Japan's All Nippon Airways was caught off-guard by the enthusiastic response when it became the first carrier in the world to fly the long-awaited Boeing 787 Dreamliner, a boon as the airline aims to strengthen its brand internationally.
Hundreds of people flocked to Tokyo's Haneda Airport in late September, some waiting overnight, to watch the first 787 arrive from the Seattle assembly plant after more than three years of delays. In addition to fuel-efficiency advances, the jet features many details geared toward improving the passenger experience at a time when few people relish the prospect of flying.
In total, airlines worldwide have placed orders for 821 Dreamliners, but All Nippon Airways has bragging rights after being the first to take delivery of the plane and start commercial service. The initial flight, from Tokyo to Hong Kong on Oct. 26, was packed with paying passengers and journalists, and several business-class seats were sold in a charity auction.
The Dreamliner's quiet engines allow for normal conversational tones mid-flight. Its windows are the largest in the industry, allowing for more natural light but with high-tech shades that dim panes with the touch of a button. Higher cabin pressure and humidity in the air help travelers feel more refreshed when they arrive at their destination, and LED lighting in the cabin is considered more soothing.
In a nod to Japan's unique culture, the on-board toilets have a bidet function -- yes, even in economy -- and the lavatories also have a window.
"We are not widely known outside Japan," said Megumi Tezuka, an ANA spokeswoman. "But as we target to increase our international passenger revenue and becoming the No. 1 airline in Asia, creating ANA's brand and strengthening our global marketing was crucial"
"Unexpectedly, the launch of the 787 Dreamliner hugely contributed to bring ANA's name and brand across the world," Ms. Tezuka said, adding that ANA had never had so much international coverage in such a short amount of time.
Before the launch, negative comments online were generally related to ANA's stock prices, according to an analysis by Tokyo-based agency Beacon Communications K.K. Since then, negative remarks were mostly from fans disappointed they haven't had a chance to see the plane.
Much of the buzz about the 787's new features appears to be coming from outside the country. Japanese are just proud that an airline in their country was the first to receive the Dreamliner.
"There aren't many people who know this midsize plane will take you further, to the countries you've never been, at a faster speed and at a cheaper price," said Ryuji Mitsuishi, director-digital strategy at Beacon, a Publicis Groupe agency in which Dentsu also has a stake. "For the generation used to blogs and Facebook, once they have experienced the Boeing 787, they will be able to right away put up comments to communicate the benefit of these planes."
ANA's Dreamliners will begin international service in January, from Tokyo to Frankfurt. The domestic Tokyo-Okayama route has been fully booked since the Dreamliner was introduced -- notable as the flights compete with the highly popular bullet trains.