If you’re flying mid- or long-haul these days, there’s a chance you might be flying on a Boeing 787. There’s less chance you’ll be on a Boeing 757; this aircraft family was first operated back in 1983, is no longer available for airlines to buy, and many B757 aircraft have now been retired. The newer B787 was first launched in 2011 and so far, has received around 1,500 orders.
In this article, I’ll compare these two quite different aircraft from a number of different perspectives just as we have done before with different aircraft pairings.
So, let’s see how these two compare – and perhaps more accurately contrast!
The 757 first flew commercially almost 40 years ago and was developed as a successor to the Boeing 727 tri-jet. It is no longer in production, the last 757 was rolled-out in 2005. In contrast, the 787 is a much younger airliner. It first flew commercially in 2011 and is still in production.
The 757 was produced in two main variants – the 757-200 and the 757-300. The former was the first variant and was later developed into freighter and convertible models. Unlike the 757-200, the stretched 757-300 is available only as a passenger model.
Significant customers for the 757 included major US airlines, European charter airlines, and cargo companies. The 757 is well suited for short- and mid-range services and transcontinental US routes. In 1986, the 757 was approved to fly ETOPS (Extended-range Twin-engine Operations Performance Standards) operations allowing it to operate on intercontinental routes.
As mentioned earlier, the 757 family can be divided into two main series (or generations): the 200s and the 300. It comes in the variants listed below.
|Aircraft Model||Type||First In Service|
The 787 was developed as a more fuel-efficient replacement for aircraft such as the 767. It was the first airliner developed with an airframe made mostly from composite materials.
It has a distinctive and recognizable appearance with its four-window cockpit and its raked wingtips. The Boeing 787 is available in three variants, each longer than the previous.
|Aircraft Model||Type||First In Service|
Let’s take a look at some key physical characteristics and see how the passenger versions of these two aircraft measure up against each other:
|Aircraft Model||Length/ m||Wingspan/ m||Tail Height/ m||Fuselage Width/ m||MTOW/ kg|
As you would expect, the wide-body 787 is bigger, wider, and heavier in all respects compared to its narrow-body 757 counterpart.
The ranges of the 757 and the 787 passenger models differ quite significantly, with the 787 delivering much longer ranges, and therefore more varied route options for airlines.
The 757 models typically have around half the range of the 787 models, reflecting the different markets targeted by Boeing for these aircraft families. The 757 was originally targeted at hub and point-to-point carriers operating short- to mid-range routes, whereas the B787 is targeted at long-range point-to-point routes.
Nevertheless, the 757 has been deployed on many niche thinner long-haul routes since it received its ETOPS certification, such as Newark-Stockholm, Washington-Madrid, Dallas-Fort Worth-Reykjavik, Portland-Rejkyavik, Dublin-Philadelphia, and Chicago-Edinburgh.
The 787 is a highly adaptable all-purpose aircraft operating some of the longest direct air routes in the world such as Tokyo-Boston, Los Angeles-Melbourne, and the incredible London-Perth route. But it is also deployed by some airlines on some very short routes such as domestic routes in Japan, confirming how versatile this aircraft can be.
The 757 and 787 families typically carry anywhere between 200 and 330 passengers in typical 2-class cabin configurations and have exit limits of between 239 and 440 passengers.
However, these numbers are for comparison purposes only, as in practice airlines fit out aircraft in many different seating configurations and actual seat numbers can vary significantly between different variants, even within the same airline.
The table below shows the passenger typical 2-class cabin configuration and exit limit seating capacities of each model.
|Model||Passengers (Typical 2-Class Seating)||Exit Limit|
In practice, we see a huge variety around these numbers as airlines have fitted out these aircraft in 1-class, 2-class, 3-class, and even 4-class configurations. We can see these wide variations if we look at some examples:
Boeing 757 Sample Seating Configurations
- A single-class B757-200, such as that operated by Jet2 (a UK low-cost/charter airline), has 235 seats, which is not far off this aircraft’s certified exit limit of 239 passengers.
- United Airlines’ B757-200s have a variety of seating layouts, and those with 3-class seating configuration have 136 to 169 seats.
