IN FOCUS: 787 'vital part of holiday' experience: Thomson

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As Thomson Airways put its 2013 summer holidays on sale, the UK leisure airline's managing director Chris Browne was on hand at London Heathrow airport this morning to welcome Boeing's 787 on the latest stop in its Dreamliner world tour.

For Browne, the 787 - which will enter service with Thomson in February 2013, four years to the month after originally scheduled when the order was signed in 2005 - represents far more than a chance to cut fuel burn by 20% compared to the 767s it will replace. On a short-haul holiday the flight is just a means to an end, but on a long-haul holiday, she stresses, the flight is far more than just a route to destination: "It's a vital part of the holiday."

So, she says, the 787's "unrivalled onboard experience" is going to be a significant part of the Thomson offering. The carrier - which will offer 787 flights from London Heathrow, London Gatwick, East Midlands and Glasgow to Cancun, Mexico and Sanford, Florida - even hopes to charge a small premium for Dreamliner trips. "Would you pay £10 extra to fly on this airplane?" she asks.

Browne says Thomson's 291-seat layout - 47 in premium economy and 244 in economy - offers good passenger space, and it has opted for "the works" in a state-of-the-art Panasonic in-flight entertainment system.

As for the actual entertainment content offering, some of the details are still being worked out, she says, though details like a new Thomson cabin interior look have been finalised.

To take full advantage of the 787's cutting-edge features Thomson is paying great attention to detail and the entry into service team is working "flat out" to be ready to bring the 787 online. Brown adds that Thomson has gone as far as employing two external EIS readiness audits, from Boeing and from an independent aviation consultancy, along with its own in-house review: "I didn't want to buy a Rolls-Royce and drive it like a Mini. This aircraft is probably smarter than we are."

When Browne flies to Seattle next week to sign off the fitting-out details for Thomson's aircraft, both the carrier and its market will have moved a very long way from 2005, when Thomson became the third airline globally and the first in the UK to order a 787. That year's refurbishment of its 767 fleet gave Thomson the confidence to buy the longer-range, and thus for its purposes, more capable, 787, "which was a brave decision for us back then," says Browne.

Meanwhile, of course, Boeing's delivery timetable went off the rails and the global economy went into a tailspin. Browne won't remark on speculation that a four-year delay in 787 delivery has been no bad thing given the impact of economic downturn on the travel industry, but simply reckons that as a market leader Thomson has weathered the storm better than many rivals. In any case, she says, had the aircraft been available earlier Thomson would have happily put it in service.