Inaugural United Boeing 787 Flight IAH-ORD

Trip Start Nov 03, 2012
Trip End Nov 06, 2012

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Flag of United States  , Illinois
Sunday, November 4, 2012

United Airlines flew its inaugural passenger flight this morning on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner from Houston to Chicago. I couldn't believe my good fortune in getting a seat on the maiden trip as a standby passenger.

I had come to Houston yesterday from Miami after arriving on a 13-night trans-Atlantic cruise from Barcelona. I didn’t expect to get a seat on the opening Dreamliner flight, but wanted to be part of the exhilaration as United became the first North American carrier to launch the 787 into revenue service.

After pre-departure events at Houston Intercontinental Airport Gate E5 that included a media preview tour of the aircraft, breakfast buffet, Boeing 787 cookies, two short speeches by United’s president and Houston hub director, and a ribbon-cutting ceremony, I jealously watched as passengers boarded the introductory Dreamliner flight. Then I was stunned to be called from the standby list to receive a boarding pass for Economy Class Seat 35B. Several passengers who had reserved seats on the inaugural flight did not show up, clearing up space to accommodate all standby customers who had checked in for the flight and were present to board.

I felt euphoric as I walked down the jetway. I had my picture taken at the aircraft door next to the "Welcome 787" inscription. As I strolled down the aisle, I stopped to take a photo of myself aboard the initial 787 flight, a scene captured by a Chicago Tribune photojournalist. (View my Chicago Tribune photo. You can also view the entire Tribune photo gallery of the first 787 flight.)

Then I made my way to the very back of the airplane, stowed my carry-on luggage in an overhead bin on the right side of the plane, and then found my seat on the left side – 35B is a middle seat in the cabin’s 3-3-3 configuration. When the door closed, I was surprised that Seat 35A, the window seat next to me, was empty, so I moved over. The first United Boeing 787 flight and there’s an empty seat next to me! I never imagined I would have made the flight, let alone ending up with some extra elbow room!

United’s first ever passenger flight on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, Flight 1116, departed IAH one minute early at 7:19 a.m. Dozens of employees stood on the ramp and waved as the 787 taxied to the runway, where we took off at 7:29 to the cheers of the 208 passengers on board (36 in First Class and 172 in Economy Class). The initial flight carried 190 positive-space passengers plus 18 standbys. Incredibly, there were 11 empty seats – many of which were at the rear of the plane near me including 35B (my original seat),  36EF, 37E, and 38DEF.

The atmosphere on board Flight 1116 was unlike any other I’d ever taken. This was my first inaugural flight for any new aircraft or route. I’ve long wanted to do a maiden flight, but this was the first opportunity I had to do so. It was incredibly electrifying to be a part of U.S. aviation history.

Flight attendants began passing out plastic glasses of champagne at 7:48 a.m. United President & CEO Jeff Smisek came on the intercom to offer a toast to the Dreamliner.

“This is a terrific day for us,” Smisek said at 7:57 a.m. “I also want to thank all of our coworkers across the system. There was a lot of work to get this airplane here, to get it inducted, to go through the proving runs, and to put it into revenue service today. I want to thank our partners at Boeing and GE who made this airplane possible. And I want to thank you especially, all of you customers who have come together with us to celebrate. It’s been a long haul to get here and we couldn’t be more delighted to be the North American launch customer for the 787, so cheers!”

A United folder was inserted into each seatback pocket containing four pieces of Boeing 787 material: a social-media promo card, fact card, Dreamliner photo, and a certificate for flying on the inaugural departure. Distributed at the gate was a fifth piece of 787 memorabilia, a fact sheet.

“Welcome aboard,” states the certificate. “We are pleased to welcome you aboard United 1116, the inaugural flight of our new Boeing 787 Dreamliner from Houston Intercontinental (IAH) to Chicago O’Hare (ORD).”

The certificate also includes a quote from Smisek: “The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is a quiet, comfortable, and fuel-efficient aircraft that will provide an excellent inflight experience for our customers and our co-workers. This aircraft represents the future of aviation, and we’re proud to be the first airline in North America to add it to our fleet.”