- Delta Airlines’ B757-200 aircraft are fitted out in many different 2-class and 3-class configurations with seat numbers ranging from 168 to 199.
- Delta Airlines’ B757-300 variant, the 75Y, has a 3-class configuration with a total of 234 seats.
- British Airways operates B757-200s in 3-class seating configurations with either 112 or 114 seats.
Boeing 787 Sample Seating Configurations
- United Airlines has configured its 4-class B787-8s to have 243 seats.
- United Airlines has configured its 3-class B787-9s to have 252 seats and its 4-class B787-9s to have 257 seats.
- United Airlines has configured its 4-class B787-10s to have 318 seats.
- British Airways operates 3-class B787-8s with 214 seats, and 4-class B787-9s with 216 seats.
Customers and Orders
The 757 is a relatively popular aircraft with 1,050 orders in total.
The majority of these (87%) were for the 757-200. Airline customers that ordered the 757 were spread worldwide. That said, it was the large USA carriers that placed the biggest orders for the type as it offers flexibility to operate on USA domestic routes and can also fly on transatlantic and other transcontinental services.
Of the B757 aircraft remaining in service today, Delta and American Airlines are by far the largest operators.
The 787 has received around 1,500 orders from 71 customers around the world, which have been attracted to the B787s fuel efficiency and its long range.
By 2021, 1,006 787 aircraft had been delivered, with 56% of these being the 787-9. The airlines (excluding leasing agents) which have ordered the largest number of Dreamliners include Qatar Airways, Etihad, Japan Airlines, United Airlines, American Airlines, and the 787s largest customer so far – All Nippon Airways.
If we look at how the 757 and 787 have performed in terms of annual orders we see that the B787, which is still in production, has already significantly surpassed the total orders received for the B757 which is no longer in production.
It’s also clear that the 787 received a large number of early orders, followed by a hiatus, before returning to healthy annual orders. The 757, on the other hand, had a slow start in the 1980s but received a boost in orders during the late 1980s as a result of increasing hub airport congestion and the onset of tougher aircraft noise abatement rules.
Finally, let’s see how these two aircraft compare in terms of the all-important cabin design.
The 757 interior allows cabin configurations of up to six seats per row in economy class with a single central aisle. Where business class is fitted, the seating configuration is typically 2-2. From 1998, the new 757-300 interior provided sculptured ceiling panels, indirect lighting, and large overhead bins. The 757-300s’ enhanced interior later became an option on all new 757-200s.
The twin-aisle 787 typically has eight or nine seats abreast in economy class (3-2-3, 2-4-2, 3-3-3), although nine seats abreast is a more common configuration. Seat rows can be arranged in four to seven abreast in first or business, e.g. 1–2–1, 2–2–2, or 2–3–2.
As an example, British Airways 4-class 787s are four abreast in first class (1-2-1), seven abreast in business and premium economy class (2-3-2), and nine abreast in economy class (3-3-3).
The 787s cabin windows are the largest of any airliner in service and have a high eye level so that passengers can maintain a view of the horizon. Rather than using plastic window shades, the windows use ‘smart’ glass technology allowing light levels to be adjusted to individual preferences.
The 787s interior cabin lighting is entirely based on multi-colored LED technology features which allow the cabin crew to dynamically adjust conditions to create mood lighting helping to reduce the effects of jet lag.
The 787s internal cabin pressure is higher than other aircraft and is equivalent to around1,800m altitude. The cabin air is less dry too, improving passenger comfort. Another positive feature of the 787 is its quiet cabin, with noise levels up to 60% less than comparable aircraft.
Boeing 757 vs. 787: Summary
There isn’t a huge amount of commonality between these two aircraft. The older and smaller, narrow-body B757 originally saw its success as a short to mid-range point-to-point and hub operator. On the other hand, the versatile 787’s main target is long-haul point-to-point routes.
With the 757 no longer in production and with total orders of around just over 1,000 aircraft, it will soon be surpassed by the 787 in terms of deliveries as the 787 has already received around 1,500 orders, and deliveries to date have already exceeded 1,000.
The newer technology found in the 787 makes for a more pleasant flying experience for passengers. Although, watch out for those nine-abreast economy class layouts where there has been some negative customer feedback about the relatively narrow seat width!