Bjorn’s Corner: Bandit mask explained and nonexistent IFE boxes.

By Bjorn Fehrm

By Bjorn Fehrm

2 July 2015, ©. Leeham Co: Having aircraft as your interest exposes you to thousands of photos of your favorite subject. In general I find exterior photos of airliners a bit dull; there is no variation in their configuration or physics except for the livery of the operator. Some photos are a bit extra though.

Most of these are from photographers that have the luxury of a private photo aircraft to get nice angle aerial shots, such as the official photographers of Boeing and Airbus. There are some really good photos of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner against the very special nature of Washington State. The aircraft’s majestic wingflex makes for really nice shots such as this one.

Boeing 787 Dreamliner

Boeing 787 Dreamliner over Pacific Ocean coastline. Source: Boeing.

To take such a photo requires quite some preparation and gear. The aircraft to be photographed has to fly in formation with the photographer aircraft and the photographer has to organize a tail or a side shot somehow. To take the photo while on a crossing heading would be too dangerous unless there is ample altitude separation and I doubt you get such an angle then. I guess they used their Canadair T33 Shooting Star chase aircraft for the photo, a nice platform as the pilot can really maneuver hard to give the photographer the angles. He must have done a hard side change to give the angle for this one.

Airbus use an Aerospatiale (the name for one of the companies that became Airbus) Corvette business jet chase aircraft for most of their aerial photos. Their photos of the A350 usually use the Pyrenees as backdrop, once again the natural scenery of their location. They were out documenting the delivery of the first A350 to their second customer the other day, Vietnam Airlines. One of the shots had a special cut; it focused the bandit mask of the A350.

A350_XWB_Vietnam_Airlines_in_flight_6_close_up_

Vietnam Airlines first A350 during acceptance flight. Source: Airbus.

The reason for the bandit mask has intrigued airline enthusiasts for years (me included). Is it a marketing thing? Does the A350 look funny without it and Airbus decided a makeup was needed?

I got a plausible explanation the other day. The mask is there to facilitate change of cockpit windows. The windows go in from the outside and one has to detach the window surrounds to do it. To avoid having to paint with delicate airline livery colors the window surrounds come in “any color you want as long as it is black.”

A350 vs. 787 or the box that should not be.

The first passenger reviews are now on the net and YouTube for flights with Qatar’s A350. This enables customer experience comparison between Qatar’s 787-8 and their A350-900. In business class the reviews are similar; they use the same seats (B/E Aerospace Diamond in reverse herringbone) and service. In economy they should be similar as well; Qatar uses the same seat, Recaro CL3620, and IFE, Thales TopSeries Avant, for both aircraft. The Dreamliner seat is one inch narrower which gives a bit less comfort but not markedly so.

Yet the reviews are like day and night. Praise for the A350 experience and “avoid if possible” for the 787. This is not because of the missing inch; it is because of an IFE box that should not have been there. At the announcement by Thales of the Avant award by Qatar for 787 and A350 they bragged about the Android based “integrated” IFE with dual core processor, Gigabytes of RAM and a solid state hard disk “totally integrated in each seatback”, i.e. with no IFE box.

Somehow it did not work out for the 787-8. The box is there and occupies about a third of the foot-space on aisle seats, which makes it hard to keep the legs straight. The result is complains about the seat, the pitch (some sources say 31 inch, others 32 as on the A350) and the width of the seat. I have flown four times six hours to Singapore and back in 17 inch economy seats recently (the dreaded 10 abreast Emirates 777 couch) and it was OK. A bit cozy laterally but combine it with a good seat and good pitch and things are fine.

Somehow Qatar got is terribly wrong on the 787 and right on the A350. What difference a box makes.

40 Comments on “Bjorn’s Corner: Bandit mask explained and nonexistent IFE boxes.

  1. It’s not just Qatar – just look at seatguru for BA, VS and AA. Terrible reviews in Y and often not too much better in J. Sadly big windows don’t seem to compensate for very tight seating and IFE boxes. QR is the first to have a direct comparison between the 787 and the A350. When BA gets their A350’s it will be very interesting. I can see a definite preference will development for the A350 over the 787 for Y pax.

  2. Bjorn, the missing 787 inch becomes obvious when three normal sized men sit together and a meal is served. The banging of elbows makes for a lot of frustration. Message is- when you fly in a 787, do not have a meal.

