Economy class aboard ANA's Dreamliner

I’ve taken several overseas trips where my departure leg is either in First or Business class but, for whatever reason, I’m assigned Economy for my return leg. While I’m always worried about being cramped in a budget seat for nine or ten hours, my recent experience in the economy section of ANA’s 787 Dreamliner showed I needn’t have been concerned.

On a recent media tour during which reporters and bloggers rode on the first Dreamliner to offer passenger service from Seattle, I flew business class from Seattle (SEA) to Tokyo (NRT). As I wrote in a previous post, it was a delightful experience that I’m sorry didn’t last longer.

ANA 787 Dreamliner arrives in Seattle

Coming home, I once again found myself facing a flight in what I only semi-jokingly refer to as “steerage.” Others, like cartoonist Donna Barstow who drew a scathing cartoon for The New Yorker magazine, have been even less charitable. In her cartoon, a flight attendant asks a boarding passenger, “First class or livestock?”

Perhaps because the Japanese take better care of their livestock than Americans (or Uniteds or Deltas, for that matter), ANA’s economy class was surprisingly pleasant, especially considering the length of the flight. In fact, the hour-long bus ride from Haneda airport to Narita airport was far less comfortable.

While less luxurious than its business class, the economy class aboard my particular aircraft was probably the best of the economy classes I’ve flown.  The seats were 18.5” wide, among the widest economy seats in the industry. 

Seat pitch was a more standard 31” (though reports it to be 33-33") but, to preserve personal space, the seats do not recline. Instead, the bottom portion of the seat slides forward by three inches to provide a bit of tilt. While that decreases the original seat pitch as your knees come closer to the seat back in front of you, it also means the seat in front won’t come toward you.  That makes it easier to work on one’s laptop without being cramped by the passenger in front of you.

Another smart touch is the configuration of the seats, which are placed in such a manner that there is no “middle seat.”

Economy seating

Upon first impression, seating looks like a two-four-two configuration. However, the four seats between the aircraft’s two aisles are actually two sets of two with a few extra inches between the two sets of seats, meaning that no seat has more than one shared arm rest. On a long flight, those few extra inches are a small detail that yields big benefits.

Seating arrangements vary, however, as the cabins of ANA's Dreamliners are arranged in three different configurations. My aircraft was one of two different two-class configurations and included 46 flat-bed Business Class seats and 112 standard economy seats. The other two-class configuration includes 42 Business Class seats and 180 standard economy seats. On those aircraft, economy seats are the same width and two-four-two configuration as on mine but have a slightly shorter pitch, at 31".

The airline also operates a three-class configuration that includes 46 flat-bed Business Class seats, 21 Premium Economy seats and 100 standard economy seats, arranged in a three-three-three configuration. Premium Economy seat are 19.3" wide with 38" of pitch, while seats in economy class are 17.3" wide, and the pitch is reported at 31", which is a narrower seat and a shorter pitch than my economy class experience.* 

As in business class, each seat has a personal entertainment center with on-demand videos, movies, in-flight maps, and other features. Headphones are provided, though they are not noise canceling like the Sony® headphones in business class. In fact, I found them too uncomfortable to wear for even the length of one movie, so I switched to the ear buds I carry when traveling.

All entertainment centers provide the ability to send text messages to fellow passengers, a very useful feature for families or business associates who aren’t seated together.

Economy class meal service

While not as varied as the food in business class, economy passengers were also given a choice of Japanese or Western cuisine and complimentary beverages throughout the flight.

Service was excellent, with flight attendants (F/As) constantly up and down the aisles, checking on whether passengers had everything they needed.

With regard to the F/As, those tending economy class on my flight were far less fluent in English than their counterparts in business class, who were quite happy to carry on conversations with their passengers.  However, the F/As in economy were every bit as gracious, and were very adept at working around this hiccup.

For example, I answered the question, “Would you like something to drink?” by saying, “Yes. Scotch, please,” because I had spotted Chivas Regal on the menu.  Though apparently puzzled by my response, the F/A remedied the situation deftly. She turned to the beverage page on the menu and indicated that I should point to what I wanted.  When I looked more closely, I realized that, like the British, the Japanese refer to scotch as simply “whisky,” so it could have been my reference to “scotch” that confused the issue.

Lavatories in economy class are standard sized as opposed to the larger “Dream Lavs” in business class, but also feature the TOTO toilets with built-in bidet function that are very popular in Japan.

Surprisingly, my economy seat allowed my to snooze comfortably when the flight crew darkened the electrically controlled windows, indicating it was time to nap. And stowing my carry-ons in the ample overhead storage meant there was plenty of room for my long legs under the seat in front of me whether I used the foldable footrest or not.

Finally – and it took me several days to realize this – the higher air pressure in the cabin of the Dreamliner, along with advanced air treatment, dramatically reduced the time it took me to recover from the trip. In fact, the difference was so pronounced that I hesitate to call it “jet lag”; more accurately put, it was just adjusting to the change in the time zones. 

And that’s a benefit everyone who flies on the 787 Dreamliner will enjoy, whether they ride in business or economy class.

ANA provided me with round-trip transportation and lodging in Tokyo as part of a media familiarization trip so that several reporters and bloggers could experience its service and the 787 first-hand.

Visit my main page at for more news, reviews, and personal observations on the world of upmarket travel.

Photos by Carl Dombek
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* Editor's note: Originally published Oct. 10, 2012, this post was updated May 31, 2014 to include additional details about the different versions of the Dreamliner ANA is currently operating.