United Airlines unveils its first 787 Dreamliner

ByABC News
August 2, 2012, 9:44 PM

EVERETT, Wash. -- Fliers eager to see Boeing's ultramodern 787 Dreamliner decked out in the colors of a U.S. airline need wait no longer.

United Airlines offered a "first look" Thursday inside its first Dreamliner, which rolled out of a Boeing paint hangar on Tuesday and will be the first of the revolutionary new jet to fly for a North American airline.

Boeing won't officially deliver the jet to United until September, but the airline took advantage of the opportunity to show off the plane to an enthusiastic group of Boeing and United employees, along with media and aviation enthusiasts.

The Dreamliner is coming to the airline nearly three years behind schedule because of production delays that plagued Boeing's introduction of the jet.

"We have been awaiting this day for a while. And it has been worth every bit of the wait," said Dave Hilfman, United's senior vice president of sales, standing in front of the freshly painted 787 with its signature swept wings.

Currently, the jet is flying for only two other airlines — Japanese carriers All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines.

Still, despite Thursday's unveiling, eager passengers will have to wait a bit longer to fly on a United Dreamliner. After taking delivery of its first 787 in September, the jet won't be put into commercial service until October.

United has yet to announce an official first flight for the Dreamliner, but Hilfman says the airline will ease the jet into service on domestic routes before transitioning to long-haul service. After that, it will fly between Houston and Lagos, a route on which it will eventually replace United's 777 aircraft. And, in March, United will open its first new route with the 787: daily non-stop service between Tokyo and Denver.

United has 50 Dreamliners on order, five of which the carrier expects to have in its possession by the end of this year. United spokeswoman Mary Ryan said it was unclear if all five will make it into regularly scheduled passenger service before 2013.

Inside the plane, United's Dreamliners will come with signature advances allowed by the jet's modern construction. They include:

•Windows that are 30% bigger than those on other wide-body planes.

•Storage bins built to accommodate roll-aboard bags common among today's fliers.

•Flights pressurized to the equivalent of 6,000 feet in elevation, lower than the 8,000-foot mark typical for commercial passenger aircraft.

•Higher humidity levels, which Boeing and United say should mitigate issues such as fatigue, headaches and jet lag.

The seating configuration, however, will be less revolutionary. United marketing executive Mark Bergsrud says the Dreamliner will closely resemble what United now offers on its Boeing 777s.

United's 787 cabins will hold 219 passengers, outfitted with 36 seats in "BusinessFirst" that convert to lie-flat beds, with 72 seats in premium economy. The 111 remaining coach seats are standard coach-class seats.

All of United's economy seats will be configured in a three-by-three arrangement.

Travel industry analyst Henry Harteveldt, co-founder of Atmosphere Research Group, questions United's cautious approach with the new aircraft.

"I think they really missed an opportunity to raise the bar on their product," he says.

United, however, thinks it has found the right mix. Capt. Niels Olufsen, a 25-year United pilot, raves that the new model will be "quieter for passengers and more comfortable."

"And the overhead bins," Olufsen adds, "are so big … you can jump in and hide in there."