    • OK…..this is really starting to sound like orchestrated BS. “The missing inch” nonsense has got to stop. There is no way a meal will turn a 1in difference in seat width from “hell” to “nirvana”. You guys are making it sound like 18inch seat in economy on the A350 is business class. You guys are bleeding your credibility when you say stuff like that. Saying stuff like ” I will avoid the 787 because of a 1inch difference in seat width” is like completely ridiculous. Like Bjorn said, it’s more than seat width. 18 inch seat is worthless if it’s a crappy seat and you have crappy pitch. I’d venture to say pitch is as important if not more so. Who like width when your knees are in your throat?

      • Sitting in the middle seat, with one large man on each side, the difference is not 1 inch but 3 inches. The shoulders and elbows on each side is 1 inch further away, and your own seat is 1 inch wider, total of 3 inches.

        This is not the difference of hell or nirvana, but the difference between very unpleasant or just bearable.

        • That’s 1 inch total width. Not one inch on each rest. So 1/2 inch for you plus a 1/2 inch for your neighbor equals 1 extra inch separation on each side.

          • @Geo

            Per the data given in the Boeing Airplane Characteristics for Airport Planning documents* and the Airbus Aircraft Characteristics – Airport and Maintenance Planning documents**, we are talking about a difference of an inch in seat width when it comes to the current 777 at 10 abreast vs. the A350 at 9 abreast.

            Like-for like:

            A350 vs. 777X and 787: 0.6 inches in favour of the A350: 18″ vs. 17.4″ (i.e. same aisle and armrest width on the A350 and 787/777X)

            Like for like:

            A380 vs. 777X and 787: 1.4 inches in favour of the A380:

            A380 at 10-across: 18.8-inch seat bottom width, 2-inch armrests and 17-inch wide aisles.

            777X at 10 abreast and 787 at 9 abreast; 17.4-inch seat bottom width, 2-inch armrests and 17-inch wide aisles.

            So, on the A350 – that’s 0.6″ more for you and 0.6″ more for your seat neighbours. As mhalblaub has been pointing out, when you sit in the middle seat on the A350, the aisle- and window-seat passengers can “move” their bodies toward the aisle and side-walls, respectively. Hence, the feeling of extra space for passengers in the middle seat on the A350, is effectively 1.8″.

            On the A380, the middle 4 seats can have an extra armrest in the middle. Hence, the extra space would effectively be 3.6″ for all passengers not seated in an aisle or window seat on the A380 vs. the 787, but a 4″ difference over the 777X at 10 abreast.

            However, AFAIK no A380s in operation have aisles as narrow as 17″; but in a like-for-like, apples-to-apples comparison, it’s important to look at the actual cabin witdhs if we’re going to properly compare the products.

            * http://www.boeing.com/commercial/airports/plan_manuals.page

            * http://www.airbus.com/support/maintenance-engineering/technical-data/aircraft-characteristics/

      • And now you are beginning to say that the measurable data is insufficient to convincingly represent true feelings.

      • This is a BS that Boeing is ready to invest tens if not hundreds of millions in. “777x carved sidewalls”

      • I’ve been recently flying on a Philippine Airlines A330 with 9 abreast in economy. At first, when I sat down I didn’t really bother, as I’m not that big (tall yes, but not big). Seat pitch was ok, the width was somehow narrow but not that bad. Until they served dinner. Then it was almost impossible to eat. Using a fork and knife in such a seat is a real art and it was when I realized, I will make sure that I never fly on a long haul flight in such a configuration (the flight was only MNL-HKG). Even with a less than 2 hour flight, the missing width makes it uncomfy and I was glad to get out.

        Seatguru states that the seats are 18″, but that is definitely not possible. I will take a tape measure next time to check that myself, as I find the values there quite unreliable.

        I haven’t been on a 787 in Economy, but from the pure raw measures, I am convinced, that the A350 will get much better reviews over the 787, especially on the longer flights.

        • @Karl,

          There is no way an A330 can seat 9 abreast with 18 in seats. Not as currently built or delivered. No way

  3. Also agree with previous comments – I had my first taste of a 787 with BA between London and Montreal (and back again) in economy last month and was massively underwhelmed. Narrow seats, minimal legroom, IFE boxes under seats and when the person in front reclined their seat, the seat back screen was inches from my face. The stewardess kept banging into me and even admitted that the BA staff dislike the 787 as it just feels like the plane isn’t big enough for the number of economy seats they have crammed in. I will avoid flying it in the future.

