The Boeing 787 Dreamliner — it's the plane the world has been talking about for years... and now it's finally here. Well, almost.
Air New Zealand's 10 new 787s aren't scheduled to be delivered until mid 2014, but I was invited along for a sneak peek at the aircraft that's set to revolutionise air travel when Boeing brought its 787-8 demonstrator plane to New Zealand this week.
First impressions on a chilly Auckland morning were of how compact and sleek the craft looked. Decked out in Boeing's blue livery, it wasn't too much of a stretch to imagine what the first Air New Zealand Dreamliners might look like once they join the fleet.
Aboard the plane, the visible differences continued. Most noteworthy for me was the space above my head as I embarked and made my way down the aisle. Gone were the boxy overhead luggage compartments that force passengers to bend almost in half as they crawl into their seat spaces. Instead, the compartments curve in an aesthetically-pleasing semicircle from above the huge windows up to the roof of the cabin.
A similar arrangement is in place above the central passenger seats, making for a much less cramped feeling in flight. Indeed, I was able to stand my 1.64cm frame in front of my window seat with only the slightest bend to accommodate my head.
Extra head-room inside the cabin isn't the only concession this model's made to comfort however.
One of the most talked about features of the Dreamliner is its dimmable windows. Technology within the window panes allows them to be adjusted at the touch of a button to allow more or less light through.
It's a clever innovation on a number of levels.
In the first instance, it gives those on the flight deck the ability to dim or brighten all the plane's windows simultaneously should that be required for take-off or landing.
From a passenger's point of view, it's a way to combat excessive brightness or glare without having to shut the daylight out altogether. Even when completely dimmed — a process which takes about a minute — it's still possible to see out.
I never thought I'd be able to use the term ambient to describe the atmosphere inside an aeroplane, but that's the first word that came to mind as I conducted in-flight interviews in the cabin's mid-section with all the windows fully dimmed. Boeing's obviously paid a great deal of attention to its lighting strategy for this aircraft and it certainly makes for a more pleasant passenger experience.
Of course, the major difference between this plane and its predecessors is that its fuselage is constructed largely from carbon-fibre-reinforced plastic. Aside from making the Dreamliner less heavy than its aluminium counterparts, this development has allowed a number of other technical advances which benefit passengers.
In addition to the dimming technology, the Dreamliner's windows are noticeably larger than those on similar-sized aircraft — 70 per cent larger in fact. These expanded windows on the world are possible because the composite fuselage doesn't require anywhere near as much reinforcement as an aluminium plane would to support such large panes.
Two other significant developments that will impact on passenger comfort — though they weren't things I could adequately assess during a short domestic flight — are the limiting of the cabin altitude to the pressure felt at 6000ft and the maintaining of a more comfortable in-flight humidity level.
So, what of the flight itself? As we taxied along the runway I was interested to see whether I could feel a difference as a passenger ... and I must say I got a sense of the plane being 'lighter' than other planes I've flown on internationally. Of course, that impression could also have been due to the remarkable quietness on take-off. Despite being powered by two immense Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines, the aircraft rose, it seemed to me, almost stealthily into the skies above Auckland.
Once airbound, we had the opportunity to explore further and take in the various potential seat configurations Boeing's clients might choose to install in their Dreamliners.
Air New Zealand's Airline Experience Manager Wayne Mitcham told me no decision had yet been made on the seat layout of the 787-9s the company has on order, though he confirmed it would be a three-class configuration of some description.
Given that flights between Auckland and Japan are potentially on the cards for Air New Zealand's Dreamliners, I asked Mitcham whether the airline's revolutionary Skycouch was being considered for inclusion as part of the seat configuration on the 787s it employs on longhaul routes.
He acknowledged the Skycouch's popularity on the Auckland-LA-London route but said it was to early say whether they will make an appearance on the airline's Dreamliners.
It seemed no time at all had passed before we were instructed to take our seats again for our descent into Christchurch.
The touchdown was as the take-off had been: comfortable, quiet and accompanied by a sea of spectators eager to catch a glimpse of this groundbreaking new aircraft. I'm sure for many of them 2014 can't come soon enough.
Eveline Harvey travelled on the Dreamliner to Christchurch courtesy of Boeing and Air New Zealand.