Aviation News

November 5, 2012

Onboard United’s First Boeing 787 Passenger Flight

United Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner. (Photo by Kevin Koske)

A little while after clocks were turned back early Sunday morning, United Airlines took off from Houston into the future at 7:28 am central time, becoming the first North American air carrier to operate the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

100 Photos: United’s First 787 Flight

I immediately booked my seat for this inaugural flight, United Flight 1116, back in September when United first announced it, and flew down to Houston on Saturday afternoon to be a part of this special day in aviation history.

The ribbon cutting ceremony began at Houston Intercontinental’s gate E5 just before 6 am. We were treatd to a breakfast buffet that included sandwiches, coffee, juice, and Dreamliner cookies. Every form of media coverage was in attendance as well: Bloggers, TV and newspapers. There were even a few passengers who had no idea they booked their flight on this very special aircraft.

Among those traveling with us this morning were two notable passengers. First was Thomas Lee, 60 from Orange County, California. Mr. Lee has had the distinction of being aboard the first 747 flight in 1970 (N747PA, Pan Am Clipper Juan T. Trippe) as well as the first revenue flights of the A380 (Singapore Airlines) and 787 (ANA). He and his wife were along for another historic flight, this time from the old Continental headquarters in Houston to the current base in Chicago.

Second was United President and CEO Jeff Smisek. Prior to boarding, framed against a stage adorned with a “Proud to Fly 787” backdrop, Mr. Smisek told the crowd, “If you want to be the world’s leading airline, you need to have the world’s leading airplane. We have that today in the new Boeing 787”. Mr. Smisek and the Captain of our flight, Jim Starley, then cut the ribbon and, with that, boarding began.

Passengers, myself included, entered the Dreamliner through door L3. The moment I walked on the Dreamliner I could not believe the amount of space. The vaulted ceiling provides enormous head room and the soft blue overhead lighting was quite soothing. L3 also happens to usher us right into Business First. The 2-2-2 configured cabin contains 26 lie-flat seats, none of which had my name on it.

I walked straight through galley two and made a right to seat 16L—a window seat in the first row of Economy Plus. All 60 Economy Plus seats have 35- to 36-inches of pitch in a 3-3-3 configuration, leaving an enormous amount of legroom for someone who’s 6 ft 1in. So much in fact that I was able to squat down and take photos out of both windows in this row.

The 111 standard economy cabin seats are set up in a 3-3-3 configuration with 31-inches of pitch. All cabins have staggered row seating which makes life easier to step into the aisle, particularly upon arrival.

Many of us might worry about the storage space if you have a Boarding Group 5 ticket, like I did today. Except that the 787 overhead bins are truly enormous. My roll-on, which I worried about, fit perfectly. This feature alone is fantastic.

What about those windows? Yes. They are HUGE. The view is amazing, but they did give off a glare towards the top as we flew to Chicago with the sunrise on the right side.  I don’t usually care about that unless I happen to be taking photos. When I sat down the window “shading” was set to dim.  I pressed the “soft” button to “lighten” the interactive window shade. It took a moment but began to let the sunshine in. Also, if your row contains more than one window, they are all linked together so that the shade setting stays consistent to your seat.

Just after departure, Mr. Smisek got on the PA and led us in a toast and welcomed us aboard the first Dreamliner flight and thanked coworkers across the system who worked to get the 787 tested and into revenue service, as well as Boeing and GE for making this airplane possible.

When the meal service started in Business First, those passengers dimmed the cabin with their shades giving off a purplish purple hue around the cabin. I can only imagine how cool this feature will be on a night flight.

The Dreamliner safety video is run of the mill with new graphics, but found it amusing that all cabin footage was from Boeing aircraft with window shades.

This cabin is amazingly quiet and the air quality is fresh. It never felt like I was in an airplane. It actually felt like being in a room: lots of open space, normal voice levels and zero ear popping. It’s a noticeable difference that I’m certain passengers will not only enjoy, but appreciate.

The Dreamliner feels powerful too. The Boeing 777 has always left an impression on me with the takeoff power of those huge GE-90 engines. The GenX engines are no less impressive.

Due to the short flight distance our takeoff weight this morning was 375,000 lbs with max weight set at 502,000 lbs. We rotated at about 140 kts and set a cruise speed of .833 mach (505 mph) with a nice tailwind at 41,000 feet. Landing weight was around 351 knots with a 55,000 lb payload, resulting in a fuel burn of about 9,000 lbs per hour.

The cabin PA was clear as can be. I did notice that United has equipped the 787 with an automated female “seatbelt sign is on” announcement that seemed to get everyones attention rather quickly for decent.

But until that sign came on we all moved around with cameras, video recorders, microphones and anything else to record the flight.  The cabin crew was fantastic and allowed us to cross cabins front and back. It was an atmosphere that I will never forget.

We landed on runway 10 in Chicago and as we taxied to gate C20, you could see pilots and ground crew from all airlines taking a moment to snap pictures or just watch as we completed United’s first Dreamliner revenue flight with a water cannon salute at the gate.

This first Dreamliner flight was a leap into the future. I never been on an aircraft that is this quiet, this roomy (in all cabins) and this impressive: The blended winglets, the laptop-sized screens on the seatbacks in Business First, even the lavatory doors glide as they open and close. While talking with the cabin crews they absolutely love the rear “L” shaped galley as well as the crew rest area just behind the flight deck.

While the Dreamliner was getting ready for the return flight to IAH there were 20 or 30 ground crew on the ramp at any given moment. All of them watching, working, maybe even training. In the terminal, the food court next to Gate C20 was the perfect spot to watch.  Kids, grandmothers, and pilots all made a point to come by take pictures and asked every one of us what we thought of the flight. We were easy to pick out as we all had first flight certificates signed by Smisek who, by the way, was seated near me in Economy Plus 16F, snapping photos along with everybody else on the flight.

It was a wonderful day with a wonderful group of people celebrating the first flight of an airplane I hope you have the chance to experience soon.

Thank you, United and congratulations to Boeing and GE on making so many dreams come true.

100 Photos: United’s First 787 Flight

About the Author

Kevin Koske



United Airlines Returns To John F. Kennedy International Airport

United Airlines returned to New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport this past Sunday following a 5 year absence from the airport,
by Eric Dunetz


United’s Fantasy Flight Makes Holiday Wishes Come True

United Airlines brought holiday cheer for children in need with their Fantasy Flight to the North Pole.
by Eric Dunetz



American Celebrates The Super 80 Send Off As Its MD-80s Fly West

American Airlines retired their classic Super 80 aircraft in style on Wednesday with an airborne party and commemorations in both DFW and O'Hare.
by Ben Granucci


United Airlines Moves to its New LaGuardia Home

United's new five-gate section at LaGuardia's Central Terminal Building replacement has opened for business.
by Ben Granucci


PHOTOS: United’s New Polaris Lounge at EWR

United Airlines opened its newest Polaris Lounge at Newark Liberty International Airport this past Monday. Here are some photos from the lounge on opening day.
by NYCAviation Staff


  • K Snyder

    I’m thinking you probably entered through door L2, not L3, which is immediately aft of the wing… Sounds like a fun flight though!

  • Erica

    Wonderful aircraft I think people will get a lots of pilot work if they train to fly this aircraft. I think this is the future of aviation. I will follow the suggestion given on some forum like pprune.org or http://www.pilotwork.net and I will move forward to specialize to fly this aircraft.