  4. How wide are the aisles on both types? It seriously influences comfort / rest. I avoid aisle seats these days if I know the type. People / crew / trolleys passing bump into you all flight.

    http://cdn-www.airliners.net/aviation-photos/photos/6/1/2/1712216.jpg

    Interesting thing is airlines basically have no way back, neither the OE. Better deny, ridicule, generalize, thwart the topic and hope for the best.

    • I liked the tape measure. The standard measure seems to be opposite of what the actual occupiable space is. Width should be measured center to center, instead of inside to inside, for elbows and shoulders. Occupiable seat pitch is inside to inside of seatback, not the center to center spacing of the rows.

  5. Dear Bjorn,

    isn’t the term “raccoon” more often used to describe the A350 look than “bandit mask”? Well, in the end a raccoon locks like wearing a bandit mask…

    Finally China is getting a kind of A330 FAL.

    • @MHalblaub There’s the Long Ranger mask, which was based on bandits…..

  6. Ref the ‘bandit mask’:

    I’m aftaid that the explanation given is rather a back-fit reason. It started as a marketing point – if you remember all of the early computer generated pictures of A350, they gave this impression of a wrap-around windshield (very much following in the steps of Boeing, with the ‘cool’ version of the 787).

    When it came around to actually painting the first aircraft, it was decided to emulate this idea by simply painting the surrounds black…

    Source: Airbus discussions

  7. Let’s not forget that the IFE hardware sat on shelves for years due to the protracted delay of the Boeing 787. By the time the twinjet started delivering, the IFE was outdated.

    • Hi Mary,

      you are right but Thales people were specifically pointing out how much hardware they had got into the seat, here the type of announcements which were made (not just this but several with the same content):

      http://www.extremetech.com/computing/132721-boeing-787-dreamliner-powered-by-android-and-69tb-of-solid-state-storage

      “There are two classes in the Qatar Airways 787, business and economy, and they’re outfitted with 17-inch and 10-inch touchscreen IEFCs respectively. The IEFCs are completely integrated — all of the hardware is stored in the seat-back unit (there’s no under-seat box). And the hardware spec… well, this is the bit that blew my mind. Each IEFC has an STMicro dual-core ARM processor, 1GB of RAM, and a 256GB (!) SSD. There’s also a main server, which features 32 x86 cores (so, quad-CPU Xeon or Opteron), 128GB of RAM, and a further 4TB of SSD storage. Optionally, the Avant can be equipped with what looks like a pull-out Android handset (a Touch Passenger Media Unit) — presumably for running Android apps that aren’t suited to the large screen.”

      As said something happened that forced a box which should not have been there and reading the reviews its seems to be the main reason the 787 gets really bad reviews.

      IFE boxes around your feet is a no-no in a modern airliner for me, it shows a failed design. Its a thing of the 1990:ies.

      • Completely agree, Bjorn. There is no reason to have IFE boxes under seats anymore, considering the advancement of technology. No need to squeeze a person’s feet into a tiny space.

    • Its beyond be that a box is needed. What is needed is the parts of a tablet + a solid state drive. Even when using laptop technology you should have that as a half an inch package the size of the screen.

  8. Seems like the IFE boxes should be in the floor cavity if possible.

  9. The IFE industry and products have been maturing for decades now. 2005 was 15 years down the road. (I’m from the Hughes Avicom, Sony, MAS, IFT, BE/A phase 😉 )

    Discussions on IFE seat integration were going on in 1998 WAEA groups. But I agree big steps have been made.

    Thales probably overpromised to side line marketleader Panasonic (80% marketshare).

  10. There is a guy in my regional area who produces a lot of these in-flight photos. He flies a B-25 with the tail turret blister removed and the photographer belted in to the tailgunner seat with his feet dangling in the slipstream. Makes those head-on shots easy if the subject airplane can match speeds with the desired control surface configuration.

  11. In addition to narrow seats the biggest problem with 787 are the ridiculous electrochromatic window shades that never block the sun completely. They are a technology just for the sake of it.

  12. I’m getting claustrophobic just reading this. Read the latest a350 Blog for the latest horror story,airbus think they might be able to widen their 10 abreast to 16.8/16.9!Keesje is right,the aisle width is important too.Looking at the graphic you have to wonder about evacuation,is this tested for different seat and aisle widths?The bandit mask looks much better from ground level,a bit weird from above.Here in the UK ,we might call the a350 Claudia.

