instead of plastic blinds). If (like me) you enjoy the views from the window, this is an excellent feature. It also, of course, gives a much lighter cabin.
It comes down to the seating
With these cabin improvements, you would think that the 787 would simply be a better choice. It has some great features for sure, and when you are stuck in an aircraft for 12 hours, any cabin improvement is well received. Unfortunately, the British Airways cabin is let down somewhat by its seating.
You will get a very similar offering in the premium cabins – World Traveller Plus (premium economy), Club World (business), and First. It is a shame that British Airways did not introduce a new Club World product for the 787 (or for the A380), as its yin-yang seating with very little storage space is now very dated compared to other airlines.
Business class seating will be improved with the new Club Suite. This is being fitted to some 777-200 aircraft already. The new 787-10 will feature it, but it won’t be fitted to the existing 787-8 and 787-9 for several years.
World Traveller (economy class) however, is not so similar. Like most airlines, British Airways has opted for a nine abreast economy cabin, making it very cramped. Seats on the 787 have a width of 17.5 inches, compared to 18.1 inches on the older 777-200 aircraft (based on data from SeatGuru).
Things are changing on the 777, though. The larger 777-300ER aircraft all have more compact, 17.5 inches wide, seating. And British Airways has started to re-fit many 777-200 aircraft with denser ten abreast seating.
This might not seem like much, but in an already packed cabin, it does feel more cramped with the denser seating. Seat pitch is the same 31 inches on both aircraft, although the last few rows on the 787 are lowered to 30 inches.
It is a shame that BA has done this. Only one airline, Japan Airlines, has installed eight across economy seating on the 787, and it makes a big difference. It offers a seat pitch of 33 inches and a width of 18.9 inches (based on data from SeatGuru), a vast improvement, and a great way to travel on the 787.
So which aircraft is best?
Overall, most people would probably find the 787 a more comfortable experience. The general cabin improvements and newer technology are an excellent addition. And seating is becoming similar.
If you are flying on a route with an older 777-200 aircraft, however, the extra space in the World Traveller cabin is a good option. But with these changing quickly, you likely won’t have much choice. You can check seating layouts at seatguru.com (and on the airline seat map an older 777 will have nine across, instead of ten across, seating in World Traveller).
Another exception would be if you are flying on a route offering the new Club Suite product. This will start appearing on the 777 sooner than on the 787. This is a much-improved offering and a great move by British Airways. Routes offering it are currently quite limited, but as it rolls out, there will be more options.
Which aircraft do you prefer – the 777 or the 787? Feel free to share your experiences traveling on the different versions offered in the comments.