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Plane makers offer new cabin amenities, from showers to shops

WASHINGTON—Coming soon to an airport near you: an airliner with a window in the lavatory.

Boeing plans to offer restrooms with views as standard equipment on its new 787 airliners. It's part of a much larger industrywide competition to woo travelers—or at least the carriers that buy planes—with new cabin amenities that sizzle.

"We're making flying fun again," said Boeing spokeswoman Mary Hanson.

The big concept is "to allow you to emotionally leave the highway, parking lot and security experiences behind you" and really enjoy the flight, said R. Klaus Brauer, chief designer of the 787's interior, in a recent Boeing Web site chat.

The showiest dog in this race is Airbus' A380, the huge new double-decker that seats 550 and offers unheard-of amenities. Among the carrier's options are showers, on-board massage stations, stand-up bars, duty-free shops—even a sort of flat-panel waterfall.

Boeing's smaller 787 Dreamliners compete with subtler enticements. A ventilation system that delivers higher cabin humidity, for example, is meant to reduce eye and nose dryness. At the same time, higher cabin pressure will make travelers feel like they're flying at a relatively comfortable 6,000 feet, rather than 8,000 as in current planes.

Windows with variable tint, as in some sunglass lenses, will keep glare outside. Inside, a fancy main cabin lighting system, its hues progressing from sunrise to sunset and beyond, will ease passengers' time-zone transitions. To make the plane seem more spacious, soft ceiling-panel lighting will create skylike bluish vagueness overhead.

Both the Boeing 787, which will carry 220 to 300 passengers, and the Airbus A380 have slightly wider seats and aisles than their predecessors.

Embraer, the Brazilian maker of popular regional jets, offers lots more cabin headroom in its popular new regional jet, thanks to a "double-bubble" design. The plane's fuselage, in cross-section, looks like a figure eight in which the upper circle absorbs most of the lower circle. The happy result is 6 feet 7 inches of aisle headroom versus the paper-towel-tube crawlspace of most regional jets.

Don't look for much more economy-class legroom anywhere, however. Airlines decide how seats are spaced and every inch above the minimum of about 30 costs them money. For that matter, Boeing's Brauer isn't merely an interior designer. According to Boeing's Web site, he also holds patents "governing mathematical processes for optimizing the seat configurations of commercial airplanes."

US Airways and regional carriers for United and Delta already fly 70-seat versions of Embraer's new plane; Air Canada flies a slightly stretched one, and Jet Blue and Air Canada will take delivery on 100-seat models later this year.

Boeing's 787 is due to start flying in 2007. Among U.S. carriers who've ordered 787s are Continental, Northwest and Primaris, a new coast-to-coast airline for business travelers.

Singapore Airlines is set to take the first Airbus A380 delivery in the fourth quarter of 2006. Other buyers include Korean Airlines, Lufthansa, Air France, Virgin Atlantic and Qantas.

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For more on these new airliners, you can browse their makers' Web sites: www.airbus.com, www.embraer.com and www.boeing.com.

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTO (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): AIRLINERS

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