With the CEO of United Airlines and 219 passengers cheering, the first 787 Dreamliner for a U.S. carrier lifted off from Houston Sunday morning.
"It's been a long haul to get here," said UAL Chairman and CEO Jeff Smisek as he made an in-flight champagne toast. "We couldn't be more excited to be the North American launch customer of the 787. Cheers!"
The Dreamliner, packed with journalists, United (UAL) employees and aviation enthusiasts who wanted to be on the first domestic flight of the 787, had a smooth 2 hour flight to Chicago.
"I've been waiting for this since they launched the Dreamliner," said Gialluame Brasseur. As he sat in his exit row seat snapping pictures, the grin on his face said it all.
Game Changer for United?
This Dreamliner is the first of 50 the airline will work into its fleet over the next 5-6 years. With its lightweight carbon fiber composite fuselage, the Dreamliner was sold on the promise of being 20 percent more fuel-efficient than comparable planes.
(Read More: Dreamliner - Inside the World's Most Anticipated Airplane)
Those savings and having the Dreamliner before other U.S. airlines is why Smisek thinks the 787 will be a difference-maker for the carrier. "It absolutely is a game changer" said Smisek. "Look around at everyone smiling, loving it. Having this well before our competitors means we're giving out customers something special well ahead of everyone else. It's a big deal."
United will fly the 787 primarily on international routes like Denver to Tokyo, or Houston to Lagos, Nigeria. "It gives us flexibility with our fleet and opens up new routes for us," said Gerry Laderman, United's treasurer.
Brighter with More Space
With a fuselage that is more oval-shaped, and overhead bins angled and pushed up higher, the Dreamliner doesn't feel as enclosed as other planes. And the bigger windows, placed higher on the side, do make the cabin brighter and give a sense it's more wide open.
"It's a big difference, it's more open, brighter. I love it," said Brian Nickels as he flew to Chicago.
Larry Leider, sitting in seat 32L, agreed. "The bigger windows are great. I keep looking for the shades, and people are just hitting a button and in a little bit they darken. It's pretty cool."
The reviews will please Blake Emory with Boeing (BA). He was one of the Boeing executives who helped design the Dreamliner's interior, including the bigger windows. "We do everything we can to push the width of the airplane out, at eye level," Emory told CNBC. "It doesn't enter your thinking consciously, but it does enter your thinking subconsciously."
During the flight, passengers and journalists "kicked the tires" on the Dreamliner by checking out everything from the seatback entertainment systems to the bathrooms. During boarding, one passenger proclaimed loudly, "I was the first person to use the bathroom on the Dreamliner, and it was awesome!"
Dreamliners Rolling Out
United's Dreamliner is one of the first 33 Boeing has delivered. The company has 805 on order and is steadily increasing its monthly production. Currently, it's building 3.5 Dreamliners a week, but is on schedule to build 10 per month by the end of next year."
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