If you’re travelling the Sydney-to-Auckland route on Air New Zealand’s new Boeing Dreamliner 787-9, there is now one more reason to pre-book the coveted window seat. The small windows with the annoying pull-down plastic blinds have been replaced by larger windows that allow passengers to dim the incoming light at the touch of a button.
The LED lighting in the cabin can also be tuned to match the time of day, changing gradually to suit our circadian rhythm, which could make a huge difference to passengers' wellbeing on longhauls to other continents in the future. But for now, on the Sydney to Auckland route, it’s the dimmable windows that passengers will notice.
The idea came from a passenger feedback exercise. ‘Sometimes a passenger would want to look out the window, while the person next to him or her would want the shade closed in order to sleep or watch a movie,’ explains Blake Emery, director of differentiation strategy for Boeing’s commercial aeroplanes. ‘The dimmable and larger windows – which also give everyone on the aeroplane a view to the outside – are a way to make the flying experience better.’
Boeing surveyed passengers on their reaction to different window options with a mock-up that allowed them to test a variety of window sizes, shapes and positions. ‘The results clearly showed that passengers prefer larger windows’, says Emery.
How it works
These windows have been several years in the making and have not been without challenges. ‘The initial prototypes were too hazy; even as they became better the dark was not dark enough or the clear was not clear enough,’ says Emery. ‘Another challenge was to determine the learning curve for the passenger. That is, could they learn quickly how the dimmable window actually works? It turns out they can,’ he adds.
"Electronic shades and larger windows provide a better flight experience because passengers can gradually control the light from dark to bright."
Dimming technology has been used for years to automatically dim car rear view mirrors, but the 787 Dreamliner is the first commercial jetliner to feature windows which allow passengers to manually shade their windows.
It works by using an electrified gel, sandwiched between two thin pieces of glass. The gel darkens as the electric current increases, and lightens when the current decreases. ‘The system is brilliant in its simplicity,’ says Emery.
Using networked controls, all the windows' dimmers can also be controlled by pilots and flight attendants. This is particularly important as airline regulations currently require that all window shades stay open during take-off and landing.
Passengers feel better
With windows that are 65 per cent larger than on most planes, Emery says the primary benefit for the traveller is never losing connection to the flying experience. ‘Electronic shades and larger windows provide a better flight experience because passengers can gradually control the light from dark to bright, which takes about one minute. A gradual transition provides a more relaxed experience, especially for passengers waking up or sleeping nearby,’ he explains.
If you ask the passengers, controllable light levels is the way forward. ‘One question we ask in feedback forms is how satisfied passengers are with their ability to control the amount of daylight in the cabin,’ says Emery – ‘the 787 rates higher than any other aircraft on this question.’
Flight attendants also like dimmable windows because they have more control; they can manage individual passenger windows, a cabin section or all windows on the aeroplane.
Already operational on several scheduled services, Air New Zealand plans to introduce 10 of these aircraft to its fleet by 2017.
The dimmable windows can be seen in the video below, where Boeing director Blake Emery explains the thinking behind the design of the Dreamliner 787-9: