British Airways 787–800 Dreamliner… or Nightmareliner?

My job takes me to flying quite a lot: well over 100 flights last year, and a typical week has 3–5 hops of 2–5 hours each. It’s not particularly glamorous but it’s my job.

The US domestic airlines are set up in such a way that their frequent fliers get treated well, and I frequently get upgrades and preferred seating, which make the occasional middle seat at the rear pretty tolerable.

The shrinking economy seat

The economy class seat is well known to be shrinking and carriers like Spirit are cramming more and more customers into a plane.

I flew Spirit a few times this year and it’s akin to being on a Greyhound bus, hurtling through the skies.

It’s insanely cramped on Spirit, but at around 15% of the equivalent American Airlines price, I sucked it up a few times.

Flying this every day would be miserable, but most Spirit travelers are occasional flyers, and being crammed like a sardine for a few hours a year makes perfect sense.

And let’s face it, Spirit’s financial results are amazing, so their approach is working.

International Economy

I’m good to be crammed in like a sardine on an occasional domestic flight for a few hours, but when it comes to a long-haul flight, I’d like to be a little more comfortable.

That said, I’m somewhat price sensitive and so when I traveled recently for work, I chose a fairly reasonably priced $900 round trip to London. I try not to waste my company money.

American Airlines A330–300

We traveled over by American (the plane was one of the most recent US Airways pre-acquisition planes), and it was just fine. The entertainment system was new, the seats big enough for me to easily get to sleep.

It was a good benchmark of International Economy flying, and the 2–4–2 seat configuration is nice in the A330, despite the 17" stated width and 31" pitch. No complaints.

My first flight on a Dreamliner

I’ve been wanting to fly on Boeing’s flagship plane for a while, and it promises to be best in class.

It’s better for the planet, and uses much less fuel, plus it’s high-tech design is quieter, has better air humidity and larger windows.

Truly, the 787 is a plane made for the 21st century. It’s a feat of engineering, and I’ve been wanting to fly one for some time.

The stated seat sizes are the same as for the American A330, so I had no cause for concern.

The nightmare

Unfortunately BA got greedy and decided to fit too many seats into this plane.

I’m a mid-sized person, at 6'1 and my shoulders literally hang off the sides of the seats. That’s ok for me, but not so great for the person next to me!

To add to this, the seat pitch is insane. My knees are jammed into the seat in front and just to make it painful, the seat back is plastic and there is a metal wire that holds the magazines in the seat, positioned at knee height, so it digs in painfully.

Attempting to eat

Is nearly impossible, because the table won’t go down because my legs are in the way. I contort myself into a position where I can get the tray table down…

… only to find that it’s been designed on a slope so your tray falls off. Contort legs, hold tray with one hand, shovel food with the other.

Next, watch as your drink slides off the table, soaking you.

The reclining seat

Next, the passenger in front uses his right to recline, but there isn’t anywhere for him to recline. My knees are occupying this space and he painfully smashes his seat back and forward into me.

For the rest of the flight his seat is moving back and forward to the motion of me trying to get less uncomfortable.

The feedback form

I ask for a feedback form (BA used to have detailed feedback forms but they have apparently got rid of them), and the cabin attendants were most helpful.

They said they don’t like flying this plane because customers complain on every flight about the cramped nature.

They elaborate that the seats towards the back of the plane are even worse because they have even less pitch.

And they explain that the complaints were already bad enough that BA has reconfigured the new 787–900 and it doesn’t suffer from this problem.

The future of International Economy

The trouble is that there is a race to the bottom and BA are caught up in it. I talked with the attendants and they know they are competing for business with Easyjet. Customers don’t care on average for a premium product.

And the long-haul Low-Cost-Carrier is on the way, make no mistake. It won’t get better from here.


The issue I have with BA is its lack of transparency. When you search on Google Flights or Seatguru, it shows the A330 and 787–800 as having the same seat dimensions.

That’s clearly untrue, as I fit in one seat but not the other. They were sold as the same product and they are not.

Final Words

One thing is for sure, I’m not flying economy in the 787–800 again.

My choices as a consumer are to fly another airline (though BA have the best flight schedules to London) or to upgrade to Premium Economy.

And to be clear, an Economy ticket is around $900, Premium is $1500 and Business is $6000. It’s a lot more money when all I want is a few more inches.

But these are my choices and as a consumer, all I can do is to vote with my wallet.

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