United is the sixth airline to place a 787 Dreamliner into passenger service, according to Wikipedia. The 787 flew its first commercial flight Oct. 26, 2011, on All Nippon Airways from Tokyo to Hong Kong. The 787 subsequently went into regular service May 1 of this year on Japan Airlines, Aug. 16 on Ethiopian Airlines, Sept. 19 on Air India, and Oct. 1 on LAN Airlines of Chile (this is why United is the first “North American” airline to put a 787 into service, since LAN has the title of first in the Americas).

United is flying the 787 domestically for two months, starting with IAH-ORD and IAH-LAX daily flights, before the new jet enters into international service in early January. The first international route was originally announced as Houston to Amsterdam on Dec. 4, but last weekend United released a change of plans. Presently the first foreign service with the Dreamliner will be Los Angeles to Tokyo starting Jan. 3. In addition to LAX-NRT and IAH-AMS, United also has announced plans for 2013 service using the 787 on these routes: DEN-NRT, IAH-LOS, IAH-LHR, and LAX-PVG.

The social-media card encourages passengers to “take a photo or video of your favorite Dreamliner feature,” “give us the best shot of the sky from your seat,” “snap a photo of someone truly enjoying the Dreamliner (e.g. dining, smiling, sleeping, relaxing),” or “show how big Dreamliner windows really are: take a photo of something small next to them,” then send the images to a United e-mail address for possible posting to Facebook or United’s website.

Here are some of the facts from the card and sheet distributed by United regarding the Boeing 787:

  • REVOLUTIONARY BENEFITS: The 787 will revolutionize the flying experience for United customers and crews while delivering unprecedented operating efficiency, comfort, and lower emissions. Built primarily with composite materials, the Dreamliner flies farther and uses less fuel than similarly sized aircraft, while reducing emissions and noise during takeoffs and landings. Because of these advantages, the 787 will open up new nonstop destinations that customers would not otherwise be able to reach on United.
  • EXTERIOR: The 787’s exterior consists of 50% composite materials, 20% aluminum, 15% titanium, 10% steel, and 5% other. The Dreamliner’s composite exterior produces greater fuel economy, less maintenance, lower cabin pressure, and less time out of service.
  • LIGHTING: Dynamic LED lighting that simulates a full day for longer flights, helping passengers adjust their internal clock and increasing comfort during flight. Lighting settings include boarding, meals, relaxing, cruise, sleep, and preloading.
  • CABIN: Passengers will experience a quieter flight thanks to a number of interior enhancements such as advanced vibration isolation, quieter air-conditioning, new noise-reducing designs from the inlets and fans, and noise-reducing chevrons on engine nacelles. On-demand entertainment systems and power outlets are installed at every seat in both cabins (two outlets per three seats in coach).
  • STORAGE: More overhead storage space for rolling carry-ons means easier, quicker stowing. Bins are designed to stow carry-on suitcases wheels first, on their sides, maximizing the number that can fit into each bin. The bins are the largest in the industry. They store up and away rather than cutting into overhead space like conventional stowage bins.
  • AIR FILTRATION: The 787’s new air-filtration system uses High-Efficiency Particulate Air filters to remove bacteria from the air while gaseous filters remove odors, contaminants, and other irritants. This helps reduce headaches, as well as eye irritation and dryness. Plus, over 10% more humidity in the air helps passengers feel rested and less dehydrated after a long flight.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL PERFORMANCE: The Dreamliner produces 60% less noise, consumes 20% less fuel, and produces 20% fewer emissions than aircraft of comparable size. The 787 engines also generate power in a more efficient way than the engines found on traditional airplanes.
  • SMOOTHER RIDE: Special sensors throughout the Dreamliner pinpoint upcoming turbulence, giving the aircraft more time to compensate for it and create a smoother ride for passengers.
  • WINGS: Wingspan is 197 feet and covers a total of 3,501 square feet. The wings sweep back 32.2, providing improved fuel efficiency and climbing performance, as well as shortened takeoff field length.
  • PRESSURIZATION: The 787 has a cabin altitude of 6,000 feet, compared to 8,000 feet for a typical aircraft. Altitude chamber tests show that because the body absorbs 8% more oxygen into the blood at this altitude, customers are less likely to experience headaches and fatigue. The 787’s composite fuselage permits cabin pressurization at this lower altitude.
  • RANGE: 787s have 30% more range than today’s airplanes of similar size – able to fly up to 8,200 nautical miles (9,430 miles).
  • CONFIGURATION: United’s 787 offers three categories of seating: BusinessFirst Class (called First Class domestically), Economy Plus, and Economy Class. The BusinessFirst cabin is configured 2-2-2 with fully flat-bed seats. The cabin is split into two compartments: the forward area with 18 seats and the rear area also with 18 seats. Economy Plus offers 70 seats in a 3-3-3 abreast setup with 35-inch seat pitch (compared to 31 inches in regular Economy Class). There’s seven rows of Economy Plus in the forward section of the coach cabin plus seven seats in the row behind Door 3 for a total of 70 E+ seats. The regular Economy section has 113 seats for a total of 183 in coach. All seats are in the standard legacy Continental fleet blue hue and are the same style as found in legacy Continental’s Boeing 757 and 777 airplanes (and some 767s). View United’s official Boeing 787 seat map.
  • WINDOWS: Larger windows provide a greater view of the sky. Customers will enjoy the views through large, dimmable windows with electrochromatic shades that enable them to regulate their outside light with the touch of a button (five settings).