  13. “This is not because of the missing inch; it is because of an IFE box ”

    Sorry, but that is a completely subjective opinion from one person. A person that doesn’t have very broad shoulders apparently. Hardly a fact.

    If 1 inch doesn’t matter, there should be no issue with 16 inch seats either then? Yet most people consider that width “inhumane”.

    Remember, not everyone has the same body (type). So not everyone has the same shoulder width. 17 inch is the size of a “small” adult T-Shirt. So most men would have broader shoulders than that. http://lib.store.yahoo.net/lib/stylinonline/sizechart.html

    Declaring as a fact that 17 inch is not a problem because you don’t happen to have an issue with it is equivalent to saying that peanuts should not be a problem on a plane because you don’t have a peanut allergy. It is a personal opinion, at best. Disingenuous, at worst.

    Having said that, I can tell you that I avoid any planes with 17 inch seats for international flights if I pay for them(and fly economy). That includes 747,757, and 787. And yes, I don’t like IFE boxes either. But IFE boxes will not make me avoid a plane.

    • Sharktail, of course you are correct, objectively.

      What would you do if you were operating or selling 10 abreast 777x or 9 abreast 787 ‘efficiency?’

      It is hard to agree if you can’t handle the consequences.

      • I would create an economy plus section at 8 abreast on the 787 or 9 abreast on the 777. And split economy in 50% economy plus and 50% economy.

        If the price difference is $100 or $200, you will actually make more money that way, assuming load factors are not 100%.

        Have not seen that though, so until that happens, I will steer clear.

        • I think this is what Airbus has in mind with its 4 class concept ,a small section where people can be witnessed being tortured to persuade the others to pay a bit more.

        • AC has Premium Economy at 7-abreast on their 787s (the back is 9-abreast), with also better pitch and larger IFE screens. Service mostly standard Y, except for proper dishes and cutlery for dinner.

          Cost difference is probably closer to $500 than $100 though, depending on the itinerary.

  14. I have my own theory about people telling everyone that a inch doesn’t matter or so … they are small people. Let me tell it from the perspective from someone with 195cm with wide shoulders. Every single inch of pitch matters , every single inch of seat width matters, not having a large IFE box matters a lot when you try to thread your legs under the seat in front of you. I had quite a lot horrible trips in aircrafts due to this point and i plan my bookings for the availability of exit row aisle seats in econ (never forget, that many companies have a economy only policy even transatlantic). My most horrible trip was a Swiss last minute rebooking because my flight from HAM to FRA was cancled, thus i wasn’t able to reach my reserved exit row aisle in a380 but had to use one of the last seats in the reduced seat width part in the back of an A330.

    Of course at 177 cm (the height of the average US male) this pretty different … and i suspect people trying to tell me that seat width doesn’t matter are even smaller … when i was at roughly 170cm as a growing child the aircrafts seats used to be much more comfortable for me as well.

    That said this isn’t a topic for a fringe group of people. I just have to look in one of the aircrafts starting in HAM … or that i’m not the only one imprinting the “Exit” logo on my forehead when entering a CRJ without caution. At least in northern europe the people get larger, not smaller …

  15. Seating comfort is not an issue with the manufacturers of modern airplanes,it´s not once again A versus B.

    It´s the seat configuration,the width and the pitch of my personal surviving space in Eco-class that makes the difference. And there is not much wiggle room on a longer flight,so every half of an inch here and there counts!

    • It’s not that simple. Boeing has chosen to build their 787 with a 9 abreast seating in mind (and small seats). Airbus has called their A350 XWB for Extra Wide Body, or having slightly larger seats in Economy.

      Of course, any airline can build in less seats and make them bigger, unfortunately that is just wishful thinking. Reality shows, that airlines build in rather more then less seats into the available space.

      According to Wikipedia, the A350 has a width of 5.96m, the 787 is 5.49m. That 47cm equal to roughly 5cm per person (at 9 abreast) or 2″. At 8 hours plus you will definitely appreciate that extra space.

      So I do believe, that Airbus made the better choice as it will get better ratings from passengers (unless an airline crams in 10 abreast on the A350 vs. 9 on the 787).

    • I saw your previous Qatar 787 version and A350 reports before writing my piece. Your rant version is really great. Such a shame of Qatar to mess up the 787 so badly.

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