Commercial air travel typically doesn’t inspire zeal in the average passenger, but Chicago native Scott Shatzer was too excited to get any sleep before his Sunday morning flight. Shatzer and seven of his friends were among the travelers getting ready to take a history-making flight on Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner with United Airlines, USA Today reported.
“We were so excited, we all found it a bit difficult to sleep I believe so we were up and on the hotel shuttle van at 5 a.m.,” Shatzer told USA Today’s Today in the Sky. “It felt like we were kids going to Disney World for the first time, I guess.”
United Flight 1116, which departed Houston Bush Intercontinental Airport at 7:20 a.m. and landed in Chicago at 9:47 a.m., marked the first time a U.S. carrier had flown passengers on the Dreamliner.
The 787 Dreamliner introduces an airframe that Boeing expects to save airlines about 20 percent in fuel costs compared to other planes of similar sizes, according the San Bernardino County Sun. The move comes at a time when U.S. airlines are struggling with the highest sustained prices for jet kerosene in history, Bloomberg News pointed out. The composite-plastic jet will also allow United to cut its airframe maintenance costs by 30 percent, Senior Vice President Gerry Laderman told Bloomberg.
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The Dreamliner reportedly offers a more comfortable experience for passengers, as the inside of the 787 better retains humidity and allows for cabin pressurization that puts more oxygen into the air to help alleviate passenger fatigue and headaches, Bloomberg reported. The United website touts the jet’s LED lighting, touch-less faucets and toilets, and large windows with dimmers instead of plastic shades. United’s version of the 787 seats 219 people—36 in business class and 183 in coach, the San Bernardino County Sun noted. The Sun says the airline has taken delivery of two Dreamliners, with 48 more on the way.
On the first 787 flight to Chicago, travelers mostly included aviation enthusiasts, United employees and journalists, Today in the Sky reported. The few regular passengers on the jet said they were impressed with the new Boeing model.
“I like the aircraft a lot,” Mark Schiff, a Chicago lawyer who changed his travel plans in order to take the Dreamliner, told Bloomberg. “It’s a much nicer atmosphere. It’s only a two-hour flight, but it’s been a breeze.”
Kris Van Cleave, an aviation enthusiast who trekked from Washtington, D.C. to Houston to take the 787’s debut flight, described the plane to Today in the Sky as “amazing.”
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“The flight was so much fun, it had a party atmosphere,” Van Cleave, a reporter for WJLA ABC affiliate Channel 7, said to Today in the Sky. “[United CEO Jeff] Smisek must have talked to every passenger on the flight, people were out of their seats the entire flight — how the cabin crew managed to serve drinks and food is beyond me, but they did it with a smile.”
United’s Smisek reportedly said the 787 flight was “awesome.”
At Chicago’s O’Hare airport, the Dreamliner was welcomed with a water-cannon salute and a “media throng,” Today in the Sky reported. Smisek told Bloomberg News that he hopes the new jet will provide a boost to the airline, which has faced difficulties since its merger with Continental in 2010.
“The reality is we were not reliable in June and July,” Smisek said to Bloomberg. “We lost some valuable customers. We’re in the process of earning them back.”