Review: British Airways, Economy Class aboard Boeing 787 Dreamliner, London to Baltimore

Though the Boeing 787 Dreamliner airplane has been in service for several years, the chance to fly on one had eluded me until my recent flight from London to Baltimore, Maryland. This was the type of route that the Dreamliner was built for -- "long and thin" they call it -- i.e. long distance routes flown by fewer people (so lower demand). The Dreamliner can actually fly far longer than this, though it's easy to see why this airplane is a big part of long-haul air travel's future between all but the biggest cities. If you have a choice between taking a trip on the Dreamliner versus any other plane, choose the Dreamliner.

Flight: British Airways #229
Date: 1 June 2017
Origin: London-Heathrow (LHR)
Destination: Baltimore-Washington (BWI)
Aircraft: Boeing 787-800 (Dreamliner)

Airport Experience

I'll spare most of the details on Heathrow's Terminal 5 because I've devoted an earlier piece to navigating this most extraordinary of places. Read that.

Further reading: WTF's guide to navigating British Airways Terminal 5 at London Heathrow Airport

Gate and Boarding

Our gate was in Terminal 5B, the middle pier building to which we took the short underground train from the main terminal building. Everything here was reasonable.

Take the chance to admire the plane through the terminal window, though, if you've not previously taken the time to stare longingly (is it just me?) this thing. Those raked (angled) wing tips are beautiful. The entire aircraft has the look of something evolved further into the future from what we've been used to over the last several decades. It's really pretty.

Aircraft Interior

I had this built up in my mind to be more majestic than it is, when in reality boarding feels mostly like the experience on any other wide body (i.e. two-aisle) long haul airplane, and British Airways hasn't exactly been known for its opulent cabins the last several years. The wonder is more in the details: pleasant LED lighting that gradually changes to meet the needs of the moment, reasonably comfortable seats (though I admit that I'm on my fifth hour in economy as I write this, and am getting a bit sore), overhead bins that seem to fit more while being well tucked away so as to give the entire cabin a roomier feel, climate and pressure control that make for a much more pleasant flight, and of course the shadeless windows with adjustable dimmers that feel like magic. Good work, Boeing. 

Note that the USB jack at each seat is really designed only to power and charge phones; you'll need to reach under your seat to plug laptops and tablets into an actual electrical outlet. Speaking of seats, those in economy (British calls them "World Traveler") have about average space between them, about 31 inches I'd say (the actual measurement is called "pitch"). The inflight entertainment system (IFE, also known as the screen in the back of the seat in front of you) is one of my favorite models with a nice lineup of movies and television shows, and a great map view of your progress in flight that shows (among other goodies) the names of the closest cities to where you are at any given point. It isn't as cool as the American Airlines IFE that pinpoints locations of shipwrecks in the depths beneath you, but it is a winner for actual production entertainment value (vs eye candy for geography geeks like me). The built-in headrests annoyed me for reasons that I can't quite put my finger on; they were just odd. That said, I am unconvinced that they are any worse than the semi-functional tavel pillow you are always debating bringing, so feel free to save that space in your bag.

Crew and Communication

British Airways is lately regarded (sometimes rightly so) as having walked away from its reputation of stellar overall experience in order to compete with budget airlines at cutthroat prices, but I must say that I'm flying on a streak of their absolutely stellar cabin crews. This one was no different, filled with helpful and cheerful folks who seem to be true professionals really taking their jobs as crew and as representatives of the United Kingdom quite seriously. One fellow even came through and asked us if we were warm enough, whereupon he raised the cabin temperature based on the prevailing mood of the crowd. I cannot commend them enough. I also love British English, so they win on the "communication" front.

Food and Beverage

Wine is generally complimentary on international long-haul flights, so that's a win. I chose the refreshing Chenin Blanc over the Tempranillo. Both are respectable, but still airplane wine. They will do. Re-visiting the curry chicken, I must say that the choice of wine options is terribly ill suited for that particular dish. The food is good, the wine is good, but the two are awkward together. Oh well.

Aircraft and Destinations

As I said, the Dreamliner is a beautiful aircraft that is well suited for routes like London to Baltimore. It's not large enough to replace the Boeing 747 and other larger planes on super high demand routes such as the seemingly hourly airborne bus service that is British Airways between London and Boston. It's conversely too big to replace the venerable Boeing 757 (how we love that airplane) on lower-demand routes. When given a choice, though, pick the Dreamliner, and hope that you get a crew as good as with which I flew this day.