ABOARD UA1116 — In a trip that was years in the making, United Airlines passengers on Sunday got their first chance to experience the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which made its inaugural voyage for the airline on a scheduled flight from Houston to Chicago.
The twin-aisle plane, which made its debut three years late because of production problems at Boeing, is said to be far more fuel-efficient and less costly to maintain for airlines, while offering a new level of in-cabin comfort for passengers. Instead of being made mostly of metal, half of the plane, including the fuselage and wings, is made of strong, light composite materials.
United is the first North American airline to receive a 787.
The start of Dreamliner service is a big deal for airline enthusiasts and also for the two companies, United Continental Holdings and Boeing, whose headquarters are a few blocks apart in downtown Chicago and who once were part of the same company.
Some observers say the halo effect of being the first North American carrier to fly the Dreamliner is a much-needed boost to the reputation of the world's largest airline. More tangibly, the plane is far more fuel-efficient than planes it will replace — Boeing claims 20 percent more efficient in some cases. Fuel is a huge cost for airlines, so that's a savings that can fall to the bottom line for United.
For Boeing, Sunday's flight represented another step toward repairing its reputation surrounding the 787, which started deliveries more than three years late because of design and production problems. The near-constant delays were so rampant that the plane earned the snarky nickname "7-late-7."
Aviation enthusiast Thomas Lee of Orange County, Calif., flew on the inaugural flights of the Boeing 747, the first wide-body commercial aircraft; the Airbus 380, the first full-length double-decker plane; and the 787.
"It's incredibly exciting," Lee said.
Passenger amenities include special LED lighting, touchless faucets and toilets, and the largest windows in the industry.