I got up and wandered around the cabin to take a look at all these features myself. It was really neat to be aboard a brand-spanking-new airplane. Everything looked so clean and polished. The big windows with a button to electronically control the shading are really nifty. The lavatories feature automatic flushing toilets – you put the seat down and whoosh! The overheard bins are noticeably roomier. You can also notice the additional space in the cabin – the ceiling height is 8’2” at the center of the Economy Class aisle compared to 6’11” for the Boeing 767, which the 787 is designed to replace. (United has ordered 50 Dreamliners and plans to phase out its 762s, 763s, and 764s as the 787s are placed into service over the next several years.)

I wasn’t the only person walking around the cabin checking out all the features of the new Boeing 787. TV reporters were standing up doing shots and interviewing passengers in their seats, still photographers snapped pictures, and customers and United employees mingled. It was like a party at 41,000 feet. I’ve never seen so many people standing up on a flight!

The flight attendants struggled to bring the snack and beverage carts down the aisles for the traditional onboard service due to the large number of folks touring the 787. Unfortunately, nothing special was offered beyond the champagne toast – you had to purchase a snack box in coach if you wanted one, likewise for additional alcoholic beverages. Most disappointing, there was no cake served at the gate in Houston before departure nor onboard – perhaps because of the early morning schedule of this maiden flight?

Several other folks aboard the maiden trip were from Washington including Adam and Sean, a couple seated behind me, and Joel, a UA flight attendant, who sat next to Adam and Sean. Up in First Class, I chatted with a woman wearing a 787 T-shirt – she and her husband were also from the D.C. region.

Smisek walked throughout the cabin talking to passengers, autographing boarding passes, and having his picture taken. Later he conducted several one-on-one media interviews in the rear galley just behind where I was sitting.

The captain came on the intercom at 8:36 to provide some statistics about the flight: The takeoff weight was 375,000 pounds (maximum takeoff weight is 502,000 pounds). Takeoff speed was 140 knots (161 mph). Current ground speed is 505 mph. Landing weight is projected to be 351,000 pounds. The 787 is carrying 55,000 pounds of payload on this flight (passengers and cargo combined weight). The fuel burn rate is 9,000 pounds per hour, which “for an aircraft this size is just absolutely astounding and a tribute to the efficiency that Boeing has designed.”

We landed at ORD on Runway 10 at 9:38 a.m. after a flight time of 2 hours 9 minutes – much too short! It went by so rapidly.

Passengers applauded the smooth landing, then we taxied into Gate C20, where the Boeing 787 was met with a “welcome wagon” of fire trucks and police cars. We received a water-canon salute from the fire trucks as we pulled into the gate, arriving four minutes early at 9:45 to complete the inaugural flight of United’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner – an phenomenal experience I will remember forever.

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flyboy2 on


These are absolutely amazing, I am so happy for you that you got on and got to experience the first Dreamliner flight. The Video's are amazing and you have some amazing photo's. It is a true pleasure having you as a blog friend and I look forward to reading more of you amazing travel's.

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